Mangrove is pivotal in conserving marine ecosystems as it is home to thousands of organisms and acts as a buffer during storm surges.
Dr Padma Lal, was amongst the first cohort of graduates in 1971 from The University of the South Pacific (USP) and the first science gold medalist for the regional institution. Dr Padma also obtained her master’s in science at USP in 1974. These were highlighted during her public lecture on the topic Conserving Tiri in Fiji at the Laucala Campus in Suva.
Organised by the USP Alumni Office, the public lecture aimed to generate awareness on issues within the mangrove management space and focused on improving the mangrove ecosystem governance framework centred around a proper and informed decision-making process.
Speaking to a room full of students and staff last Wednesday (May 10, 2023), Dr Lal said recent trends show that “mangrove loss is at an increasing pace due to misguiding knowledge about conversion and agricultural uses.”
“Other trends in losses that we are seeing are because of the focus on economic growth in terms of maximising profit goals for the private sector and because mangrove areas are essentially seen as wastelands. Governance issue also has a part to play in the loss of mangroves as there is a lack of clarity over responsibilities and confusion amongst agencies not knowing who has what powers over what.”
Dr Lal said that while it is encouraging to see a plethora of agencies in the space of mangrove conservation, it is more important that they don’t just work in silos but with each other.
“Forestry, for example, continued to look after the forest reserve, the Lands department recently have started to issue informally what is called the conservation leases and Fisheries, on the other hand, can gazette Marine Protected Areas (MPA).”
“We have one arm of the government talking about that they can do this, and another arm is doing something which is supposed to look at things comprehensively. The question is who really the mandate has to manage and look after our mangroves and under what policy?”
Known for her groundbreaking work in cost-benefit analysis and market and non-market valuation in the areas of mangrove management, Dr Lal stressed that “outdated legislations and unclear overlapping jurisdiction and authorities are causing confusion in this space. There is an absence of any overarching guidance over the use and management of mangroves.”
“There is no National Mangrove Ecosystem policy. No National Mangrove Ecosystem Act. These are things that need to be looked at for us to understand better and management our mangroves.”
Dr Lal stated that “there is a need to shift the obsession with just economic development, growth in financial asset and physical assets and change the narrative, to focus more on valuing of natural assets and resources, improve mangrove governance and collaborative work across agencies to protect the mangrove ecosystem.”
Alumni Affairs Coordinator Sala Toganivalu Lesuma said “Inviting Dr Padma Lal, an eminent scientist and researcher, to be our first speaker for a series of public lectures scheduled for 2023, was an opportunity for the USP Alumni Network, to celebrate and profile, one of its famous graduates. And a fun fact which many would not know is that Dr Padma Lal was in the university’s first graduating class of 1971.”
“It is not often that we celebrate “rock stars” in science, but today we celebrate Dr Padma Lal, a proud USP alumni, because she is a trusted source of information and data insights, on the humble mangrove swamps surrounding Fiji. We take these mangrove swamps for granted it’s our responsibility to educate ourselves and raise awareness about this important ecosystem.”
The Alumni Affairs Coordinator emphasised that “alumni such as Dr Lal, are an important part of USP’s strategic plans, as we all work together in shaping Pacific futures.”
Meanwhile, USP has produced over 62,000 graduates since 1971 with its alumni network spread throughout the Pacific and the world.
All USP alumni could register themselves to the USP Alumni at www.usp.ac.fj/alumni/arms/