This article, by Ross Sinclair of the SSC Megapode Specialist Group first appeared in issue 37 of Species, the SSC newsletter.
The coup in 1999 and subsequent economic collapse in the Solomon Islands has resulted in the islanders being even more dependent on their natural resources for sustenance and cash. Nowhere is this more true than on Simbo Island, where local people derive most of their cash income from the sale of eggs of the Melanesian megapode (Megapodius eremita), locally called Lape.
Over 180,000 eggs were harvested in 1998 alone. According to Simbo Islanders, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the number of birds on the island and the harvest of eggs declined dramatically. Unfortunately, it appears a similar fate is befalling almost all nesting fields of colonial-laying megapodes, many of which are now abandoned.
Simbo islander cooking the eggs of the Melanesian megapode in a volcanic vent close to the nesting field on Simbo Island, Western Province, Solomon Islands. Photo by Ross SinclairBecause of their dependence on megapode eggs and their concern about the declining harvest, in the early 1990s, Simbo Islanders introduced a management plan that included a ban on harvesting eggs for two months each year. This plan was based on a paucity of data on megapode breeding biology and the harvest continued to decline throughout the 1990s. In 1997 the Simbo Island Megapode Management Committee formed a partnership with WWF Solomon Islands and the IUCN Species Survival Commission Megapode Specialist Group to conduct research into ways to better manage harvests of megapode eggs. The use of hatcheries and extending the closed season where tested, among other measures, over 18 months of participatory research. One interesting result was learning the average incubation period of eggs is longer than the closed season! As a result, the Simbo Island community revised its management plan in 1999, including extending the closed season to three months.
Since the introduction of the new management plan, Simbo Islanders believe there are now more megapodes on the island, although the theft of eggs and predation of hatchlings by feral cats and dogs remain problems. WWF and the Megapode Specialist Group are continuing to work with Simbo Islanders to help them address these problems and achieve their stated aim of having "Lape Forever".
For more information contact:
Ross Sinclair, IUCN/SSC Megapode Specialist Group
Tel: +675 732-2294 or -3836; fax: -2461; Email: email@example.com