The blue lagoon of Satitoa village on the south coast of Upolu Samoa provided the scenic backdrop for a significant milestone in the collective effort to draw on Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) to monitor and conserve coral reefs and coastal ecosystems.
Satitoa villagers, through the hosting of a traditional ava ceremony, rolled out a red-carpet welcome for communities engaged in coral reef monitoring from Papua New Guinea, the Sea Women of Melanesia, Australian Traditional Owner groups (Gidarjil Development Corporation), as well as community representatives from the Aleipata district, gathered for the Pacific ReefCloud Monitoring Project Knowledge Exchange Workshop at the Satitoa Catholic Church hall on Monday.
The five-day meeting is the first knowledge exchange workshop as part of the ReefCloud initiative under the Coral Reef Innovation Project, developed through a collaborative partnership funded by the Australian Government and is being implemented jointly by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the Government of Samoa through the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE).
Samoa’s Associate Minister of MNRE, Faleomavaega Titimaea Tafua, opened the workshop and lamented the alarming rate with which the marine ecosystem is deteriorating. Glancing across to the ocean, he said his village feels the negative impact every day especially since most of them rely on the ocean for survival.
“We cannot allow this to continue without concrete remedial actions. It is critical to move beyond the existing approaches to develop innovative management portfolios and build an international network for interdisciplinary research spanning local, regional, national and global levels,” Tafua said.
“A critical element of this work is the inclusive participation from the local communities in supportive, innovative, and timely decision making to preserve coral reefs.”
Speaking as the Member of Parliament for Satitoa and Aleipata Itupa i Lalo, Tafua said he welcomed the opportunity for elders, women and young people from his constituency to share their knowledge, experiences and learning from Australia and Papua New Guinea on best approaches to support informed co-management of natural resources.
“A greater community engagement in coral reef monitoring, which informs protection and management, provides a foundation for the future economic development and welfare,” Hon. Tafua said. “Local governance and practice play a vital role in asserting indigenous management of their marine estates and can contribute to broader marine governance structures.
“Lessons from the Pacific and Australian Traditional Knowledge Systems might teach us about the future adaptation and resilience on small islands and remote locations, with broader implications globally.
“Developing skills in modern monitoring and research methods among Traditional Owners will enhance future economic opportunity for wider employment and service delivery in regions where high unemployment significant socioeconomic disadvantages are common. The robust documentation of the condition of marine ecosystems will empower local indigenous communities with a substantial role in their marine resources via marine monitoring, research, and management.”
The work in Samoa will pilot the development of a coral reef monitoring framework that facilitates the use of technology to support monitoring efforts worldwide.
Australia’s High Commissioner to Samoa, Emily Luck, said the Australian Government is expanding its support for coral reef resilience in the face of climate change and other pressures in the Pacific through the implementation of ReefCloud.
“This new phase of ReefCloud will empower communities and local governments in Pacific countries to monitor and inform the improved management of their coral reefs. I am pleased that Samoa has been chosen to help develop a framework that incorporates traditional ecological knowledge along with the latest in coral science,” said Luck.
“This new phase of the project will build on the lessons learnt in Samoa to support broader conservation actions across the region. This is an exciting opportunity for communities in Samoa and across the Pacific to share knowledge and work together to protect their coral reefs.”
ReefCloud is an online tool that combines artificial intelligence and advanced data science to support faster and more efficient coral reef monitoring to inform decision-making. ReefCloud was developed by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) working with scientists from Pacific countries. It uses underwater photographs analysed by Artificial Intelligence (AI) in combination with traditional knowledge. The initiative is also in line with the Pacific Coral Reef Action Plan 2021-2030, developed and endorsed by 26 Member countries at the 30th SPREP Meeting in 2021.
SPREP’s Director General, Sefanaia Nawadra, said the Secretariat is extremely grateful to the Government of Australia for the significant investment and support for the project.
“The work that we do here in Samoa will create a model for the implementation of standardised monitoring of reefs and engagement of local communities in the Pacific. This will greatly enhance the ability of the region to cooperate with each other to manage 27 percent of the world’s corals for which we are custodians,” he said.
“Thank you to the Government of Samoa for actively engaging with this project and helping us working with local communities on coastal ecosystem management. We are delighted to build on the partnership between MNRE, MAF and Conservation International that contributes more broadly to the Samoan Ocean Strategy.”
“We really appreciate the technical and scientific support from AIMS and the ReefCloud team, assisting national authorities and local communities in monitoring the reefs and making sure this data informs good decision-making.”
The workshop at Aleipata is one of three Knowledge Exchange Workshops with Samoan, Papua New Guinean and northern Australian communities to enable consultation and discussion that will identify best practices for building traditional management plans and knowledge in the sampling design and monitoring reporting tools that inform local management plans. Documenting traditional knowledge and monitoring the status of the reefs provides the evidence base to design management interventions to restore and conserve our reefs. It will also provide a voice for the Pacific in international fora to attract the support needed to deal with the impacts of climate change and human pressures.
This story was written by Sosikeni Lesa, originally published at SPREP on 26 July 2023, reposted via PACNEWS.