Countdown for Manus Island

Stu Nettle picture
Stu Nettle (stunet)

The people of Manus Island are used to being pawns in regional politics. Following the Tampa affair in 2001, the Australian government outsourced its asylum seeker processing to Nauru and Manus Island - an arrangement that became known as the Pacific Solution. The Manus Island Detention Centre closed in 2017, the last of 3,127 asylum seekers were processed in November.

Now, however, Manus Island has been elevated to the world stage. A fortnight ago the United States and Australian governments announced a joint plan to develop Lombrum Naval Base at Manus Island. As a countermeasure to China’s growing influence in the Pacific, the announcement makes Manus the latest proxy in the emerging US-China cold war.

Lombrum has a natural deep harbour, it also has an existing naval base, which was used by the Royal Australian Navy up until 1974. Under the joint plan, the current base would be expanded, as would the surrounding infrastructure, such as nearby Momote Airport, to accommodate an increase in troops who would, at least in peacetime, maintain the nearby shipping lanes.

Across the lagoon from Lombrum Harbour lie a string of islands and reefs, all of which face into the North Pacific receiving bread and butter trade swells from the northeast and semi-regular northerly groundswells during the northern hemisphere winter. The waves are of mixed quality, verging from average to exceptional, and to date mostly empty. That will change when troops are stationed at the nearby base.

Manus Island's northern coast is inconsistent but occasionally perfect (Joel Coleman/Saltmotion)

Watching these developments very carefully is Andy Abel, the Co-founder and President of the Surfing Association of Papua New Guinea (SAPNG). Thirty years ago, Abel started SAPNG with the aim of avoiding the mistakes of Bali. He saw what happens to a community when surfers arrive and the locals don’t have a plan in place. So he developed the SAPNG Surf Management Plan (SMP) to control the numbers of surfers in each region, ensure appropriate taxes were paid, and importantly, that those taxes reached the “resource custodians” - i.e the locals.

In PNG, the income generated by surf tourism goes towards education of local kids, sustainable development projects, and protection of the environment. Abel has also linked the SMP with regional and international surfing contests, surfboard donation drives, and marketing support from the national tourism authority.

Andy Abel surfing in Papua New Guinea (SAPNG)

Surf tourism is developing slowly in PNG, yet there are now ten regions, from Vanimo in the far west to Bougainville in the east, where the SAPNG SMP has been rolled out with great success. It’s now being copied by other emerging surf zones, and Abel has been asked to give presentations of his plan at various universities.

Which brings us to Manus Island. At present, Abel is liasing with locals in the south and the west of Manus Island to establish SMP sites. The islanders to the north, however, which is where the good waves are, have yet to resolve their own differences and accept the Plan.

“We have found that there is a lot of division amongst those communities based on the fact that land is collectively owned by families and clans, and not one single person,” explains Abel.

The Surf Management Plan requires collective action to succeed, if locals aren’t convinced - or if Western intervention favours one group over another - then the plan won’t work. This is what’s happening at Manus. “Many years on, we are still waiting for them to resolve their differences in a number of key locations,” says Abel.

He first approached the Manus Islanders thirty years ago, but with news of the coming naval base, three decades of indecision will need to be resolved, and fast. “Once this base is built and becomes fully operational,”says Abel, “it will create an influx of military personnel...which will create all kinds of social and economic challenges. This is evident in such military bases around the world.”

When news of the Lombrum upgrade broke no date was given, yet Abel is acutely aware of how the clock is ticking. Should the Manus Islanders choose not to adopt the SAPNG SMP and unwanted social issues do occur, “then” says Abel, “it will be hard for us to come in and take up the challenge of righting the wrongs as we simply don’t have the time, nor the resources and patience to do so.”

But he’s not given up hope yet.

“If they come forward,” says Abel, “we will not hesitate to empower them equally, but it has to be their call and not some bureaucrat from the PNG, Australian, or USA Governments satisfying their social or political obligations of setting up a military base.”

Visit the website of the Surfing Association of Papua New Guinea


indo-dreaming's picture
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indo-dreaming Friday, 30 Nov 2018 at 8:35am

"The Manus Island Detention Centre closed in 2018, the last of 3,127 asylum seekers were processed in November."

