The Commune of Fakarava Biosphere Reserve is located in French Polynesia, in the Tuamotu archipelago, 360 kilometres northeast of Tahiti.
It is made up of seven low-lying coral islands and atolls: Aratika, Fakarava, Kauehi, Niau, Raraka, Taiaro and Toau, which are very different from each other. They vary greatly in size, shape, population, the activities carried out there, and whether they are open or closed to the ocean. This diversity makes the Commune of Fakarava Biosphere Reserve unique in its composition and characteristics. Those that are closed to the ocean include Taiaro which has a hypersaline lagoon, and Niau which has a brackish lagoon. Those that are open to the ocean include Fakarava, which has the largest pass in French Polynesia, at 1,600 metres wide.
The Reserve offers a great diversity of landscapes, including coral formations, Phanerogam seagrass beds, ‘Kopara ’ ponds (formed by living cyanobacteria, algae, and bacteria, as well as organic matter resulting from their decomposition), primary forests of ‘Puatea’ (Pisonia grandis), coconut groves and other vegetation typical of the atolls of French Polynesia.
In addition to the species inhabiting the coral reefs, the Reserve is home to remarkable flora and fauna including rare, protected and endemic species. To give an example, the Tuamotu Kingfisher or ‘Koteuteu’ (Todiramphus gambieri niauensis) is completely endemic to Niau Atoll.
The reserve also has a rich cultural heritage, including legends and many archaeological remains such as marae, old cultivation pits or maite, etc.
By becoming part of a well-known international network, the municipality and inhabitants of the commune of Fakarava wish to make known the importance they attach to the preservation and development of the rich natural and cultural heritage they inherited from their ancestors. They thus show their commitment to allowing sustainable development of the islands’ activities, especially those relating to tourism and use of the natural resources on which they depend.
Administrative authority: Commune of Fakarava
Management of the Commune of Fakarava Biosphere Reserve is entrusted to a management committee chaired by the Mayor of the commune, a scientific council, and five associations based on various permanently inhabited atolls.
In Management Committee meetings, decisions are made on priority projects for each atoll, and any propositions from the people are put forward. The various associations of the Biosphere reserve also report on their actions and projects. These meetings are held two to three times a year on different atolls, with a view to allowing all members of the Management Committee to discover the entire Reserve.
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The Commune of Fakarava Biosphere Reserve is characterized by geomorphological diversity in all 7 of its atolls, and covers a total area of 2,682 km2, of which 89% is occupied by the lagoons.
Visiting the whole of this Reserve is possible only by sea, and only the atolls Aratika, Fakarava, Kauehi Niau and are served by scheduled air carriers.
The 1,575 residents who inhabit the Reserve are not evenly distributed. They are generally grouped into villages, and Fakarava Atoll, which is the most developed, is home to more than half of the total population. Fakarava now relies mainly on tourism which is oriented towards diving, fishing, coconut cultivation, and the sale of handicrafts made from natural products (shells, plant fibres, etc.). Pearl culture was strongly influenced by the crisis in the industry, which led to the closure of the majority of pearl farms, and forced some of the population to return to other activities.
The population’s dependency on the natural environment and its resources requires the implementation of targeted and tailored management measures, fully consistent with the objectives of the MAB programme.
Given available human and financial resources, the expanse of the Reserve and the state of knowledge on its ecosystems, the number of studies and projects that can be funded on each of the atolls is very limited. For these reasons, priority is given to studies and projects chosen by local people, in order to meet their needs and questions. These are thus often focused on resources which are exploited, emblematic and/or vulnerable.
Inventories of the Biosphere reserve’s fauna and flora are far from complete. However knowledge of this natural heritage is important if the aim is maintaining biodiversity. As shells are frequently used in local crafts and research on this topic is limited throughout French Polynesia, priority has been given to conducting a malacological inventory in the atolls of the Reserve. This work began in 2008 and is due to be completed in late 2011.
Establishing a sustainable fishery of ‘Kito’ on Raraka Atoll
The Camouflage grouper, called ‘Kito’ (Epinephelus polyphekadion), is a significant additional source of income for the people of Raraka. The fish are caught by angling, and only in the breeding season, at the atoll's pass. Despite this, fishing during this period is known to threaten their numbers. Implementing a programme has thus proved necessary to find out actual numbers and assess the impact of fishing. It aims to help local people adopt appropriate management measures and establish a monitoring system.
Identifying and protecting outstanding cultural and natural sites in the Biosphere reserve
The islands of the commune of Fakarava have many cultural and natural sites that need to be identified, cleaned or maintained, and equipped with amenities and/or signage. To promote this heritage, facilitate the transmission of knowledge and make it more accessible, a programme has been initiated on Niau Atoll. The programme includes collecting knowledge from the past, establishing walking tracks to facilitate access to certain sites, and clearing sites that are obscured by vegetation.
Regenerating coconut groves
Activities involve clearing all land (claimed, alleged state-owned and state-owned) and replanting with non-hybrid coconuts (of designated origin) in accordance with studies conducted by the Sustainable Development Service, while avoiding destroying patches of original Tuamotu vegetation and any protected species.