Marine Spatial Plan Consultations — Samoa in action to protect & sustainably manage its marine resources

© Conservation International photo by Schannel van Dijken

Just as rugby unites all Samoans around the world, the ocean unites all Pacific Island nations. It defines our Pasifika identity, hence why Samoa — our small island nation — has committed to sustainably manage its entire ocean & formally protect 30% of its 120,000 sq km ocean domain.

98% of Samoa is the ocean. The people are dependent on it for: food security, sustainable livelihood, cultural wellbeing and economy. Without the proper use of its resources, Samoa will be at the brink of existence, which is why there's a need for the country to create a Marine Spatial Plan.

What is a Marine Spatial Plan (MSP)?

MSP or Ocean Plan is a way to balance out human use and the need to maintain the health of ecosystems that humans depend on. By implementing the MSP in our country, we are taking climate actions to help protect our marine environment and its biological diversity from dying.

The work on developing Samoa’s MSP commenced in 2019 co-lead by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) and Samoa’s Umbrella for Non-Government Organisations (SUNGO). The co-leads further worked in partnership with Conservation International and the Waitt Foundation on implementation including provision of access to ‘Seasketch’, a spatial tool used to carry out surveys and mapping of ocean use areas of communities during the first round of consultations in late 2021.

The MSP Consultation Core Team (CCT) finished off its second round of consultations on the 9th December 2022 after 11 weeks of engaging with stakeholders — key sectors: tourism, fisheries, NGO, CSO, CROP agencies & relevant government ministries, as well as communities. We engaged with 70 individuals in key sectors & over 1,300 people in 49 electoral districts — 3 islands, 177 villages.

The MSP 2nd Phase’s main objectives are to:

  1. Report back to communities the findings of the first round of consultations which sought to understand and capture ocean use;
  2. To present/introduce the First MSP Draft and;
  3. To facilitate feedback on this draft from communities and relevant national sectors (listed above).

The First Draft of the MSP shows the network of 11 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), a.k.a no take zones, scattered across Samoa’s Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) and combined, make a total of 30.1% protection of Samoa’s ocean.


Figure 1: Map of the MSP First Draft

While engaging with stakeholders, they expressed concerns about how this Plan would affect their livelihoods if these MPAs are established. Such concerns include questions like: What’s so special about these areas that they’ve chosen for protection & conservation? How will Samoa monitor activities within these MPAs? Where will we fish if these MPAs are established in these areas? Are boats allowed passage through these NTZ?


Figure 2: During Community Consultations

Firstly, the proposed NTZ were results of findings from the First Round of Consultations with key sectors and communities and an expert workshop where experts were facilitated on their thoughts about the MPAs. After consulting them and after scientific research about their biodiversity, the team was able to come up with the current draft — the First Draft — that was then presented to sectors & communities. Each proposed MPAs are rich in biodiversity and are important for protection to ensure food security for the future generations.

Fun facts about this Draft that you should know about. Some of these NTZs have interesting backgrounds:

  • NTZ 8 was proposed to protect the 5 Mile Reef (known by its name, it is 5 mile wide) or in Samoan - the To’atugā Reef. Reason behind this is to prevent anchoring of incoming boats waiting for the port to be available. (Please refer to figure below)


Figure 3: NTZ 8 & the To’atugā Reef (5 mile Reef)
  • NTZ 2 is the largest proposed MPA mapped out (taking up 11.7% of the 30.1% plan) and is one of the highest areas of fish caught in the year 2015-2020, amounting to 8.7% effort. Here lies most parts of the Pasco Bank — a special unique marine area (SUMA) consisting of seamounts, ridges, guyots and escarpments. (Please refer to Figure 1)
  • NTZ 4 protects a basin area or the Southern trench (the Northern part of the Kermadec-Tongan trench that lies within Samoa’s ocean)
  • A research study conducted by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) discovered a route of sea mammals (mapped out in Figure 1) just crossing in between the Upolu Island and American Samoa. This migration route is mostly protected by the proposed NTZ 5 & 10 — to keep longlines/fishing nets from capturing any fish mammals within their catches. To an advantage, NTZ 10 will help Samoa keep fishing activities from reaching into the American Samoa boundaries.

There were concerns raised by the communities in the districts on the Eastern side of Upolu facing the NTZ 10 — located almost 5 miles away from the Lalomanu coast — which will minimise their fishing area. They then put forward their request to half the width of this NTZ and increase its length, to protect most of the border with American Samoa and allow more area for communities for food security & dependency.

Secondly, the Vessel Monitoring System, or VMS. To keep people from worrying about monitoring of these NTZ, especially from illegal activities, the Police Maritime Wing Division comes to the rescue with this system that is used 24/7 to monitor vessel movement within Samoa’s EEZ.

Additionally, just like the word — No Take Zones — no method of fishing activities are allowed within these boundaries, however! To be rest assured, boats are allowed passage.

Now onto fishing grounds. There are 11 proposed NTZ scattered across the EEZ, amounting to 30.1% of Samoa’s ocean, which means that there is a 69.9% total area that is allowed for the whole nation to fish in (equated to 83,880 sq km).

In addition to the presenting of the First Draft, the team consulted the communities about their inshore areas, in which many villages requested to establish fish reserves for their villages, to also protect their marine resources for future generations.

They re-highlighted some issues raised during Phase 1, such as:

  • technical & financial support — lack of capacity, support, resources, source of advice, lack of funding, etc;
  • Palolo fishing — this season that comes twice a year urges the public to fish and in result, damages corals;
  • uncontrolled natural disasters — tsunami, flooding etc;
  • Climate change, pollution
  • Anthropogenic activities (human activities) — sand mining, illegal fishing, boat anchoring and wharfs etc.

These are common issues faced by many countries around the world, and Samoa is taking a step forward to provide these issues with solutions, tackling down challenges that our people are facing.

MSP is an important component of the Samoa Ocean Strategy and is key to replacing unsustainable management and overuse of marine resources with integrated sustainable-use and ocean management for the benefit of the people, economy and biodiversity of Samoa.

This 30% ocean strategy voluntary commitment was made at the United Nations Oceans Conference in New York 2017 towards Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14: Life Below Water.