Half correct, the centre located on the naval base was closed, but three new accommodation units were built there is still about 500 refugees (all men) on Manus

Nick Bone's picture
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Nick Bone Friday, 30 Nov 2018 at 8:44am

Sounds great except i dont understand

“So he developed the SAPNG Surf Management Plan (SMP) to control the numbers of surfers in each region.”

He personally controls the numbers?

stunet's picture
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stunet Friday, 30 Nov 2018 at 8:48am

Yeah, but not 'personally', surfer numbers are capped in each region.

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slowman Friday, 7 Dec 2018 at 1:54pm

Read that as visiting surfers. I went to the Nusa Island Resort a couple of years ago now but the way I understand it due to the SMP, visiting surfer numbers are capped at 20 at a time.

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truebluebasher Friday, 30 Nov 2018 at 9:50am

Indo is right 'Manus Island Processing Centre' allows reffos to compete or Judge the comp.

Won't more surfboards access more coastline faster, driving development onslaught.
Boardriding exhibition is fine...Comps will hasten then prohibit industrialized coastline.

Stu just reported how WSL are banning access to all the finest primetime surf breaks.
No more WSL razor wire Camps...Just leave this poor place alone!

Not everyone benefits from a surfboard in the head.
5 years of surf industry is far more of a threat to humanity than any War ship base.
Post Bali obliteration: Perhaps a Pacific Pollution Solution before World Domination.

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lindo Friday, 30 Nov 2018 at 10:43am

As to the newly proposed naval base on Manus, John Pilger's recent doco 'The Coming War on China' is worth a watch for its historical and recent Pacific context. No doubt some will find it too critical of USA and not critical enough of China. Both the US and their allies, and China, are expanding their regional interests, aiming to secure resources (eg. China's disputed claims and newly-built infrastructure on Spratly Islands, rich fisheries and with potential for oil and gas). Continuing arguments over other US bases (eg Okinawa) suggest that this new one will be seen as v. important strategically. Based on impacts elsewhere (Philippines, Chagos, Okinawa), and depending on the scale of the 'upgrade,' the Manus Islanders may be in for a rough ride, and concerns re regulating surfing will be likely the least of their problems.

stunet's picture
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stunet Friday, 30 Nov 2018 at 11:17am

Well, the Surf Mangement Plan does much more than 'regulate surfing', income from surf tourism also funds education and social welfare.

SAPNG know that the naval base will bring crime and prostitution, however, if they can have the plan in place before the base is built then they may stand a chance at alleviating the negative impacts.

lindo's picture
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lindo Friday, 30 Nov 2018 at 11:21am

Admirable goals and I wish them well.

velocityjohnno's picture
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velocityjohnno Friday, 30 Nov 2018 at 11:35am

Well done to Andy, what a fantastic way to manage surfing tourism for local communities.

indo-dreaming's picture
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indo-dreaming Friday, 30 Nov 2018 at 2:54pm

IMHO SAPNG Surf Management Plan (SMP) is a bit of a hoax.

For a start PNG is/was never going to have the same problems seen in places like Bali/ Indonesia, it wouldn't matter if the system was in place or not, it's not going to be over run by surfers or tourism.


1- Rightly or wrongly PNG is considered by most a fairly dangerous country to travel in this is the main concern for any kind of tourism in PNG and things like corruption and doing business are even harder than places like Indonesia.

2- Comparisons to Bali are silly there is no other Bali, it's a completely unique place/culture even the very early westerners saw this Bali's tourism industry goes way back (from memory as far as the 1920-30s) as for surfers its also completely unique if Bali hadn't been discovered until now it would be the biggest thing since the Mentawais, perfect lefts offshore all dry season groomed by consistent long period swell, perfect rights offshore during the wet and then a scattering of all other types of waves, beachies, lava reefs, even cobble stone set ups

3- Surfwise it doesn't have the consistency of Bali/Indonesia its not a viable location for a large number of surf resorts or charter boats, places like Mentawais are because almost everyday there is waves better than you find at home most months and almost everyday its waist to overhead

Plus Aussies fuelled Into surf development the winter season suits us, PNG is a Summer season area, less demand for this season and many other options.

