Taio - Tahitian Petrel
Island and Ocean Ecosystems

Wednesday 29 May 2024, Apia – The importance of seabirds to Samoa’s cultural heritage and unique ecosystem was given special attention during a knowledge café hosted by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) in collaboration with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE), the Samoa Conservation Society (SCS), and the Northern New Zealand Seabird Trust of New Zealand. 

The knowledge café facilitated the sharing and documenting of not only scientific knowledge and experience, but traditional knowledge possessed by members of the community from both Upolu and Savai’i islands, to better understand seabirds and seabird ecology in Samoa, support for future surveys and improve awareness programmes for seabirds in particular at the local community. 

The recent knowledge café on Samoa’s seabirds forms part of SPREP’s series of knowledge sharing  and exchange initiatives  led by SPREP’s Knowledge Management team in collaboration with the SPREP Islands, Ocean, and Ecosystems Programme and made possible through support from the Pacific BioScapes Programme, a European Union (EU) funded action, managed and implemented by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) which includes 30 focused activities taking place across a diversity of ecosystems in 11 Pacific island countries that are addressing critical issues concerning coastal and marine biodiversity, and ecosystem-based responses to climate change adaptation.

SPREP’s Seabird Action Plan which is part of the Pacific Island Regional Marine Species Programme 2022-2026 includes actions to specifically work with traditional knowledge holders to understand historical and current distribution of seabirds as well as preserving and protecting knowledge and values associated with seabirds in art forms, video, audio, and publications. 

Group picture

SPREP’s Acting Director General, Ms. Easter Chu Shing welcomed the community representatives to the knowledge café and stressed the importance of coming together in sharing knowledge and information to inform collective actions for the conservation of Samoa’s important sea birds. In her keynote address, the Chief Executive Officer of MNRE, Ms. Lealaisalanoa Frances Reupena, stressed the important role of seabirds not only culturally, as evident in many myths and legends of Samoa, but also in conserving and protecting the environment and enriching Samoa’s unique biodiversity, as well as contributing to Samoa’s economic development through tourism. 

“Our seabirds are impacted by threats posed by rodents, feral pigs and cats, loss of habitats due to damage to rainforest areas through developments such as plantations and construction, as well as the ever-present threat of climate change and the increase in global temperatures,” Lealaisalanoa said.

“The scientific and traditional knowledge shared during our programme today will greatly benefit and aid the Ministry and its partners in our ongoing efforts to conserve our seabird species as well as to ensure that Samoa meets its obligations to the various global conventions it is party to,” she added. 

Officers from MNRE and the Samoa Conservation Society provided an overview of the existing seabirds in Samoa as well as their habitats and their usual places of nesting including important information of the different studies conducted by the Ministry, SCS and SPREP at sea and on land to survey the diversity and populations of seabirds in Samoa to ensure they  are better protected.  

SPREP’s Threatened and Migratory Species Adviser, Ms. Karen Baird, said that it is hoped that this exchange of knowledge between the technical experts and the community members will lead to the discovery of more seabird breeding locations in the forests and also to collect historical knowledge of where they used to breed. 

“One of the problems is seabirds that breed in the forests are declining and at risk of disappearing completely so we are hoping that communities might have knowledge of where these birds might be nesting in the forest so we can protect them. Knowledge of where they used to breed is also useful so we can understand more about their historical distribution and decline. Forest dwelling, burrow nesting seabirds would have been widely distributed when humans first arrived in Samoa, but the presence of predators such as rats and cats has taken its toll”.  Ms. Baird said. 

“We’re also interested in traditional knowledge of seabirds, particularly names, language, culture and cultural associations. We’ve presented on what we know so far about seabirds in Samoa and the community are discussing their knowledge of seabirds which will be captured in recordings and in a final report.”

“There is interest in continuing the networking session in the future with more expertise from the communities, government ministries and the private sector in order to help define a clear path to assess and define names that are important for identification of each seabird species that are without Samoan names but are found in Samoa.” 

For more information, please contact Ms. Karen Baird - [email protected], Ms. Czarina Iese Stowers - [email protected] and Ms. Moeumu Uili - [email protected].