By STEVEN WINDUO
THE island, the University of Papua New Guinea owns is Motupore off the southeastern coast of the Central Province. It located approximately 20km outside of Port Moresby in what is known as Bootless Bay. The four sister islands are Motupore, Loloata, Manunouha (also known as Lion Island), and Bunamotu, strung like a necklace of green shells.
UPNG’s scientific research station is located on Motupore Island. The university acquired the island in 1970 to protect the rich archaeological site which dates back at least 500 years. The responsibility on providing custodianship of the island started with the Anthropology and Archeology Department of UPNG to Biology and Geography Department, and finally coming under the wings of the School of Natural and Physical Sciences.
Outside of the University of Papua New Guinea, little is known about the Island. So much has happened over the years on Motupore Island that only those who accessed it will remember activities that took place there. Before UPNG acquired Motupore, it was also the site for Hiri Trade among the Motu Koitabuans and their trade partners to the West in Gulf and further East to Milne Bay. It was dubbed the trade center for the Hiri Trade.
Another significant heritage, apart from the archeological significance of the Island, is that the Constitution of Papua New Guinea was written on Motupore Island. The building where this important national moment was crafted is known as Constitution House. Unfortunately, it is not in a state that it ought to be.
Over the years, various kinds of research and activities took place on Motupore. Apart from educational field trips by UPNG students, the Island sustained important research in marine biology and other scientific experiments.
The UPNG uses the facilities on the Island for some of its workshops and meetings. A workshop on Strategic Planning was recently held there.
The Motupore Island research center plays an important part in the life of the University of Papua New Guinea, but the infrastructure and facilities on the island leaves much to be desired. A number of UPNG employees, especially security guards, live there as caretakers.
The state of the infrastructure and facilities on Motupore Island has weathered and deteriorated to a point where immediate rehabilitation is needed, without which its importance may fade into oblivion, like a ghost island.
To reach Motupore, visitors get a dinghy ride from Tahira jetty on the mainland. It is of course the same place where visitors to Loloata Island also board to get to the Resort on that Island. I’ve visited Motupore on many occasions for meetings or as part of my field trip with students. Though I don’t know much about the marine biodiversity in the Bootless Bay, I took my students to study the ecological and medicinal plants found there. That was many years ago, and my students at that time found it to be very enriching.
The Island has always been a privileged space for those of us who work with the University of Papua New Guinea. It is a special island.
Motupore will remain the property of the University of Papua New Guinea as long as it takes. As long as it remains with UPNG, the archaeological, anthropological, historical, political, scientific, and educational platform it provides to the young people of Papua New Guinea will remain intact. It is a unique space for learning and for our people.
The island stands as an icon of the past, the present, and future. It can reveal itself in its glory and its pure natural wonders in the sea around it. It stands unmoved by the winds of change that blow around it, although that change is threatening to disrupt its solitude and radiant beauty.
I have great admiration for those who give their time to watch over Motupore Island. The person, whom I have come to think of in relation to the Island, is my friend Potex, from Tari, who is employed by the university as a guard. He is also the skipper of the dinghy ferrying people going across from Tahira.
The man responsible for everyone on Tahira and on Motupore Island is Roga from Central. Roga is responsible for the operations there and coordinates the various visits and activities of the University of Papua New Guinea on the Island.
As I write this piece, I am reminded by the words of my friend Potex, who said he’d rather live there than come to Port Moresby despite the facilities on the Island seeing better days. Without saying outright, Potex hinted that UPNG should do something about the state or condition Motupore Island is in. The dinghy that makes the journey back and forth is also very old and unreliable.
I can see the point Potex is making, but from what I know it is the Government who should intervene through major injection of funding if this Island is to remain important for the very reasons mentioned earlier.
It is my belief that the government should intervene for the sake of protecting the marine biodiversity of Bootless Bay. In their publication on Motupore Island, marine biologist Mark Baine and David Harasti pointed out that marine biodiversity is often the focus of conservation or management projects and policies, at the local, national, and international level.
Biodiversity is seen by many as a major part of our planet’s natural beauty: “This beauty has spawned different types of tourism activities, which in turn can create sustainable local employment and revenue (e.g. diving and whale watching, and arts and crafts), often in places suffering harsh economic conditions.”
The two men remind us to appreciate every component of marine biodiversity as an important component of the biological role it plays in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.
By STEVEN WINDUO