4- It doesn't have the pull of any big name spots, maybe there is some waves as good, but there is no Maccas or Ullus or Nias that breaks nearly everyday.

Personally i don't trust any westerner that trys to encourage or control surf numbers, it's open to way to many issues and corruption etc and when you have business owned and run by foreigners involved then I'm even more suss.

End of the day locals should have more rights to the resources of waves than anyone else, what happens when locals want to develop business but the quota is taken up by foreign owned business?

Can the locals then say goodbye foreign owned business it's our turn?

Very doubtful, seems more like a plan to ensure security of business and use of reefs because with the way they have local rights to reefs over there as time went on and locals got involved locals could control the waves, IMHO putting this system in place helps ensure locals don't develop business or stop foreign owned business using waves.

stunet's picture
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stunet Friday, 30 Nov 2018 at 3:26pm

No offence, but clearly you haven't put a fraction of the research into this as you have to asylum seekers.

The first point is ignorant of the people, mostly Aussies, who've done business in PNG. One of the Western-run camps is on Manus and it's the sticking point for the SMP there. Other points of yours are matters of degree: PNG might only get a fraction of Bali's tourism but it doesn't mean the problems dont exist.

And I'm not sure who you think the Westerner running the plan is.

indo-dreaming's picture
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indo-dreaming Friday, 30 Nov 2018 at 6:47pm

To be honest i didn't even click on the link, this time, I'm just going off what I've read in the past.

Doesn't matter who is behind it, end of the day, there is realistically only one reason to want to control surf spots and that is money for personal gain

Its always about money Tavarua, Maccas, Nihwatu etc

Im suss on the whole thing, but it doesn't really matter i will most likely never cross over from Indonesia to PNG anyway.

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maddogmorley Friday, 30 Nov 2018 at 7:18pm

I don't think they are controlling surf spots for personal gain indo - not from what i've seen anyway....the plan also includes remote areas too such as Lavongai which has no outside influence. Or perhaps they are who knows but a percentage of the SMP goes back to the local owners and that's a good start. PNG needs a SMP too cause it's pretty fickle at the best of times but the one thing it has in it's favour is it's uncrowded. People travel for that.....especially the older crew and if you happen to score a swell your loving life....

truebluebasher's picture
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truebluebasher Friday, 30 Nov 2018 at 3:49pm

Andy's Grandad Sir Cec : Motto was to educate without damaging culture.
Can Andy honestly say he has not had a hand in destroying ancient Papuan surf culture.

So sad that the kids could do real damage to themselves surfing those rustic Splinters?
Not the sort of surfcraft a lady would ride...It just won't do!

Something had to be done! A Tuppaware Party
As usual Oz helped out by dumping 300 lumps of toxic waste on our neighbours shoreline

Thereby destroying the last remaining self sufficient non polluting surf culture..'.Bravo!'
No Boy or Gurl will ever again be caught Party waving those 'So Embarrassing' Palangs.
Last of the Palangs were rounded up & shaped into Paipos. No more nasty splinters.
Walt Disney Palangs now come with a genuine shiny sticker just like a real Boy's Surfboard.
One of us! One of us!

In 30 years we go from 100% good clean fun to every kid polluting a nasty chem trail.

Tuppaware pioneers parade as cultural messiahs when the complete opposite rings true.
Fucked up world when whole of Island polluters become overnite heroes!
I'm not buying it...

Word of warning!
Same thing happened to our WSR Surf City. Board riding clubs/SLSC for every beach...
*Do any know the name of our most ancient Surf God?
*Can Saltwater crew reconstruct a local Surf canoe?
*Could local Anglo Surfers reconstruct a Surf Raft?
*How to predict the weather by sounding out the Burleigh Barrelometer?

