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Op-Ed: Deadline for public comment on Fagatele Bay

PART II

We have seen articles, letters to the editor, and full page advertisements in the Samoa News from the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary staff about the benefits of the plan; and also Gov. Togiola Tulafono has urged the public to understand and read the management plan before making ‘our’ decisions on one of his Saturday radio programs.

In yesterday’s commentary, I brought to the attention of the people a few facts and points the Governor is missing out on addressing, which included the public meetings, the lack of guidance by principles of the fa’a Samoa, and asked the question: Why is this [proposed plan] needed?

In Part II, I pick up three more points that I believe the Governor missed out on addressing:

What protection?

There are papers online which discuss the problems with the Sanctuary program and how the law doesn’t provide very good protection for fish and coral resources. The Sanctuary Act was supposed to be updated a few years ago, but never was.

So tell us why should we agree to our local waters being managed by a federal program that provides inadequate protection for our resources?

See http://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs/rmrs_p049/rmrs_p049_573_578.pdf  (the Sanctuaries Act lacks a central focus on preservation and a rigorous process to achieve it. Congress has never defined what constitutes a sanctuary system, vaguely identifies the Act’s purpose as protecting special areas of national significance, and does not outright prohibit any extractive uses.), and http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL32154.pdf - page 1

The 110th Congress considered reauthorization of the National Marine Sanctuary Act (NMSA; 16 U.S.C. §§ 1431, et seq.) by introducing H.R. 6537 and by holding hearings, but no further action was taken. Many hold that NMSA comes closest to authorizing MPAs. It authorizes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to designate specific sites for comprehensive and coordinated management and conservation. However, some, especially environmentalists and many marine scientists, assert that a more comprehensive approach with stricter protection and more extensive protected areas is still needed).

There is definitely evidence here in the Fagatele Bay site, which wasn’t well managed and allowed dynamiting and other destructive fishing practices for over 20 years… maybe we ARE better off with the existing local programs, and to keep our waters local. Why sign over more of our waters to the Feds?

Benefits of the Sanctuary?

There is a lot of talk about benefits to do with the culture and for education and tourism, and the Fagatele Bay Sanctuary staff are experts at education and outreach events, personal  relations, and funding for equipment – but why not use these millions of dollars to help the existing local programs instead of competing with them and affecting their programs? 

Not much has been done for site management and improving the resources over the last 20 years, so why expand and impact other sites, and stop local communities from managing their own resources with the assistance of the existing local programs?

There is not much mention of how the Sanctuary works with the existing programs at the Marine and Wildlife and the National Park, however there has been some evidence in comments in the paper and the public meetings about how these programs aren’t working well with the Sanctuary program, even though this is a key principle stated in the management plan.

The Village Council members in Aunu’u specifically asked why the need for the Sanctuary when they are already happy to work with the local Marine and Wildlife department. There is some problem with the National Parks and the Ta’u proposal… So what is that all about???

This is a small island, where we need to work together instead of competing and causing problems for others.

Done deal?

A lot of the public comments have asked for the Sanctuary staff to take more time to review this plan, as people are not ready.

It does all seems like a big rushed job to get this plan through before the Government administration changes, as there is a lot of money at stake here.

The Head of Marine Sanctuaries told us in early 2011 that 10% of the total budget of the whole National Marine Sanctuary Program in the US was going to be given to American Samoa Fagatele Bay program for the financial year 2012. Surely they wouldn’t be receiving this money if this plan wasn’t already a done deal?

This money is going to secure Sanctuary staff jobs, and also some expensive education equipment, but what are they going to do to protect the resources?

We should suggest that they stick to Alternative 1: to update the management plan and improve the existing site, spend more time working with the communities if they wish to be involved in the program, but don’t rush this through — behind our backs!

Editor's Note:

Out of continuing concerns raised about the proposed plan for the expansion of the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary, a group of fishermen and community members are meeting today (Wednesday, Jan. 04, 2012) at 3 p.m., at the Fagatogo Market Meeting Room. It is hoped that a group public comment can be submitted by the deadline, Friday, Jan. 06, 2012, to express issues raised during this meeting, as well as other concerns.

Also there is a Sanctuary Advisory Council meeting being held today at 1 p.m., which will be attended by the SAC members from the different agencies and community representatives. It is open to the public — therefore anybody who wants to sit in and listen, and if there is time, get the opportunity to comment, should attend. It is assumed the meeting will be held at Dept. of Commerce conference room, however, Samoa News has been unable to confirm as of press time.



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