Tucked away inside a not-so-distant bay, Simon’s Reef is a magical coral dreamscape I can’t get out of my mind. Every day Simon tends to his coral garden. His life’s mission, protect his home reef and all coral diversity around it.
Over the past fifteen years, Simon has tended to his growing coral garden from the shore of his home on Mobokonimbeti Island. More than just a hidden gem, Simon’s Nature Reserve and ocean heroes like Simon, who show humble dedication to saving our planet, need to be celebrated and supported!
Simon’s Nature Reserve snorkeling and scuba diving site is about a one-hour boat ride from the Raiders Hotel & Dive Tulagi Island, not far from the capital Honiara. This beautiful coral garden is a testament to the power of long-term coral conservation.
As we get closer to the reef, we see a man paddling out. Simon greets us with a friendly hello and a cheerful Solomon Islands smile. Since 2004, Simon has been caring for the coral reef around his village, just as you would a flower garden in your front yard. He paddles out and removes dead branches and keeps a lookout for coral-eating predators like the crown of thorns starfish and coral-eating drupella snails.
Floating in his dugout canoe, Simon starts telling us about his personal marine protected area. The water is so clear I can see every coral he is talking about as if I’m looking through glass. Simon protects these corals and stops fishers from surrounding villages from collecting fish from his reef, keeping it even more protected.
Expert Coral Knowledge
What blew me away was Simon’s sophisticated, self-taught knowledge of coral diversity. He is a true expert and has a keen eye for collecting new and unusual corals species while exploring further from home. Simon is genuinely preserving the genetic diversity of Solomon Island corals, or at least the corals from his home island in Sandfly Passage. He told me he has over 80 genera of corals and said he knows all the corals on his reef and is still finding new varieties around his island. He showed me a handwritten document listing many rare and unusual species. Talk about coral seed bank!
The reef is overflowing with thickets of branching staghorn Acropora of primarily purple, blue, green, and cream. We’ve never seen such a healthy, dense coral forest! The reef can get relatively shallow, with branches exposed during low tide. The sheer abundance of coral diversity makes Simons Nature Reserve a perfect spot for snorkeling. Just be careful not to get too close, so you don’t break any delicate coral branches!
For about $50 Solomon Dollars per person, Simon will let you snorkel his reef. A small price to pay, knowing he has spent years collecting and maintaining this spot. Simon told me he also uses this reef to educate his neighbors about the importance of keeping corals and stopping to fish so that baby fish have a place to grow up.
Conservation and Local Tourism Economy
His model of coral conservation has paid off. There are noticeably more fish hiding among the reef. And he’s figured out a way to make money from his efforts. Pull up between two flagpoles and wait for Simon to paddle out, ready to share his reef with the world.
Getting There: We went diving with Raiders Hotel & Dive and Visit Solomon Islands. Raiders Hotel & Dive is a small boutique hotel located in the township of Tulagi in the historical Central Province (a.k.a. Nggela Islands or Florida Islands) of the Solomon Islands. Sandfly Passage and Simon’s Nature Reserve is Northwest of Tulagi. Plan on a day trip from Honiara or half-day trips from Raiders Hotel.