We killed off our surf culture so you don't have to...Don't do what we just did!
Our local surf culture will never ring true in our lifetime! Sad for the whole world!
Think twice before you round off that last splinter!

stunet's picture
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stunet Friday, 30 Nov 2018 at 3:54pm

Tom Wegener is your man TBB. The jovial board builder is over there each year doing cultural exchange workshops, using local wood to build boards with traditional methods, keeping the spirit alive. 

truebluebasher's picture
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truebluebasher Friday, 30 Nov 2018 at 4:44pm

Change of surfing equipment may seem innocent.

To them! Surfcraft grew on trees like fruit... Non toxic & No monetary value!
One simply leaves a surfcraft for next person or seacreature or critter to enjoy.
This is consistent throughout Saltwater culture.
There is no ownership on or near the beach.
Truly a Surfers Paradise.

Along comes White Man with a Fibreglass Surfboard...
Surfboard is Too Toxic to leave near animals & too valuable to leave on the beach.
Each surfcraft now needs a minder. Heavy security burden stalls village output.
Theft,competition,alienation,greed all now issues alien to their beach culture.

Now a Paradise Lost
Us! We did this! How could any think that they needed our slabs of toxic shit!

Please leave them their incorruptible 100% pure Paradise!
One Fibreglass surfboard can destroy a whole Island...any fool can see that !
Imagine what 300 would do...Thoughtless & culturally irresponsible.

stunet's picture
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stunet Friday, 30 Nov 2018 at 5:18pm

What if it's the locals who want the fibreglass boards because they ride better? Should we deny them that? Have we got the right?

truebluebasher's picture
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truebluebasher Friday, 30 Nov 2018 at 11:24pm

If I believed a surfboard of any sort could make me surf better I'd be back on board.
Ride better...How much better? Perhaps donate Jetskis. Every last one of them please!
Lifesaving rescue boards are a good point Stu! To save a life, that's a worthy gift.

Papuan Surf Culture intro by some random...exclusive to swellnet! (Rushed version!)

(Splinters) are indigenous to tribe kids. Likely 1st step for canoe bark stripping .
Note the kids also have mini canoes. Splinter is possibly first attempt at canoe.
These splinters are carved to suit ones shape. Soft shape lends to Surf Girls.
Each one of these surfcraft is unique. Completely fluke a gem or dud.
The good ones are easily noticed by their weathered edges.(Keeper!)
Size: ( 3ft long x 2ft wide x 1ft wide) wedge shaped.(Slight truncated concave)
See below photo 2 x right.

(Palangs- Old Canoe 'planking') re: above photo 2 x left
Cut square at front end the other end is left as is (broken or jagged)
How to spot! A more uniformed curve & width thru- entire board.
Size: (3-4ft long x 1ft wide)
Note: Similar to broken Ship planking surfed ashore by Ship wreck survivors.

(Palangs -Ply) most likely derived from (India/Asia: Palang) meaning flat slat bedding.
Ply slats are then recycled as Mum's washboard then lastly as juniors Surfboard.
Size: Long plank (5ft x 1ft-3ft wide) or Short stubbies (3ft x 2ft wide)
Easy to spot that some cut tiny corners off the nose.(Oddly never pointed/rounded)
Possible that slight ply sponging on front corners might slow the line of ride.
Surfing these small full waves requires slight front submersion. A finely honed skill!
Note: Some Palangs are snapped perhaps indicating a random supply source.

(Micro Groms Planks) are Narrow milled Timber lengths (4ft x 4-6 inches x 1/2 inch)
( Does anyone know what they're called?) They may fall under Palangs.(Kidz stuff!),_Papua_-_boardsurf...

(Alaia or Paipo) Hawaiian boards - Recent
These boards are shaped as modern timber boards or Paipos
Stu mentioned Tom Wegener. He + others teach the Papuans this Hawaiian design.
Many of these boards are the crossover stand ups for the young teenager Papuans.
Usually 3-4ft x 16-20 inch. Mini surfboard shape. Mostly rough cut smoothed edged.

Surf Product companions for Alaia: Slot in fins + Twine or Inner Tube leg ropes.
Note: It seems the Alaia design compensates for lack of grom fibreglass boards.
Here's such a Goofy teenager up & riding (Nice Style)
This is the perfect crossover Timeflip of 2 worlds.

