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By Yashika Nand
Mud crabs are a popular dish in Fiji that over the years has become a luxury food item. Single large mud crabs will cost you FJ$50-70 per crab or FJ$100-150 for strings of crabs at the Suva market, with the larger ones selling out very quickly. Mud crab dishes can cost you FJ$40-50 per dish.
There is a general perception that stocks around Viti Levu have been depleted while those in Vanua Levu are still healthy. However, we don’t have any data to verify this perception. We also do not know if we are harvesting too many female crabs with eggs or too many undersized crabs. How many crabs do we need in a mangrove forest to enable the local population to continue and thrive? These were some of the questions the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) are fishing for answers for
In July 2016, WCS partnered with the female representative for the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area (FLMMA) network, Department of Fisheries and women mud crab fishers to trial a method to determine the density and biomass (or weight) of mud crabs in different mangrove forests in Bua Province. Our early discussions with these fishers taught us that mud crabs inhabit three major habitat types – mangrove systems, intertidal mudflats, and coral reef systems.
After discussion with a number of international experts, we decided to trial a survey technique that combines a “depletion method” with “transect surveys”. Basically, very experienced mud crab fishers were asked to collect all the crabs they can find within a fixed and marked area (square) 400m2 in size. Each crab that is caught is tied and at the end of the survey measured to get the carapace (shell) length and total length, weighed and then released back into the mangroves or in some cases, kept for sale or consumption.
We conducted mud crab surveys in the districts of Dama, Navakasiga and Lekutu. We took a selected our sites based on the following criteria: (i) fishing pressure; (ii) density of mangrove systems; and (iii) types of mangrove forest. What we did not anticipate was how intensive it is to conduct surveys in Rhizophora forests, which are known for their complex array of aerial roots. It took us almost 45 minutes to mark the boundaries of one quadrat, especially for us town dwellers who are not used to walking through mangrove forests.
Over 7 days, we surveyed 30, 800m2 of coastal mangrove forests and developed a deep appreciation for the hard work that goes into catching mud crabs, and the skills required to find the crabs. The women we worked with walk barefoot through mangrove forests, looking for crab holes, which scattered in no real pattern.
We learnt that mud crab fishers spend hours in a mangrove forest looking for crabs that we enjoy eating, most only catching 2-10 on the low tide. Our preliminary analyses suggest that mangrove forests are a habitat for majority adult and some juvenile and sub-adults. The densities we recorded in Bua Province were slightly lower than that those that have been documented in New Caledonia and Australia. However, we were tide constrained and the challenging habitats we had to survey and scattered distribution of mud crabs meant we might have slightly underestimated the population status. However, the surveys conducted are a good baseline for understanding the status of the stocks and the fishery, especially if we link it to catch rates and volumes by local fishers. And most importantly, the surveys allow us to engage directly with mud crab fishers to help them assess the stocks in their mangrove forests.
Understanding what state the stocks are in, is a good first step to understanding what management measures need to be in place to ensure the fishery is sustainable for the long-term, and Fijians can keep eating the mud crabs they love!
By Sangeeta Mangubhai
Aichi Target 3 under the Convention on Biological Diversity states that “by 2020, at the latest, incentives, including subsidies, harmful to biodiversity are eliminated, phased out or reformed in order to minimize or avoid negative impacts, and positive incentives for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity are developed and applied, consistent and in harmony with the Convention and other relevant international obligations, taking into account national socio economic conditions.”
Under the RESCCUE project (www.spc.int/resccue) being funded by the French Development Agency (AFD) and the French Global Environment facility (FFEM) and implemented by the Pacific Community (SPC), a review is being done to look at what harmful subsidies and fiscal policies are in place in Pacific Island Countries and Territories in various economic sectors. These sectors include mining, fisheries, agriculture, transport, waste management, urban development and tourism. This work aims to tie taxation and subsidies to sustainable development goals, particularly around biodiversity and ecosystems under a coastal integrated management framework.
Taxes and subsidies if applied incorrectly can lead to increase resource use, increase in emissions and natural resource degradation, which can quickly become large problems for small island developing states. This is largely because taxes and subsidies are often not proportional to environmental impacts.
