The Puamotu people, pioneers in the field of sustainable development
A mediation programme has been set up between the proponents of the reserve and the inhabitants in order to determine how the atolls and their surroundings – which have always been controlled by the elders – would be divided. Annie Aubanel-Savoie, the person in charge at the land-use planning department, has worked for the French Initiative for the Protection of Coral Reefs (IFRECOR) on identifying the different areas and has spoken with the elders. ‘The Puamotu people were true pioneers in the field of sustainable development. To exploit the resources of the atoll while preserving them, they have set up the famous RAHUI, which was based on a fallow principle. Every three months, the copra workers and their families shifted locations to exploit the coconut plantation of the neighbouring atoll, giving the nature time to regenerate itself. A boat collected the shipment of copra from a different motu each time. The inhabitants were authentic coconut plantation nomads and moved camp from one motu to another, ultimately visiting the whole atoll!’
The proponents of the reserve have taken into consideration this exemplary environmental preservation method perpetuated over generations and have incorporated it into the zoning plan implemented.
A buffer zone for activities that are consistent with sustainable environmental practices
The intermediate or buffer zone is used for activities that are compliant with sustainable environmental practices. ‘Tetamanu, the former capital of the Tuamotu Archipelago, is located at the south pass of Fakarava and is developing through dive tourism and ecotourism. It is a perfect example of the buffer zone,’ says Annie Aubanel-Savoie. ‘The boarding houses have been built using local materials and are equipped with solar panels and desalinators. Their typical Polynesian decoration is very popular among visitors. The fish is caught solely for meal purposes and the activities on offer are all devoted to the discovery of the rich local heritage.’ This idyllic location is very popular with divers. A rich pelagic fauna transits through the Tetamanu pass and it boasts a bright and multicoloured coral life. It is narrow (230 m large) and low currents make it one of the most accessible passes for divers who can experiment diving along incoming and outgoing currents, which is a very rare opportunity around the archipelago.
The transition zone, the focal point for economic and social activity
Finally, the transition zone comprises various economic activities including fishing, pearl farms and copra, as well as human settlements and other holdings surrounding the central area and the buffer zone. It is the focal point for economic and social activity, which must aim towards sustainable development, involving and benefiting the local community.
‘Due to the remoteness of the atolls from each other, these 3 categories of zones have been set up in each atoll,’ explains Miri Tatarata, from the Environment Directorate, who led the extension project from start to finish and who is convinced of the interest of the zoning system. ‘It was a real brainteaser to set out the different zones but it was an essential step to enable the protection of the fragile ecosystem while ensuring economic development that is necessary to keep the populations in their islands.’
There is actually no place where fishing is forbidden, but professional fishermen who sell their catches outside the atoll are allowed to fish only in certain well-defined areas.
The Tuamotu biosphere reserve: A challenge for the population
The setting up of a biosphere reserve was a real challenge for the whole population, which is not always convinced of its usefulness.
The Tuamotu reserve was designed in close consultation with the islands’ populations. Public consultations over five years were launched in 2000 among the 1,600 inhabitants of the 5 communes. ‘The approximately 750 inhabitants of the Fakarava Atoll were sceptical from the start, to the point of rejecting the project,’ says Miri Tatarata, who developed and led the consultations and was on the ground in every atoll.
‘Fishermen are the eyes of the reserve’
Despite initial failure in convincing the inhabitants of Fakarava, various field missions were organised on the atolls of Aratika, Kauehi, Raraka and Toau to present the project to extend the biosphere reserve to the population. The definition of the zoning and the reserve management possibilities, with the implementation of an overall development plan (PGA) and a maritime spatial plan (PGEM) were clearly explained and the project was finally accepted by the majority of inhabitants. In Moorea, the successful implementation of a maritime spatial plan indeed confirmed the need of dividing and regulating the natural area for the mutual benefit of all. ‘In this context, the inhabitants of Fakarava let their guard down and joined the project,’ concludes Valentina Peaton, who leads the reserve’s association and is in charge of sensitising the population. ‘Our role is to improve the inhabitants’ understanding of the usefulness of the biosphere reserve. We had lengthy discussions with professional fishermen to help them understand the interest of preserving some specific areas of the lagoon and the usefulness of the zoning system. We don’t have any means of control and count on their presence to watch over the lagoon and spot any eventual “ona”, outsiders who come to plunder our lobsters or giant clams. The fishermen must be the eyes of the reserve!’ explains the young lady, who is very committed to protecting her atoll.