Heres a Surf site showing generic smooth crossovers of all.

Fibreglass boards are now the norm...
(Some obvious changes to Papuan culture)

*Fibreglass world is geared toward Teens & Adults.
(Culture Shock) Papua Surf culture centrally catered for the kids.
Kids are stuck with timber quiver until world donates designer grom boards
Mum /Dad/Siss are now out the back as the Kidz Suck it up!

* Ironically Papua tourists come to see the Naturist Kids on planks.
Unfortunately these tourist Hot Spots were first to make the change!
WTF...Kidz are modelling boardies swabbing fibreglass decks. (New world for sure!)

* Traditional Village Party Wave is Wiped Out!
Stand up surfers ride solo! Not as keen to share! This is obvious to all!

* Never ever again shall their Surfboards reconstitute forever more.
Every fibreglass surfboard sent with love will poison the Island forever & ever.
First ones free! Break one, then you pay! We all know the score! They're hooked!

I acknowledge the world must be Surfboard flavoured...Perhaps just lower the dose!
Papuan Surfing Timeline skips a few beats."Hey You! Where's your surfboard mate?"

truebluebasher's picture
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truebluebasher Saturday, 1 Dec 2018 at 10:49am

Astute Board lovers would have noticed the Broken "Ply" Board looked odd.
Closer examination of the Snapped Palang revealed another board composition.
(Laminate Boards) That's Right! More so (Chipboard Shelving) not Thick Bench top.
Size:(2-3ft x 1ft x 1/4 inch) Look closer & you can see laminate peeling off.

Title says Plywood surfing but I'm calling it Chipboard Laminate or Contact (Shock!)

If any surf a kitchen sink it's likely to be these lads.
Papuans display an extreme pocket Surfboard range for each year of childhood.
Easily the most resourceful surfers from the Blue Planet...
These Kidz are leading by example! ...Shh! Best we keep that a secret!

CryptoKnight's picture
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CryptoKnight Saturday, 1 Dec 2018 at 1:51pm

"I remember the rainforest, being surrounded by wildlife. Monkeys, tigers, elephants, bears, snakes — you name it," he said. "We only saw tribespeople. You'd have to walk days to actually see other people."

"It's just a paradise," he said. "The rainforest was our refuge."

'For most of his time in the jungle, Enuol said, he had mostly negative experiences with non-Degars. Sometimes outsiders would walk into his village and steal crops and supplies from his family'.

"They came into our land and would steal our stuff," he said. "There was nothing we could do about it."

"The forest where I grew up, and what I saw when I was growing up — it's not there," he said. "It's mind-blowing to see something that was so real before, and then now — because of modernization, globalization, climate change happening, assimilation — we lost it."

"For indigenous people, [religious conversion] is another way to wash away our belief," he said. "When someone gives up their original faith to believe in the new faith — [it] doesn't jive well with me, because I feel like, 'Why isn't my culture good enough?'"

"Indigenous people have always been in this position, where people are interested in finding the people who lived in the rainforest, the jungle," he said. "I get that. But I don't think it's their right to come in and change someone's way of life. I didn't want to be found. If they wanted to be found, they would have been found."

Swillnuts circle... Push the buttton... 'that kid's buggin' me!!!!' Emails roar!!! 'Ungrateful!!!! Shame!!!'

'No such thing as paradise fool!!!' Polish the boots... again... ... or as some like to put it...

'he's too uppity... burst out of the mist... kick him till he twitches'

Its advanced!!! Again!!!!

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wax-on-danielson Monday, 3 Dec 2018 at 12:38pm

If it gets surfed much will probably come back to whether the Navy will be allowed to surf it, if they are even interested in the first place. Don’t think Manus has much tourism appeal.

Logical's picture
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Logical Saturday, 8 Dec 2018 at 1:46pm

SAPNG Surf Management Plan.
We cap surfer numbers yet the world has no plan to cap the global population rising exponentially to double in 20-30 years.

The threat is 3rd world over population, Bali was not stuffed by westerners but by local and Indonesian over population.