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The three islands of Manono, Apolima and Nuulopa are situated between the two main large islands of Upolu and Savaii. The largest of the islands is Manono with an area of 3 sq km, is a low-lying island with four villages (Apai, Salua, Lepuiai and Faleu), connected by a narrow path along the coast. Other paths lead up the hill through the plantations and to a star mound on the highest point of the island. The plantations cover much of Manono Island and there is only a small amount of remaining native vegetation. Manono Island is a lava cone which is seen with its highest point of 80m above sea level and locates on the main barrier reef closer to the Upolu Island. The total land mass of Manono island is 288.5 hectares.
Apolima which is smaller than Manono is surrounded by rugged cliffs and access to the interior is through a single opening in the cliff navigable only with extreme care. Access is always very difficult since there is about 50m wide gate channel blocked off by a cliff called Papaloto, leaving only a narrow serpentine passage on the east side. Since the ocean surges directly into the entrance opening, at the first bend to the left a whirlpool (vili) is created which is often quite dangerous for ingoing boats. In front of the whirlpool is a small cliffy headland Paugaluga and in front of its seaward the rock Tautulioso. There is one village on the island, and is located within the crater amongst gardens and native bush. Apolima is accessible by a 35 minute aluminium boat ride from Manono-uta (on Upolu island) across the lagoon. It is about 2 km from Nuulopa and 9 km from Savaii. The total land mass of the island is approximately 101.5 hectares.
In between Manono and Apolima, there lies a smaller island called Nuulopa which is about some 50 metres high. Creepers and coconut palms abound on the island, which is generally used as a cemetery for the high chiefs of Manono, particularly of the Tuilaepa family. It is also a small forested rock outcrop and a conservation area for flying foxes. The surrounding sea is also a conservation area for turtles.
Geologically these islands lie on an underwater ridge which connects the Upolu and Savaii Islands. Native forest vegetation of these islands are completely altered by years of human settlements with a small exception of remaining native ridge forests on Apolima - understandably most of these areas are inaccessible to humans. Several sea birds were observed nesting the seaward cliffs of Apolima mountain ridges. A small wetland area with an active stream exists in the middle of Apolima but its ecology has not been studied.
The fringing coral reefs system around these islands are intact and rich in fish and shell fish species though swaths of damaged reefs are recovering from recent cyclones and past destructive fishing and over-fishing practices. Some good diving grounds have been located in the area by diving operators which regularly take scuba diving and snorkelling tours there. Recent cetacean studies have sighted whales and dolphins in the seas around these islands mostly close to Apolima. The beaches of Nu'ulopa is a potential turtle nesting ground though it has not been studied for some time.
A tropical maritime climate characterise by high and uniform temperatures and high humidity. The daily mean temperature varies little from the annual average of 26.6 C and the mean humidity averages over 80% throughout the year. The conservation area is found in one of the wettest parts of Upolu, with rainfall approaching 6000 mm in the upland areas, although approximately hals this at the coast. Most of the rain falls in the west season from November to April.
The authenticity of the islands of Manono, Apolima and Nuulopa is demonstrated through the retainment of a very traditional lifestyle coupled with the sustainable management and effective use of natural resources. The importance of the central isolation of this cultural landscape was inevitable in the past as it became the seat of government during Manono's national politics. It later became the headquarter of the London Missionary Society when it first arrived in 1836. Furthermore, historical sites and landmarks bears evidence of the origin of myths and legends which have presents interesting picture of a genetic mixture of Tongan, Fijian and Samoa heritage.
This site has been proposed as a cultural landscape, a special category of sites which has been recognized for the first time by the World Heritage Convention in 1995. In that sense, the sites that we can compare with Manono, Apolima and Nu'ulopa are the cultural landscapes recognized by the UNESCO. To date, 50 properties on World heritage List have been included in this category.
This Samoan proposed site could be considered as an "organically evolved landscape" (second category) because it's the result from a social imperative by association with and in response to the natural environment. The subcategory would be "continuing landscape" since it retains an active society with a traditional way of life which the evolutionary process is still in progress.
Manono, Apolima and Nu'ulopa case is especially peculiar because there's only a small amount of remaining native vegetation without infrastructure development. There are no roads and no cars and communities living in the islands are self-sufficient having everything they need to survive.