Field Journal: Arrival in the Solomon Islands

by AMNH on

From the Field posts

Chris Filardi is director of Pacific Programs at the Museum’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation. This month, he’s blogging from the remote highlands of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, where he is surveying endemic biodiversity and working with local partners to create a protected area. 

Arriving in the Solomon Islands, the high ridgelines of our destination were just visible in the hazy, thick afternoon air. It has taken a decade of effort to set the stage for this expedition, the first of a series of community-endorsed biodiversity surveys into the heart of Guadalcanal Island. Four of our team members are already surveying birds in this mountainous forest, and their early results are promising.


The high forests of Guadalcanal, or Tetena Haiaja to local Uluna people.
© AMNH/C. Filardi

I can already envision brightly colored doves and strange white-billed crows commuting into the trees of our camp, can practically hear the songs of the hooded whistler and Pacific robin filling the morning air. Here, every shift in the light and wind could reveal some of the least studied bird species in the world. 

A few short text exchanges from the field have me conjuring all this: I am not there yet. Helicopter transport to reach our camp in this difficult terrain relies on breaks in the heavy cloud cover, making for a long and less than reliable commute. But today, as dawn illuminates the flanks of Popomanaseu, the highest peak on Guadalcanal, it looks like the gates to this mountain will open, and let the rest of the expedition team in. 

Helicopter flying over forest in Guadalcanal
The best way to some remote expedition destinations is via helicopter.
© AMNH/P. Sweet

Nearly a century ago, biologists from the American Museum of Natural History trudged into the forests of Guadalcanal and made scientific history by describing species found only here. Their work provided data for a great modern synthesis in biology that unified genetics, ecology, and evolutionary biology. Now, scientists from the Museum’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation arereturning with the support of local people, governments, and our partners at the University of the South Pacific and the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund. It's a team effort we hope will help not only to learn more about these ecosystems, but also make the case for preserving them.

The highest mountains of Guadalcanal form the heart of customary lands for the Uluna-Sutahuri tribe who have lived within them for millennia. Mounting pressure from international mining interests, as well as their own varied visions for the future, challenge generations-old commitments to the sacred high mountains above their old villages.

Guides&hosts_Vax Rocky_Adriel Mengo_PaulSweet
Locals Vax Rocky (left) and Adriel Mengo (right) acts as hosts and guides for the expedition.
© AMNH/P. Sweet

The potential success of this current expedition rests on efforts to meld scientific and tribal history to address the many challenges of today, and for now, the union is a hopeful one. More from the helipad once we get gear gathered, cinched, and ready to load at dawn.