See photos from Nimpal at the launch of a new surveillance raft for enforcement of their marine protected area.
Teenagers wielding machetes chop the tops off coconuts, handing them to a celebratory crowd. People of all ages sit around on lawn chairs and on the grass, drinking the fresh coconut milk right from the coconuts.
It’s an almost impossibly beautiful scene: Palm trees frame brilliant blue waters and an equally blue sky. And it’s all set on an idyllic island, almost postcard-perfect.
But this isn’t a postcard, nor is it a resort. For most of the people in attendance, this is home. Those shimmering blue waters? They’re not scenery. They’re the source of food, of livelihoods.
Today, the community has gathered to celebrate the launch of a new surveillance raft for enforcement of their marine protected area (MPA), an area set aside in 2008 to protect their fishery so that future generations can continue to live on their island home.
The event takes place in the community of Nimpal, located on the island of Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia.
Yap is an island in the Micronesian region, covering five government jurisdictions and more than 2000 islands. It spans more than five percent of the Pacific Ocean.
Yap is known for its traditional culture, centered on village life, and its large stone money, carved disks that dot the island and are still used for ceremonial transactions. But Yap also faces issues similar to other Pacific island nations, including climate change and depletion of fisheries.
Finding solutions that integrate marine conservation with the need to sustain local livelihoods is the key to conservation success on islands like Yap.
That’s why the Nimpal community on Yap has made an important decision: to protect a part of the reef near their community from all fishing through a marine protected area.
“Our community relies on the reef,” says Thomas Gorong, a member of the community. “This MPA will ensure that we can continue to rely on the reef.”
Healthy reefs mean more fish on peoples’ plates. Think of an MPA as a fish bank: It provides a refuge for fish, sustaining the resource for generations. Research has demonstrated that marine protected areas lead to more and bigger fish that can then "spill over" into areas open for fishing.
The Nimpal community led the effort to create the MPA. Now, they’re also leading the effort to ensure it remains protected. It is not enough to just designate the protected area; the community must also police to ensure that poachers are not fishing the reef.
To accomplish this, the community is using a surveillance platform. Resembling a floating house, it is anchored in the MPA. Young people from the community use the platform to make sure poachers are not fishing the reef.
A quick snorkel around the Nimpal Channel reveals that the community’s protection efforts are already paying off: Whereas twenty years ago marine biologists recorded a devastated reef, today large schools of fish already swim around the channel. The MPA is an investment in the future, an investment already paying dividends for the villagers at Nimpal.
The creation of the Nimpal MPA in 2008 is one of many protected areas throughout Micronesia. This protection effort is part of a locally-led initiative called the Micronesia Challenge, which includes the five governments, local communities, and local and global organizations, including The Nature Conservancy.
One of the Micronesia Challenge’s goals is to protect 30 percent of the near-shore marine resources—the reefs that provide fish on the table— across Micronesia by 2020.
The Nature Conservancy’s work in Micronesia is founded on our core value that local communities must lead the conservation efforts to protect reefs and other resources. Local knowledge is the most vital element of conservation here. Community members know the reefs better than anyone.
The Conservancy can complement this local knowledge with cutting-edge science. Tools like modeling projected climate change impacts and conservation planning can provide useful information to local communities as they plan their protected areas. The Conservancy also provides the Challenge’s participants with technical and coordination support to help them collectively conserve the splendor of Micronesia.
But today, the focus is all on Nimpal. As community members sip from their coconuts, and chew the seeds from a local plant called betel nut, they hear speeches from the local chief and governor on the importance of protecting the reef, now and for future generations.
As the sun sets over the surveillance platform on the Nimpal Channel, the future looks bright. Today, the villagers have made a decision to ensure that the reef continues to provide, incomes, and meals, for the people who live here.December 16, 2011
Matt Miller is director of communications for the Conservancy’s Idaho program. Read his blogs on Cool Green Science.