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By Posa A. Skelton in Suva, Fiji

SUVA, Fiji Islands (September 29, 1999 – Samoa Observer)---It is now 25 years since Palolo Deep National Marine Reserve of Samoa was established, making it the first marine conservation area in the South Pacific Islands. Since its establishment, developments around the capital, Apia, appear to evolve around it.

Palolo Deep covers 137.5 hectares (343.75 acres) of land and sea and extends 500 meters (1,650 feet) seawards from the reef. The management of the Reserve is under the auspices of the Division of Environment and Conservation, Ministry of Lands, Survey and Environment.

The daily operation of the Reserve, however, is undertaken by To'omalatai Siaki Laban and his family.

There are many benefits of Palolo Deep. Its accessible location makes it easier for public visitation. The tourism industry gains immensely as well as the local economy.

The mysterious boot-shaped deep, often referred to as a 'blue hole,' remains to be explained. The array of marine life needs to be thoroughly documented. Thus, a small but important study is being carried out by a local scientist. I am currently undertaking a study to identify and document the seaweeds of Palolo Deep.

Supported by a Canada-South Pacific Ocean Development Program Phase II scholarship, the study began in July 1998 as part of a Master’s Degree thesis. It is now nearing completion.

Seaweeds are important to any marine ecosystem, as plants are to a rainforest. This study helps us to understand what managers are trying to conserve and it provides them with information so that they can make informed decisions.

Palolo Deep is a vault of the unknown. Four species are newly described, and over 150 seaweeds, including new records, are added to the Samoan flora. This highlights the diversity of the Reserve, as compared to islands like Nauru with 40 known seaweeds and Rotuma with 106.

Seaweeds are important, as they are the main primary producers in all marine habitats. They also contain many interesting compounds used in making toothpaste, jellies, beers, dairy products, health supplements and cosmetics, to name a few.

Some are now being tested for anti-cancer properties. Reports of one of the seaweeds eaten by Samoans (limu mumu or limu aau) from Japan indicate that it contains anti-lung cancer properties. This seaweed is also found at the Palolo Deep and elsewhere in Samoa.

Tropical seaweeds such as those from Palolo Deep are mostly very small requiring a microscope to see them.

In cold places, by contrast, seaweeds often dominate the coastal area. The longest plant on earth is the giant kelp (brown seaweed) found in California, exceeding 300 meters (990 feet).

The local knowledge of seaweeds is diminishing, and vernacular names which were often used in the past, are rapidly disappearing.

Through studies like his, Samoa is able to document its resources and, at the same time, expose the younger generation to its past world and future developments.

Posa A. Skelton is attached to the University of the South Pacific Marine Studies Department.

For additional reports from the Samoa Observer, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Samoa Observer.

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