Marine champions showcasing best practises on Vanuatu

Marine champions showcasing best practises on Vanuatu

For decades, the chiefs of 16 indigenous communities on the islands of Pele and Nguna in Vanuatu have been working together to protect their forests and reefs. The best-practises of the  “Nguna-Pele Marine and Land Protected Area Network” are now spread in other communities too.

  • How indigenous communities on two islands on Vanuatu created a network of land and marine protected areas
  • What methods made resilient for nature catastrophes such as Hurrican Pam
  • The importance of local champions taking responsibility
  • Effective actions to kick-start recovery of nature
  • How to share best-practises in marine protection, learn and support each other

“In my childhood, this was all land,” Willie Kenneth points to the turquoise water below us, “the sea level is rising steadily, and we see many erosions.” We are on the islands of Nguna and Pele in Vanuatu. Erosion is not the only negative impact of climate change here; droughts, followed by heavy rains and floods, also endanger the livelihoods of the approximately 1,500 inhabitants of the islands, which depend on agriculture and fishing. The previous high or rather low point was reached on March 14, 2015: Hurricane Pam caused damage in the millions on most of the 83 islands of Vanuatu. Also Nguna and Pele north of the main island of Efate were affected. “The next day I dived to my coral cages, which I planted in 2013,” says Willie Kenneth when we arrive in his native village of Worasiviu, “they had survived the hurricane. We still have some remains of Pam in the water today though. It will take a while for all the corals to recover – but the coral reefs will return.” The father of a four-year-old son is helping the ecosystem as a coral gardener. He is not alone.

Already in 1995, the chiefs of Pele and Nguna had decided to work together for the benefit of the environment: at first, this collaboration was limited to a ban on killing endangered turtles. Soon after, some of the village communities established no-take reserves – so called “tapu zones” –  along the coast to protect the rest of the marine life. To join forces more effectively, four Chiefs of Piliura, Worearu, Unakap and Taloa collaborated shortly afterwards in an informal network. The plan worked. Today, the “Nguna-Pele Marine and Land Protected Area Network” comprises 16 indigenous communities committed to protecting their forests and reefs. Whether coral garden, regular beach clean-up or the ban on certain fishing methods – which measures are taken, define the Chiefs and the respective village community. For the implementation as well as the management,  elected “local champions” are responsible. Coral gardener Willie Kenneth is one of them. “In Worasiviu, we have set up a three-tier marine reserve,” he says, jumping up and drawing that on a chalkboard for better understanding, “the traditional Tapu Zone, where the chief lifts the fishing ban on certain occasions, then a permanent no-take and a fishing zone.” At least in his village, the dedication of the enthusiastic diver and spear fisherman pays off: “The eyes of all villagers are directed to the sea,” he says, “it took a few years for us to convince them. Now however, the community respects the rules.” Not unselfishly, the community obviously benefits from a healthy ocean. “Resources from the sea provide food to us as a coastal community and provide additional income when we sell our seafood on the market,” says Willie Kenneth, “and it’s also good for tourism when guests can snorkel on healthy reefs surrounded by lots of fish. “

Not all of the communities have yet recognized these advantages. “Only six of our communities have strategic management plans for the ocean,” he says. “Everything depends on people involved in their village. Finding these volunteers is our biggest challenge at the moment.” More and more islanders would go to the capital, Port Vila, or even abroad to make a living. In an effort to motivate more, especially young people, Willie Kenneth and others of the Nguna-Pele Marine and Land Protected Area Networks conduct workshops demonstrating best practices in marine conservation.
“After Pam, we showed the coastal communities how to remove the invasive Crown of Thorns from their reefs,” he gives an example of such trainings, since raising water temperature, increasing acidification of the oceans, and other effects of climate change are not the only threats for this sensitive ecosystem. In 2013, the village community of Worasiviu had lost 90 percent of corals due to the invasive species that feeds on hard corals. Willie and his people wanted to prevent further damages. In a large-scale collection campaign, they fetched 250,000 crowns of thorns from the water. Now there are no more Crown of Thorns in Worasiviu – and the hard corals have also regrown.

Whether bleached coral, plastic garbage or Crown of Thorns – over the years, the Nguna-Pele Marine and Land Protected Area Network has taken different approaches and tried various methods to master challenges like this. Now the findings are summarized for the first time. Together with the government and national and international organizations, the network works on the RESCCUE project to describe the most effective best practices and deliver a set of best practices according to the problem. “The community can choose the solution that suits them best from the list,” Willie Kenneth explains, hoping to make work easier for the village communities. The first joint marine conservation effort was presented to the public in August 2018. Further toolkits for food security or agriculture follow and will be available to all communities in Vanuatu and maybe soon in other Pacific Islands. “We all need to share our knowledge, learn from each other, and support each other,” Willie Kenneth can not go fast enough. He puts it in a nutshell, which is true not only for the inhabitants of the Pacific Islands: “Every single one counts.”

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