South Pacific islands Wallis and Futuna explore possible Ramsar designations

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From 30 June to 4 July 2014 Vainuupo Jungblut, Ramsar Programme Officer for Oceania visited the French Territory of Wallis and Futuna. At the request of the government, he supported the National Environment Service to assess the potential for designating Ramsar Sites.

Wallis and Futuna are a group of volcanic islands located in the South Pacific. It is one of five French overseas collectivities (collectivités d’outre-mer) and its two main islands host about 15,000 inhabitants.

Lake Lalolalo, a volcanic crater in the island of Wallis, could be proposed for designation as a Ramsar Site.


Assessed wetlands
Lake Lalolalo is a volcanic crater lake covering 15.2 hectares. It is about 80 meters deep, with sheer rocky cliffs falling 30 meters to the waters below. The lake is surrounded by approximately 30 hectares of forest, protected because considered “Vao-Tapu” – sacred or forbidden. A population of black eels inhabits the lake and it is rumoured that after World War II the Americans stationed in Wallis dumped much of their equipment in the lake.

Lake Kikila covers 17.2 hectares and is located near the capital of Wallis, Mata-Utu. It is currently not known whether this lake contributes to the water supply of the capital. From observations during the site visit, it is clear that the lake supports a small population of Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa).

Lake Kikila, located near the capital of Wallis, Mata-Utu

An area of coastal mangroves and intertidal mudflats was also assessed during the visit. Two species of mangroves were observed, Rhizophora samoensis and Bruguiera gymnorrhiza, and a number of mangrove associates (plants that can also be found in environments other than typical mangrove wetlands). If the National Environment Service decided to propose this area for Ramsar nomination, it would be recommended to include a diversity of ecosystems by annexing the adjacent lagoon and reef.

The delegation also visited freshwater wetlands traditionally cultivated with taro, a root crop that the local population trades and eats as a staple food.

Taro, a traditional root crop cultivated by the local population.


Challenges
The governance structure of Wallis and Futuna is very complex. There is sometimes lack of clarity in terms of land ownership, boundary delimitations and use of resources. This might slow down the designation of the territory’s first Ramsar Site.

With the exception of Lake Lalolalo, it is not clear whether there is comprehensive data on habitats and species for the other three sites, and if so whether the data is available in English.

Next steps
The Ramsar Programme Officer for Oceania will continue liaising with the National Environment Service of Wallis and Futuna to identify the first site to be nominated as a Ramsar Site. Vainuupo Jungblut will then support the National Environment Service to gather information and literature on the site and if necessary to hire experts to conduct baseline ecological surveys.

He will confirm to the National Environment Service the timelines for producing the documentation for designating the first sites and he will support the National Environment Service to plan and carry out community consultations.

Contacts
Mr. Atoloto Malau, Head of the National Environment Service (SENV), accompanied Vainuupo Jungblut during his visit. Following the protocol, Vainuupo Jungblut presented traditional gifts to the King of Wallis, King Lavelua, and received his blessings and well wishes for the visit.

Report and photos by Vainuupo Jungblut, Ramsar Officer for Oceania

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