(CI Samoa article twelve published by the Samoa Observer)
Drone image of the Lotosoa-Saleimoa mangrove site during the survey taken by CI Samoa's drone
More often than not, we look at mangroves and fail to see how much of an asset they are for us humans.
It is unfortunate that many do not see the importance of mangroves – admittedly, it’s sometimes hard to see this value past the swampy odor, the muddy habitat and the eerie trees inhabiting the wetland. Because of this a lot of mangroves were neglected and often perceived as waste dumping sites – until recently.
“Mangroves are unique trees that can tolerate salt water and grow in intertidal zones,” says Conservation International (CI) Samoa’s Programme Associate Officer, Maria Fiasoso Sapatu.
“Mangrove forests are more unique in that they play a supporting role to both terrestrial and marine environments. Its dense and tangled root system protects the land or coastline from strong wave action, provides a nursery to freshwater, marine fish and invertebrates, for example the freshwater eel (Tuna) and mud crab (Paalimago), that most Samoans love to eat. Its upper roots and branches also provide a home to Samoa’s various birds, skinks and geckos. Lastly it does the same work as other trees in absorbing the carbon dioxide and providing us with fresh oxygen to breathe.”
To put it simply, mangroves are important; they are extremely productive ecosystems that provide a lot of benefits to our communities and for our biodiversity. Fortunately, many communities in Samoa have now recognized this importance and are on the move to improve the state of their local mangrove sites. One of these communities includes the village of Lotoso’a, Saleimoa.
Last week the village of Lotosoa-Saleimoa welcomed the assistance of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (M.N.R.E) and partners such as CI Samoa, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (S.P.R.E.P.), and the Youth Cl imate Action Network (Y.C.A.N.) of Samoa, to undertake the village’s mangrove biodiversity baseline survey. It is part of the communities’ mangrove project with the United Nations Development Programme/Global Environment Facility-Small Grants Programme (U.N.D.P./G.E.F.-S.G.P.) to help improve the status of their mangroves for their livelihoods, health, and biodiversity.
“Our village has been looking to improve our mangroves for a long time as it’s an important source of livelihoods,” explains the target village’s mayor, Sagaga Ailaoa Poutou Ioane.
“The mangroves are closer than the reef and we also see a good potential for our mangroves to become a visitor’s site run by the village.”
The village mayor went on to explain that the threat of stronger storms and surges due to climate change has also prompted this project initiative so that their mangroves can also provide some coastal protection.
The intensive one week survey, led by the M.N.R.E, is just part of the steps the village has undertaken so far to improve their mangrove ecosystem. The village has already installed rubbish stands to discourage people from dumping waste in the mangroves, conducted several awareness programmes on mangroves, and they have also upgraded the structure of their coastal spring – all activities within their project with the U.N.D.P./G.E.F.-S.G.P.
“The biodiversity baseline survey is important so we can understand the biodiversity within the mangroves and the current issues there are within it. This survey may only provide a snapshot of what is in the mangroves, but we can make recommendations for the village for further actions to improve their mangroves.” says Samantha Kwan, a Senior Marine Conservation Officer for M.N.R.E.
“M.N.R.E. is very grateful and also impressed with the level of commitment from the village to assist in the survey. The days were really hot and long to be out, and nights were cold and spent in the water most of the time, it can easily discourage someone from continuing on – however the enthusiasm and support, especially from the young men and women of the village, were high right until the end of the survey. Our Ministry is also grateful to the technical assistance provided by our partners to support the survey. ”
According to the village’s Project Committee Treasurer, Puialii Levi Tauiliili, the survey conducted by M.N.R.E. provided some very interesting findings for the village.
“During the programme, M.N.R.E. came across fish we haven’t seen in a while and fish we didn’t know existed in our mangroves, such as the snapper species we thought only existed in the reefs,” he said.
“We were mainly expecting tilapia and mullet fish to be found but not all the other types of fish which were caught during the survey. It’s really good that this survey was done so we ourselves can fully understand and appreciate what’s in our mangroves and make sure generations after us will see these also.”
Village Matai, Soliaimalo Motu Nonumalo, added on with words of thanks to all those involved in the work, namely towards M.N.R.E’s Chief Executive Officer, Ulu Bismarck Crawley, and his staff.
“The work done by the team throughout the week did not seem easy at all,” he said.
“We see how they worked throughout the day and night with little rest in between. This survey will benefit our village’s future development.
“We’d also like to thank the U.N.D.P./G.E.F.-S.G.P. because without this support from them, we wouldn’t be able to work with the Government and its partners to complete this survey.”
The importance of these ecosystems can’t be stressed enough, which warrants the efforts and support from funding agencies.
“Here in CI Samoa, as a small NGO office that supports the government and communities in environmental work, we think so much of mangroves that we have dedicated past internships with post-graduate university students to study and map mangroves in Samoa,” says CI Samoa and Pacific Islands Marine Programme Director, Schannel Fanene van Dijken.
“We have also invested in equipment such as drones to help communities and government map Samoa’s mangrove areas, like how we did here in Lotosoa-Saleimoa, in using our drone to capture high resolution imagery of the area. It’s important to do whatever we can to find out more about these amazing ecosystems.”
The past mangrove work Schannel refers to was done by a Samoan Masters student, Iosefa Percival, and provided information in three main areas for Samoa - (1) map of all the “major” mangrove forests in Samoa (major meaning larger than 10 hectares); (2) developed a method to map and distinguish individual mangrove plant species using drones; and (3) he observed how seascape/complex habitat patterns influence fish community composition within mangroves of Samoa.
Research is hugely important - encouraging our people and communities into research and these types of surveys are the key to unlocking more knowledge on the beauty and understanding of mangroves and our environment in general.
The village of Lotoso’a will now await the recommendations from the survey for next steps in their project as well as the road works undertaken by the Land Transport Authority before going through any further actions within the mangroves. However, they will continue their efforts in raising awareness on mangroves and their importance within the village.