Coastal communities in Samoa suffer the greatest impact of climate change in the country.
Sapapali’i, a coastal community on southeast Savaii is one of the many rural communities experiencing the extremes of weather. The most recent disaster was in 2012 when Cyclone Evan completely damaged the only bridge connecting the village to the main town of Salelologa.
This has disrupted the community’s access to public services, critical infrastructures, and commercial service. At the same time, houses and food crops were washed away by the cyclone and heavy siltation is deposited along the seashore.
Longer periods of intense rain over the years have made Sapapali’i, a community comprising of four sub-villages, and a population of less than 900, very vulnerable to impacts of climate change. Food security is threatened, and biodiversity impacted particularly with the mangrove ecosystem, a natural prevention measure for erosion and an important source of livelihood.
In 2015, Sapapali’i village matai decided to do something to strengthen community resilience and to improve the integrity of its mangrove ecosystem. Supported by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (M.N.R.E), the village management subsequently applied for funds through the U.N.D.P G.E.F Small Grants Programme (S.G.P) for a climate change adaptation project to strengthen and promote its local biodiversity.
The village matai’s and elders wanted to rejuvenate their mangrove ecosystem as an adaptation measure against climate change. Part of the grant has been used to conduct an audit exercise, a review of the current situation and integrity of the mangrove ecosystem and the livelihoods depending on it. The audit provided valuable baseline information on the health of different species of wildlife in the mangroves of Sapapali’i.
The audit exercise was facilitated by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (M.N.R.E), led by the Division for Environment and Conservation (D.E.C), and assisted by members of the Sapapali’i community.
The audit review found five species of mangroves with distinct features for male and female. The villagers were quite capable of identifying the differences between these two species from their appearance. Furthermore, the survey also showed that the mangrove ecosystem is essential for the community as it provides timber for housing, firewood, and medicinal plants. It is also a breeding ground for reef fish, crabs, shellfish; it provides food for fruit bats; and foraging ground for two species of birds, and one species of migratory duck.
Given the significant role of their mangrove ecosystem, the village elders have come together to convene a village meeting to discuss the issue.
During this meeting, the elders expressed their concern about the declining sizes and catches of fishes, and the accumulating silt deposit along the foreshore. The elders also voiced their concern about the small and narrow bridge entering the village from Salelologa, which cannot withstand increased water level in periods of heavy rain.
The debris that piled on the bridge has caused floodwater to spill onto family homes. During spells of heavy rain, the villagers feel insecure in their homes and have therefore raised these issues to be brought to appropriate authorities.
To overcome this problem, the villagers expressed their appreciation to the Small Grants Programme and committed to set aside 10 acres of seashore land for mangrove conservation. With the right assistance and expertise, they are prepared to replant the mangroves.
The project took this opportunity to expand the knowledge of villagers on mangrove ecosystem management. They were made aware that mangroves take a long time to grow and such undertaking requires patience and dedication.
The project is also prepared to connect the village with other communities with similar mangrove replanting schemes to boost shared experience on rejuvenating mangroves.
The U.N.D.P G.E.F Small Grants Programme work in partnership with the Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries on Marine Protected Areas for Sapapalii, as well as work in partnership with the EU G.C.C.A U.S.P programme on water tanks and farm implements to improve the resilience of vulnerable communities.