Expedition to the Solomon Islands

In September I was part of an expedition into jungle in the centre of Guadalcanal island in the Solomon Islands, tropical western Pacific. The purpose was to document the plants and animals present. My job was to help with the ferns.

Jungle at one of our collecting sites near the main field camp. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.

Jungle at one of our collecting sites near the main field camp. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.

Getting around the uplands of Guadalcanal involves either a long, hard walk or a helicopter. We did the latter, given we had so much collecting gear. The flights were packed nearly head-high with supplies and equipment. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.

Getting around the uplands of Guadalcanal involves either a long, hard walk or a helicopter. We did the latter, given we had so much collecting gear. Those of us in the back seat were packed nearly head-high with supplies and equipment. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.

The mountains at the centre of Guadalcanal are rugged, wet, and difficult to access. The plants and animals that live there have been little studied. Both the local Uluna-Sutahuri tribe and scientists are interested in learning more. This knowledge will inform decisions about future land use.

Tiangi ceremony where the expedition team exchanged gifts with the Uluna-Sutahuri landowners, cementing our partnership before we ventured together into the uplands. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.

Tiangi ceremony where the expedition team exchanged gifts with the Uluna-Sutahuri landowners, cementing our partnership before we ventured together into the uplands. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.

The expedition’s scope was broad, with sub-teams focusing on insects, plants, freshwater fishes and invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians, birds, and mammals. It was interesting to see the others at work. It also involved a lot of logistics, with nearly 50 people in the field.

The team at the main field camp at Valevahalo. Guides, cooks, and elders of the landowning tribe were joined by scientists from Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Zealand, Australia, Czech Republic, and USA. This photo was taken using a drone, being piloted by Patrick Pikacha, at left of the photo. Photo © Patrick Pikacha, used with permission.

The team at the main field camp at Valevahalo. Guides, cooks, and elders of the landowning tribe were joined by scientists from Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Zealand, Australia, Czech Republic, and USA. This photo was taken using a drone, being piloted by Patrick Pikacha, at left in the photo. Photo © Patrick Pikacha, used with permission.

The blackboard master plan of logistics boss Sarah Pene (University of South Pacific) kept everything in order. This was in our Honiara accommodation. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.

The blackboard master plan of logistics boss Sarah Pene (University of South Pacific) kept everything in order. This was in our Honiara accommodation. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.

Skinks trapped on a sticky board, as part of the herpetologists’ sampling. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.

Skinks trapped on a sticky board, as part of the herpetologists’ sampling. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.

The herpetologists wrangling a snake. It was brought into camp by one of our botanical colleagues, who apparently also doubles as a serpent-catching ninja. Several snakes were also caught on the steps to the camp’s kitchen. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.

The herpetologists wrangling a snake. It was brought into camp by one of our botanical colleagues, who apparently also doubles as a serpent-catching ninja. Several snakes were also caught on the steps to the camp’s kitchen. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.

These millipedes were everywhere in the jungle; somewhere in the order of 1 per 5 square metres I’d guestimate. Always visible. Disconcerting (for me), but harmless. Apparently, they’re also amphibious. I knocked one off a frond I was collecting, and it fell into a puddle. Before I could rescue it, it righted itself underwater and kept walking. I was told that much bigger, predatory centipedes come out at night. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.

These millipedes were everywhere in the jungle; somewhere in the order of 1 per 5 square metres I’d guestimate. Always visible. Disconcerting (for me), but harmless. Apparently, they’re also amphibious. I knocked one off a frond I was collecting, and it fell into a puddle. Before I could rescue it, it righted itself underwater and kept walking. I was told that much bigger, predatory centipedes come out at night. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.

Orchids were abundant throughout the jungle, particularly as epiphytes. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.

Orchids were abundant throughout the jungle, particularly as epiphytes. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.

Even the rivers were steep. Near the side camp at Haviha. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.

Even the rivers were steep. Near the side camp at Haviha. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.

The results

I’ll post separately about our fern findings, but it is fair to say that, across all groups, a lot was discovered, collected, and learnt. There was much talk of new records for Guadalcanal, the Solomon Islands, and even the world (i.e., completely new species). Specimens have been retained in Honiara as well as distributed elsewhere. In many cases, more detailed scientific examination is required to understand what was detected.

Matt Renner from Sydney’s Botanic Gardens was the expedition’s bryologist. He made over 450 collections of liverworts and mosses. These were stored in paper envelopes, which he is drying here after our return to Honiara. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.

Matt Renner from Sydney’s Botanic Gardens was the expedition’s bryologist. He made over 450 collections of liverworts and mosses. These were stored in paper envelopes, which he is drying here after our return to Honiara. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.

One of the expedition’s discoveries that has already received a lot of interest was the rediscovery of the moustached kingfisher – more from the American Museum of Natural History.

War remains

I’ve a family connection to the Solomon Islands. My maternal grandfather was wounded there as part of New Zealand’s 35th Battalion. The lingering scars of World War II around the coast were a pointed indicator of how lucky I was to be visiting in much friendlier conditions.

The remains of a World War II ship, enveloped by a beach at a village near Honiara. The adjoining sea is called Iron Bottom Sound after the ferocity of the naval action. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

The remains of a World War II ship, enveloped by a beach at a village near Honiara. The adjoining sea is called Iron Bottom Sound after the ferocity of the naval action. Photo Leon Perrie. (c) Te Papa.

Acknowledgements

The expedition was a great success, being productive and conducted safely and in good spirit. The onus is now on the scientists to understand their findings, and then make those results publically accessible (supported by specimens stored in public collections).

It was a privilege to be allowed by the Uluna-Sutahuri to explore their land. Thanks also to the expedition’s participants for their company and friendship, particularly the Solomon Islands and Fijian scientists who organised the logistics. Special thanks to Sarah Pene, Alifereti Naikatini (both University of South Pacific), Myknee Sirikolo, David Boseto, Patrick Pikacha (all Solomon Islands), and to Marika Tuiwawa (University of South Pacific), who was leader of the plant team but was able to join us only during preparations in Honiara. The expedition was led by the University of South Pacific, American Museum of Natural History, and Solomon Islands Community Conservation Partnership, with funding from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Foundation.

My participation was funded from Te Papa’s acquisition budget. Thanks to Sabine (acquisitions), Anna (travel), Kirsten (finances), and Jason (emergency plan) for helping me to get there.

Ground crew at the helipad on departure from the Valevahalo camp: Josh, Sarah, Tokasaya, and (crouching) Alifereti. All with University of South Pacific, with John also Uluna-Sutahuri. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.

Ground crew at the helipad on departure from the Valevahalo camp: Josh, Alifereti (crouching), Sarah, and Tokasaya. All with University of South Pacific, with Josh also Uluna-Sutahuri. Photo Leon Perrie. © Te Papa.

More information

Te Papa blog post: Solomon Islands’ Expedition: the camp.

Te Papa blog post: Solomon Islands’ Expedition: the ferns.

Interview with Radio New Zealand National.

Posts from the American Museum of Natural History about the expedition.

The expedition on Twitter.

3 Responses

  1. Lauren

    Great 🙂 Looking forward to the other posts.

    Burning question: how does one de-stick a sticky skink?

    Reply
    • Leon Perrie

      Thanks Lauren.
      I think it was cooking oil that was used to de-stick the skinks.

  2. Patrick Pikacha

    Was an awesome expedition. Great finds and a wonderful bunch of people to work with. Finest regards from the Solomon Islands.

    Reply

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