View of Lefagaoalii's MPA taken from Safune. Photo credit: Teinesavaii on Wikipedia

Apia, Samoa – The coral reef restoration and sustainable fisheries project in Lefagaoalii, Savaii has attracted the attention of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), one of the biggest funders of climate change adaptation and mitigation projects in Samoa and globally.

Lefagaoalii’s Marine Protected Area (MPA) is featured in a GEF article named, Blue Economy: Community Case Studies Addressing the Poverty-Environment Nexus in Ocean and Coastal Management, which highlighted three case studies (China, Samoa and Vietnam) of how vulnerable coastal communities may be uniquely positioned to be stewards of the environment and how community intervention and innovation in these communities helps preserve the environmental resources on which their livelihoods depend.

The article appeared in Sustainablity, a monthly peer-reviewed, open access, scientific journal published by the Swiss institute, MDPI. Authored by Sulan Chen and Charlotte De Bruyne of UNDP, along with Manasa Bollempalli of Rutgers University, the article was published this month to coincide with World Oceans Day on June 8th.

It examines how local practices of blue economy succeed in addressing the poverty–environment nexus in coastal communities, and how this approach can help bridge poverty–environment challenges, particularly at the community level.

GEF is the main donor for the Small Grants Programme (SGP), managed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Samoa, which also funded the Lefagaoalii MPA project.

“It is heartening to know that the international community has the same appreciation that UNDP has for the use of
traditional and local interventions in managing our blue economy,” said Jorn Sorensen, UNDP’s Resident Representative. “Lefagaoalii is a classic example of how proactive measures are necessary to enhance the access to and productivity of vulnerable coastal communities’ natural resource assets and to engage them as partners in natural resource management.”

SGP has funded more than $13 million Tala (USD5 million) worth of community projects in various villages around Samoa. Lefagaoalii on the central north coast of the big island of Savaii with a population of about 484, is one of those villages.

“It was a privilege for UNDP GEF SGP to partner with the village council and environment committee of Lefagaoalii for the conservation of their biodiversity, and establishing their Marine Protected Area, over the three year course of the project,” said Lilomaiava Filifilia Iosefa, SGP National Coordinator.

Project Background
For generations, the Lefagaoalii lagoon has been a significant breeding area for the fish known as bigeye scad or akule. The reef used to be rich in corals, and the village was famous for the abundance of Palolo worms. However, the coastal area and biodiversity have been gravely affected by climatic events, land-based human activities, and unsustainable fishing practices. With the destruction of fish habitat, the village’s fishers saw a considerable decline in their marine harvest in its inshore reef and lagoon.

Realizing the impact of damaged marine ecosystems and biodiversity had on the village’s livelihood, Lefagaoalii established its Marine Protected Area in 2009 with assistance from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF). Underpinning this initiative was the development of the village’s Fisheries Management Plan and undertaking a baseline survey by the MAF Fisheries Division in that same year. From that survey, MAF identified that there was low presence of marine life, but that the area was a good environment for coral growth, with the dominance of live-hard and soft corals. They also found that the Lefagaoalii marine environment was excellent for an aggregation site of the bigeye scad as a seasonal species, and a potential area for other aquaculture activities such as raising Trochus snails or giant clams, and sea-grape farming.

The restoration of the village’s marine ecosystems and biodiversity required a larger scale of management than just the no-take zone stretching 400m from the coast that the MPA had established. It required further assistance through technical expertise and funding, so the village council and its MPA committee sought help from the SGP in 2014.

Environmental Results
The first visible environmental impact of the Lefagaoalii SGP-funded project is the demarcation and expansion of its MPA to 5 ha. Within the expansion of the MPA, coral growth has increased because of the village’s clean-up of the crown-of-thorns starfish that affect corals, and enforcement of by-laws that ban dangerous fishing practices.

In addition, the Government of Samoa through the MAF Fisheries Division supplied giant clams and 100 coral plates for coral planting within the reserve. The village also planted at least 700 seedlings of coastal trees from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE), which now protect the coastline from erosion. The project committee also built a seawall with big rocks (Rockwall), which adds strength to the village’s shoreline.

The expanding coral growth within and outside of the reserve will replenish both the lagoon inshore as well as the reef. The villagers can now catch fish in larger sizes and quantities than they did before the MPA and its expansion. They are also collecting many invertebrates and other species they have not found in a long time in their coastal area.

Another essential environmental impact is the spring and rock pools located close to the MPA. In their 2015 survey, the MAF Fisheries Division identified that certain coral types grow densely in and out of the MPA in areas that were far away from the freshwater springs and rock pools. The project enabled the village to renovate and maintain their spring pools and prevent any impacts on the MPA.

Socio-Economic Results
The environmental impacts may underpin or undermine the socio-economic development of a community. In the case of this project, the Lefagaoalii MPA strongly supports the villagers’ wellbeing. The people of Lefagaoalii had traditionally relied on its coastal area and marine resources to support their livelihood through consumption and income earning.

In the years before the establishment of the MPA, villagers observed a massive decline in numbers of fish, invertebrates and sea grapes in their inshore coastal area and reef system. Now that the corals and marine species in the MPA are growing in abundance, the fishers are catching bigger fish in larger numbers from the lagoon surrounding the MPA and reef area. On average, there has been a 100% increase in their weekly income, from $160 to $320.

Another significant socio-economic impact for Lefagaoalii is the increased awareness and capacity of villagers regarding biodiversity conservation and project planning and implementation. The village is considering ecotourism development and the conservation of mangroves.

The village’s MPA is adjacent to the mangrove area, which covers the entire western coastal area of the Lefagaoalii flat plain. The mangrove area is the nursery site for marine species, and its conservation will have a high positive effect on the MPA. The improved awareness and capacity of villagers; the ongoing conservation efforts; and continuous planning for future initiatives reflect Lefagaoalii’s intentions to sustain its natural resource base for unceasing socio-economic development.

Conclusion
The article concludes that in the first instance, the poverty–environment discourse focused predominantly on “downward spirals” and one-dimensional aspects (how poverty among people causes environmental degradation) or feedback loops (how environmental degradation in return affects the poor).

More recent research recognized that the poverty–environment nexus is multi-dimensional, governed by a complex web of factors, and more attention now goes to investigating how marginalized communities are able to invent and maintain protective measures that can help minimize the negative impact of environmental degradation on their ecosystems and associated livelihoods through collective action.

As shown in the case of Lefagaoalii and the other two examples from China and Vietnam, community practice or implementation of a blue economy is manifested differently in different local contexts; in the three different countries a variety of approaches and activities were developed to address the common challenge of protecting the ocean and its resources and securing human economic welfare. The implementation of internationally accepted principles of the blue economy approach eventually has to be done at the local level, taking into consideration the conditions, needs, and relationships between local people and the ecosystems. The complexities and challenges of local level interventions should be fully recognized for development interventions to be effective on the ground.

As shown by the Lefagaoalii MPA project, good practices to address the poverty–environment nexus should be locally designed, community owned and adaptively implemented.

-ENDS-

For media queries, please contact:
Laufaleaina Lesa, UNDP Multi Country Office, Samoa|Tel. +685 23670|E: laufaleaina.lesa@undp.org


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