Marine Atlas: Maximizing Benefits for Vanuatu


To prioritize management and/or protection of Vanuatu’s waters, local marine experts came together to identify areas in Vanuatu’s waters that are special and/or unique.

Special and unique: Mystery Island Vanuatu’s KBAs (see previous chapter) emphasize not only the importance of marine biodiversity to Vanuatu, but also to the world. Much of Vanu- atu’s waters contain very diverse physical and ecological environments, which in turn support a huge range of marine life, yet a great deal of these environments remain undocumented. As the resources of both the nearshore and offshore marine environments are vital to the well-being and prosperity of the country and its people, their sustainable management and conservation are in the interests of both resource managers and the general population. So how can sustainable management be achieved? One requirement is to set agreed management priorities, which allow for an incre- mental, inclusive and sustainable management and conservation approach to Vanuatu’s valuable biodiversity. To help achieve this, the important concept of KBAs was complemented and extend- ed by the identification of Special and Unique Marine Areas (SUMAs) and bioregions (see “Be- yond the hotspots”). SUMAs are areas that are particularly important in maintaining Vanuatu’s biodiversity. They can serve as priority areas for management actions within Vanuatu’s marine environment. It is important that these areas are identified and agreed upon by a broad cross section of local users and experts to ensure they have validity in relevant decision-mak- ing processes. Therefore, in 2017, local users and subject experts were brought together to share their knowledge and identify and map 108 SUMAs. This effort built upon and updated previous efforts, including the information on EBSAs. Located on the southernmost point of the Vanuatu archipelago, Mystery Island is one of the 100 Special and Unique Marine Areas (SUMAs) in Vanuatu’s waters. This little jewel of the South Pacific is completely uninhab- ited. Locals come across the waters from mainland Aneityum to enjoy the island and are often joined by cruise ship tourists. It has benefited from its status as a popular tourism destination, with the waters surrounding the island protected from fishing. Therefore it has reefs in good condition, seagrass beds, more than 115 green sea turtles, populations of grazing fish and a giant clam garden. There has been a measurable increase in popula- tions of exploited species and general reef condition since its protection from fishing. This shows how conservation and tourism (see also chapters “Beyond the beach” and “Space to recover”) can go hand in hand to preserve places such as Mystery Island. The local users and experts contributed their local knowledge of the area and were guided by four

criteria in identifying SUMAs in Vanuatu’s waters: biophysical justification, geographic explicitness, availability of information sources, and internation- al and national obligations. Ranging from mangroves and seagrasses to deep-sea trenches, canyons and seamounts, these marine areas are some of Vanuatu’s most biologically important. These sites, together with the corresponding report “Biophysically Special, Unique Marine Areas of Vanuatu”, will assist in the selection of marine managed protected areas, to achieve 10 per cent coverage of Vanuatu’s wa- ters (see also chapter “Vanuatu’s commitment to

marine conservation”) (Sykes et al., forthcoming). Moreover, they provide site-specific information for local or national-level decisions, policies, plans or analyses that refer to marine places. The maps show a total of 11 offshore and 89 inshore sites. These SUMAs reflect the immense variety of marine habitats within the Vanuatu is- lands, reefs and surrounding oceans. Much of this information has been published in formal papers and reports, but there is also a great vein of local knowledge held by the traditional resource owners themselves, which should be taken into account when describing what is special and unique.




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