Pacific islands may conjure images of pristine holiday destinations but they are facing a number of environmental challenges - pressure on freshwater supplies among the top.
In Samoa, protected areas are proving critical in safeguarding water supplies which are in ever-increasing demand and are becoming more unpredictable.
Established in 1978, O Le Pupu-Pu’e National Park is Samoa’s oldest national park. It covers 2,850 hectares on Upolu island and is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna. The park includes the Togitogiga water catchment - the main water source for four villages - and also boasts waterfalls that are a prime tourist attraction. In recent years however, water quality and quantity have declined and the falls are known to have significantly less flow during certain times.
Waterfall on the Togitogiga River © Claire Warmenbol
The health of the catchment has been degraded by livestock roaming freely and their associated waste, the invasive vine Merremia peltata and soil erosion. Efforts by IUCN and partners have been made to restore native vegetation, fence cattle off from restored areas and remove the invasive vine.
Extensive consultations were held between local communities and government agencies which led to the formation of the Togitogiga Catchment Coordination Committee to oversee the development and implementation of a catchment management plan. Serving as a model for other catchments in Samoa, the main aim of the plan was to deliver water of sufficient quantity and quality to support the environment, local communities and their livelihoods.
At least five government ministries and the Samoa Water Authority have been involved in implementing the plan that included relocating cattle, testing water quality, liaising with village mayors and resolving land ownership issues. Community buy-in was achieved through several meetings where communities were encouraged to voice their concerns.
This integrated approach has improved the health of the Togitogiga catchment and in turn that of O Le Pupu-Pu’e National Park.