‘The effectiveness of a biosphere reserve depends on the involvement of the population in its management’
The management committee is a real management authority and represents all the social and economic partners in the commune, namely local elected officials, owners of pearl farms, copra workers, fishermen and tourism operators. After the project was validated by UNESCO, Adolphe Lissant, also called Ato, was appointed as coordinator of the biosphere reserve. He is responsible for planning and coordinating all activities taking place on the site for a sustainable management of the reserve. He indeed visited Guadeloupe to attend an international meeting held by UNESCO. ‘I realised the importance of the human element through exchanges of experiences,’ explains Ato, who takes his role seriously. ‘The effectiveness of a biosphere reserve depends on the involvement of the population in its management. We must be patient and persistent if we want to implement an open, flexible and expandable framework. But this pact with the population should foster their bonding so that they are capable of facing up to external political, economic and social pressures. The reserve should enable us to develop in a sustainable manner.’
The biosphere reserve: An opportunity for the sustainable development of Fakarava
Fakarava is the second-largest lagoon of Polynesia after Rangiroa (60 km long and 25km large) and is following in the steps of the latter, which is regarded as a mecca for divers. Located some 70mins by air from Tahiti, the atoll is currently experiencing strong economic development. Besides the growing number of boarding houses, the atoll has its first hotel of international standard, the Maitai Dream, since 2002. There are now 4 dive centres which offer unforgettable explorations into the two passes of the atoll, which are acknowledged for their beauty and their rich fauna and flora. The inhabitants of Fakarava are proud of this accomplishment but are keen to maintain the image of their atoll as a well-preserved corner of paradise off the beaten track.
The biosphere reserve label to foster sustainable tourism
The biosphere reserve finds its real justification in the willingness to support sustainable tourism. ‘The biosphere reserve label will help us in striking a balance between sustainable tourism development and preserving the beauty of our atoll,’ explains Valentina, who adds that a local tourism committee has been set up. ‘We have implemented a training programme to improve the tourist experience at the boarding houses. We also wish to offer new activities and train a greater number of local guides to make visitors discover the riches and history of our heritage.’ Discussions on the improvement of waste management and renewable energy are also being held during meetings organised by the management committee. The option of a landfill was rejected in favour of the shipment of recyclable waste to Tahiti and the installation of wind farms is planned in 2012.
Improving the conservation of protected species
Various species of fish, shells and invertebrates are currently protected by local and international regulations, including manta rays, sharks (all species except mako sharks), sea turtles (Chelonia mydas, Dermochelys coriacea, Eretmochelys imbricata), Triton’s trumpets (Charonia tritonis), helmet shells (Cassis rufa), great green turban shells (Turbo marmoratus), giant clams (Tridacna maxima), lobsters, shrimps (Lisiosquilla maculata), mangrove crabs (Scylla serrata), slipper lobsters and black corals.
However, it is virtually impossible in practice to monitor the situation given the surface area to be covered and poaching is still widespread, say Miri Tatarata and Annie Aubanel-Savoie. In this context, the biosphere reserve can innovate and encourage the inhabitants to use their imagination regarding approaches to cooperation, decision-making, information and management in order to reconcile nature conservation and human development. The involvement of the population in the management of the biosphere reserve is essential for the success of this project, which will become a model for the other atolls.
Using the label to leverage funding for scientific programmes
The concept of biosphere reserve is based on the exchange of ideas and thoughts among the reserves of the world. Visits by foreign coordinators have thus been organised to allow the inhabitants of Fakarava to enrich themselves with new ideas to better manage their reserve. Above all, the label allows the leveraging of funding to launch scientific programmes. ‘A first programme on the rarity of kingfishers has been launched in Niau in partnership with the CRIOBE as well as a study on the extinction of the kaveka (frigate bird in Tahitian language) in Kauehi,’ eagerly says Miri Tatarata. The Reef-Check organisation, which has a branch in Polynesia, has for example set up a surveillance network with the support of the IFRECOR and the fisheries department to investigate the spread of acanthaster (crown-of-thorns starfish) infestation in different atolls, including Fakarava.
The Tuamotu biosphere reserve is a real opportunity for the commune of Fakarava. Tourism prospects are promising and the destination has everything to gain from meeting the challenge of sustainable development.