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Solomon Islands

Croc cull controversy over cucumbers

An increase of the crocodile population appears unlikely to force Solomon Islands authorities from introducing sanctioned culls after two men were killed in separate back-to-back attacks.

The men lost their lives while diving for sea cucumbers at night when crocodiles are most active.

A ban on catching the delicacy was ironically only lifted nearly a month ago in order to bolster the struggling Covid-19 economy on the Melanesian archipelago.

Catches can reportedly earn divers up to $SBD1000 ($A170) to harvest the marine animal.

Last week’s deaths that occurred just a day apart from each other have led to some calls to restrict crocodile numbers despite the status the semiaquatic reptiles hold in Solomon Islands culture.

“My thinking of what we should look into now is to rethink about the regulations because how else are we going to reduce the impact of crocodile attacks to people,” marine biologist and local diver Stephen Attallifo Mosese said.

Communities in one province took matters into their own hands nearly 12 months ago in reaction to three deadly crocodile attacks last November.

Villagers not only recovered the body of a 13-year-old victim but hunted down and killed the four-metre long saltwater predator the following day.

A special police unit from Honiara shortly after destroyed three crocodiles following the death of a seven-year-old on request from the rural community.

The previous two years nearly 100 crocodiles were destroyed but were not a part of sanctioned culls.

But any steps towards eradicating crocodiles may need to acknowledge they have been considered sacred for around 30,000 years and Solomon Islands mythology suggests attacks on people are sent by ancestors to correct wrongs of everyday society.

A saltwater crocodile sits in waiting among the mangroves. Source: Pxfuel

Melanesia regional director of Wildlife Conservation Society, Stacy Jupiter suggesting managing crocodile numbers should be left alone from intervention of culls.

“I think it’s time to resurrect that knowledge and maybe have some sensible conversations,” Dr Jupiter said.

“If there was a danger, let’s put all of the evidence on the table before we endorse any sort of a justification to start culling populations.”

Bans were put in place more than three decades ago in the Solomon Islands to save their numbers after crocodiles were exported for their skins.

The country already has released a 2016-20 biodiversity strategic action management plan that has identified the need to handle the saltwater crocodiles.

“It’s all about trying to put those sustainable management practices into place while people have more money and the ecological system is still functioning,” Dr Jupiter said, “and that people aren’t putting themselves in danger of getting attacked or eaten by crocodiles.”

Royal Solomon Islands Police Force has asked divers to take precautionary measures including educating themselves about the location, avoiding mangrove swamps where crocodiles gather and only diving during the day.

That could be tricky as sea cucumbers habitat the sea and are commonly more visual at night.

But as many divers view the echinoderm with a leathery skin and an elongated body as money on the ocean’s floor, police will struggle to enforce the advice to maintain public safety.

The lifting of the ban will only last until September next year as sea cucumbers play a vital role in the Pacific’s ecosystem from feeding on waste like gravel, sand, silt, or other materials produced by the decomposition of organisms in the sediment.

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