Visiting Mahonia Na Dari – Guardian of the Sea
For a marine biologist Kimbe Bay in Papua New Guinea is an overwhelming delight. Delightful, because of its marvelous beauty and overwhelming, because of its sheer diversity. This small bay is home to 76 % of the world’s coral species and 820 species of coral reef fish!
Kimbe Bay sits on the north coast of the island of New Britain, Papua New Guinea’s largest island in the Bismarck Archipelago. From the window of my plane, I can see large, rainforest-encrusted volcanic cones rising steeply from the crystalline water and as we get closer the smoke of individual villages can been seen interspersed between the luscious foliage. It dawns on me that after two rather dubious flights with Air Nuigini and 7 hours in Port Moresby Airport, I was actually going to arrive Kimbe Bay – woohoo!
Max and Cecile Benjamin have been living in KImbe Bay for over 40 years and kindly invited me to join them at the Walindi Planation Resort where I would volunteer at the Mahonia Na Dari – Guardian of the Sea. Originally agriculturists Max and Cecile first came to Kimbe Bay in the 1969 and it here were they first began to explore and discover the underwater world. After taking a dive in the Red Sea, Cecilie and Max were unimpressed by what they say in comparison to Kimbe Bay and decided to start the Walindi Plantation Resort where I was fortunate enough to stay during my time in Kimbe. Lets just say I had no concept of such luxury before coming to Kimbe!
Max and Cecilie are passionate about the coral reef environment and sponsor countless James Cook University marine scientists with their research in Kimbe. Completely unbeknownst to me, some of my James Cook University friends were conducting research at Kimbe during my stay. I got to spend one day doing something that I am pretty familiar with– catching fish with clove oil! (an anesthetic which in very small concentrations puts fish to sleep).
After developing the Walindi resort, Cecilie and Max realized that in order to conserve the beautiful reefs at their doorstep, education was crucial. They decided to set up the Mahonia Na Dari – Guardian of the Sea; a research and education institute dedicated to conservation of the marine environment
“So why shouldn’t we stand on the coral?” I asked a one of the students from Kimbe Bay Primary School. “Because it takes a long time for coral to grow back,” the astute 10-year-old boy replied. Hmm these guys actually know their stuff, I remember thinking. I’d better come up with some more sophisticated questions!!
My main goal in Kimbe Bay was to learn more about Mohonia Na Dari. Students from Kimbe Bay Primary School attend the institute as part of their school curriculum and today I was fortunate enough to help educator, Adolfina Luvongit teach her class all about the biology of coral reefs, marine turtles, and proper reef viewing practices The kids were so excited to be at Mahonia and readily absorbed all the information that was given to them.
As part of the program, we headed out to Rastoff Island where some of the children would get their first ever chance to see a coral reef. Squeals of excitement pierced the air we arrived at the beach and before anyone could stop them the kid were in the water. I helped those that weren’t as confident use their masks and after a few gulps of salty water we were in business. It was so rewarding to watch the kids finally snorkel and appreciate the reef. “Can we see Nemo?” cried one of the boys.
I strongly believe that education programs such, as those at Mahonia Na Dari are essential to the future conservation of coral reefs in Kimbe Bay and Papua New Guinea as a whole. The education and awareness conveyed by Mahonia Na Dari will hopefully foster a new generation of marine leaders in the Coral Triangle region and I am so honoured to have been able to help out for a couple of days during my Scholarship year. Max and Cecilie Benjamin, thank you ever so much for having me, it was wonderful.