Science and tradition come together to save Samoa’s indigenous forests

The indigenous forests of Samoa are one of the most important natural pillars of its culture and traditions – the faá Samoa– and an integral element of the livelihood and well being of its people. 

It is therefore important that we work to protect these indigenous forest ecosystems, particularly when there is increasing pressure from urban development and population growth. 

The most effective way of doing this is to identify critical forested areas, such as the four key biodiversity areas (K.B.A) of the uplands of central Savai'í, the Apia catchment area and two community conservation forests of the villages of Falealupo, Uafato and Ti’avea, and work with communities to sustainably manage these. 

Every effort that can contribute to the conservation and sustainable management of these areas is warmly welcome by both the government and in particular the village communities who own the land on which the remaining K.B.As are located.

In order to do this, there needs to be regular surveying and monitoring of the health of these areas so as to provide the information and knowledge needed to guide their proper conservation and management.

Last Sunday, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (M.N.R.E) in partnership with Conservation International Samoa (C.I) came together to make the final preparations for the Biodiversity Rapid Assessment Programme surveys (B.I.O.R.A.P 2016) that is now underway. 

The surveys will run over a three-week period, taking 15 CI staff and scientists, 15 M.N.R.E staff and 60 local community members to four sites across Savai’i and Upolu. 

These surveys are an integral part of the Samoan government’s Strengthening Multi-sectoral Management of Critical Landscape (S.M.S.M.C.L) project, which aims to ensure Samoa’s productive landscapes are protected and sustainably managed to mitigate land degradation, by integrating Sustainable Land Management principles across multiple sectors as well as mainstreaming S.L.M into planning frameworks and outcomes.

B.I.O.R.A.P 2016 will contribute to this aim, by providing baseline biodiversity data for use in assessing climate impacts on forest ecosystems and species on both Savai’i and Upolu. The baseline data will serve as an indicator in determining and prioritizing specific areas for conservation management and areas for sustainable land management practices by the government and the villages in which these areas are located. 

The ecological surveys will involve strong engagement with local communities to ensure their understanding of the value of these efforts and to garner their support for the activities and outcomes of the project to protect the nature that they depend upon.

 “By leveraging government partnership, recruiting a global team of conservation scientists, and involving local community members, the survey will allow for a transfer of knowledge to local communities on survey techniques and skills, with community members participating and being trained in biodiversity survey techniques,” said Schannel van Dijken, C.I Samoa Officer in Charge and B.I.O.R.A.P 2016 Team leader.

This multi-sectoral engagement is central to the overall management of these K.B.As, as these critical landscapes and the success and sustainability of the overall S.M.S.M.C.L project will depend on.

The baseline scientific information gathered during the BIORAP 2016 will be used by government and community leaders to generate sustainable management plans that will then be used to ensure the forests can be properly managed into the future and, in doing so, ensure the longevity of local village livelihoods,” Seumaloisalafai Afele Faiilagi, M.N.R.E-B.I.O.R.AP Project Manager.

During the two weeks preceding the survey, CI and government representatives met with key village councils to share with them the objectives for the project and to request support from members of the community to accompanying the scientists on the survey.

It is integral to project success that by including local community members, that they can share their local and traditional knowledge, as well as, learn new skills from the scientists in order to carry on the monitoring work that will be required into the future. 

The local community is excited to be involved in the project and have been looking forward to hosting the scientists involved in the survey. We couldn’t have done this without the community land-owners, who know this land well and who support this effort.

They have been a great help in identifying the best trails, possible campsite locations and accessible lands for scientists to conduct research.

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