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Seacology returns to Samoa, where it all started

April 16, 2021

The people of Setāfaō Saipipi Village had already taken meaningful steps to protect their precious coral reefs, but they were thinking bigger. Thanks to a partnership with Seacology, they’ve now greatly expanded their stewardship of this vulnerable marine environment.

The village sits on the eastern coast of Savai‘i, Samoa’s largest island. Just offshore, a concentric series of reefs extends far out into the sea, providing a habitat for myriad fish species, giant clams, and other marine life upon which local people depend. The community had actively monitored the near-shore area, but has now made the protected area five times bigger, reaching the outer reefs. The community believes this 40-acre reserve will serve as a model for neighboring villages to protect their own resources. It also increases the possibilities for ecotourism, because the larger reserve is an ideal spot for snorkeling.

In exchange, Seacology agreed to fund the building of a new fale, a community building used for traditional village events and meetings. The new building sits on higher ground, farther inland. Our partners quickly got to work, and the entire village helped out with the project. The sturdy new building, which sits on higher ground farther inland, was constructed in just a few short months. “This is the first project of this size in the history of the village,” the project leader reported. “Songs of joy and gratitude were heard. The spirit of unity was amazing.”

Setāfaō Saipipi’s fale now stands ready to serve the community, including as a base of operations for the expanded monitoring of the marine reserve. Twice a month, a team of local conservationists survey the reefs, checking on the health of the coral and the growth of the giant clams there. They coordinate their work with scientists from Samoa’s fisheries department, who lend their expertise to the successful management of the reserve.

Samoa is where the Seacology model of conservation was born. In 1990, ethnobotanist Paul Cox was living in a village there with his family, researching tropical plants. When he learned that village leaders were being forced to sell logging rights to their forest, because they had no other way to raise money for a village school, Dr. Cox scraped together funds from friends and colleagues including a generous lead gift from Seacology vice-chairman Ken Murdock. The school was funded—and in return, the village chiefs happily promised to keep the forest safe from loggers.

“‘E tele ni lima e mama ai se avega’, meaning ‘many hands make a burden light’, is a Samoan proverb that to me epitomizes the community spirit of Sapipi village,” said Dr. Cox. “All of the villagers, from the highest chiefs to the smallest children have worked together to make their newly expanded 50 acre coral reef preserve visitor friendly. I am confident that people will travel from around the world to visit their spectacular underwater reserve, and to admire the majesty and kindness of Samoan culture.”

Residents of Setāfaō Saipipi lay the foundation for their new fale.

Working on the interior.

Villagers put the finishing touches on the building.

Members of the community show off some of the giant clams that grow in the marine reserve.