After 42 hours on the road, we finally arrive in Port Moresby.
Descending through the clouds towards the city after a flight north from Brisbane over the Great Barrier Reef, we catch the first glimpse of the Papuan coastline – a few scattered villages along an immense expanse of rich hues of green, with a backdrop of steep mountains and fringing reefs lining the clear water along the coast. For the next six weeks, the three PhD students Julie Day, Amanda Ford, Akuila Cakacaka and I will be travelling through Papua New Guinea, the Solomons, Fiji and New Caledonia. We will visit a number of potential project sites and partners in each country as our first joint activity in the REPICORE project.
Along the way, we plan to meet several former students and colleagues, renewing the long-standing connection that ZMT has to this region. Tomorrow, our group will be joined by Joshua Cinner, ARC fellow at James Cook University in Australia and partner in the REPICORE project, who has been working in PNG for around a decade. Together, we will leave the relatively hectic streets of Port Moresby, a city of less than half a million people, and head for Manus Island, a large island in the northernmost part of PNG.
Ahead of us lie remote and rural communities and some of the most biodiverse coral reefs in the world. However, neither people nor reefs remain isolated from larger-scale processes currently sweeping across our planet, such as increased seawater temperatures, or the expanding of markets for coral reef species to the point where even the once remote reefs of Melanesia are fished to supply marine products to consumers in Hong Kong and beyond. In our project, we aim to find out how these changes affect the state of the coral reef ecosystems in this region and the fragile relationship between people and reefs.