When it comes to retaining that special connection with nature, rural based villagers are up there with the best of them. As it was in the past, their daily lives depend highly on natural resources for survival.
From families relying heavily on fish and other marine resources as a means of generating income and daily meals, to families depending on their farms to provide what’s needed for the day, nature is the backbone of their livelihood.
And because of this dependency, this places them in the best position to notice environmental changes and issues because any impact on the environment directly impacts their way of life.
With this in mind while planning the next site for the “Guardians – Tausi Lou Faasinomaga”, where Conservation International Samoa and its partners will conduct fun and interactive environmental education programs for children, the team, along with the National University of Samoa and Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (Fisheries Division), visited a fishing community to conduct a social perception survey to see just what environmental issues they faced.
This will help formulate the Guardian’s conservation modules to better cater for the environmental needs of the community.
The survey's preliminary findings were interesting.
“Compared to 10 years ago, our village coasts and forests have really degraded,” expressed one frustrated fisherman who won’t be named due to survey confidentiality conditions.
“Our community relies heavily on marine resources because majority of our people are fishermen. But look at the condition of our waters; it is murky, only a few corals left and we have little to no fish.”
Another fisherman continued on to name a few contributing factors leading to the degradation of their village coast, namely deforestation and illegal fishing activities.
“So much eroded soil from cutting too many trees is washed into the ocean when it rains and I believe this is why the water is so muddy and murky, this issue is heightened during cyclones,” he explained.
“This will prevent corals from growing properly and without corals, there will be no home for the fish and without their home, there will be no more fish in our area for the village fishermen to catch.
“Another issue is the large commercial fishing boats taking more fish, sea cucumbers and other marine resources than they ought to.”
He added that all these conditions put together makes life very difficult for fishermen.
Preliminary results show about three quarters of villagers interviewed found that, compared to 10 years ago, their environmental surroundings have degraded to some extent – this includes both terrestrial and marine areas.
Furthermore, almost all those who noticed these degradation's are adamant that human activities are the cause - from Illegal and destructive fishing practices to the clearing of forests for commercial use, family houses and plantations.
Although many commended the government’s efforts to address these issues, with one popular method being the establishment of Fish Reserves under the Community Based Fisheries Management Program, many are calling for government authorities such as police to work even closer with village leaders to deal with culprits responsible for this environmental degradation.
On the other hand, preliminary results also showed that many believe that with all the national regulations, various village community projects, and active village leaders, the environment has a chance to recover.
A survey of this nature is important as it gives people a clear picture of what rural communities go through with regards to their environment because they live it, work it, depend on it and see it every day.
Another purpose is to get local feedback on existing national environmental programs so that we may know what works and what doesn’t as well as identifying gaps where more work is needed.
And when working towards a healthier environment for communities, local knowledge is key.