As a Pacific Islander, I want to see my country develop, but not if the cost is the loss of our rich biodiversity and our quality of life. I don’t want to live in a Fiji without its endemic birds and iguanas, traditional plants and medicine and wild places like the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape. I am proud that Fiji has a National Green Growth Framework, but I worry that this framework makes little reference to the removal of perverse taxes and subsidies.
At the IUCN World Conservation Congress I learnt that if correctly applied, taxes and subsidies can help reduce extraction, improve quality of water and soil and provide financing to support environmental objectives. Examples of greener taxes and subsidies include quotas on fisheries, taxes on harmful substances like pesticides, waste generation, and water pricing. As a partner on the RESCCUE project the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) looks forward to supporting the Fiji government find greener tax and subsidy incentives to contribute to the goals of the National Green Growth Framework.
By Sangeeta Mangubhai
Pacific Islanders have a deep connection to the ocean that spans millennia. Their ancestors were inspirational navigators who sailed across the Pacific, using their immense knowledge of the ocean, the stars and the elements as their guide.
In the hours before the official opening of the IUCN World Conservation Congress, the Governor of Hawai’i and the Kahanamoku and Paoa families welcomed the Pacific Island leaders from Fiji, Cook Islands, Solomon Islands, Federated States of Micronesia on Waikiki Beach. Together they celebrated the Moana Pasifika Voyage, which is “a voyage for the Pacific Ocean, by our ohana in Hawai’i who sail for action on climate change and a sustainable Pacific Ocean. The voyage delivers the voice of our communities and the lessons learned through our traditional to help chart a course to a safer future.”
This theme came out strongly during the Pacific Ocean Summit and Pacific Island Roundtable event, which highlighted that the health of the Pacific Ocean impacts all of humanity, every ecosystem and every economy. Much of the discussion was about the launching of the 2030 Pacific Ocean Partnership “to deliver on the extraordinary actions required to avoid the severe impacts from climate change and biodiversity loss,” to help deliver Sustainable Development Goal 14 to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.
This means taking greater action on climate change, reducing plastics and pollution, building community resilience and knowledge networks, strengthening coastal resilience through the restoration of watersheds, wetlands, mangroves and seagrass beds, and establishing and enforcing protected and other managed areas.
Being around our Pacific Island leaders and colleagues gives me hope. There is a strong sense that we are in the same “vaka” or traditional canoe sailing the same journey, with the same destination, to define a healthy and resilient Pacific. All we need to do is pick up as many people we can along the way and make it a global journey.
By Sangeeta Mangubhai
On 20 February 2016, Fiji was hit by Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Winston — one of the largest cyclones the nation has ever experienced. Over a 24-hour period Winston left a trail of destruction along its path through the middle of the country.
The Fiji Government immediately announced a 30-day state of emergency, calling for coordinated assistance from non-government organisations (NGOs), the private sector, and humanitarian aid agencies for the 40,000 people that needed immediate assistance. Across the country 44 people lost their lives. Some 30,000 homes, 495 schools, and 88 medical facilities were damaged or destroyed.
The cyclone destroyed food and agricultural crops on a large scale and impacted the livelihoods of 62 percent of the population.
Here in Honolulu at the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress, I have been engaging with other practitioners who are starting to look at the relationships between disasters and biodiversity and how to better integrate the environment into disaster recovery to provide resilient solutions. As environmental NGOs we acknowledge it is challenging for us as to find our niche and fit when a disaster strikes and the most urgent need is not conservation, but water, food, shelter, and sanitation.
But in a world where issues can get easily siloed, we are going to have to figure out how to bring the agencies that deal with disasters and disaster risk reduction together with those of us working on the protection and sustainable use of our natural resources. By pooling our organizational strengths, we can build resilient ecosystems that support local communities and national economies. For instance, we need to bring groups that work on disaster risk reduction together with those of us that work on climate change.
So closer to home, what have we been doing? In Fiji, WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) has been working with local communities in Bua Province to develop ridge to reef management plans that incorporate ecosystem based management principles. Two weeks ago four districts launched these management plans, which include networks of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine protected areas and best management practices.
In collaboration with the Department of Fisheries and partners, WCS has quantified the impact of Cyclone Winston on fisheries-dependent communities. We assessed the impact on fishing infrastructure (e.g. boats, engines and gear) to provide a monetary estimate to government to guide recovery efforts, estimated village dependence on local fisheries to determine the impact on food security and livelihoods, and identified the villages that may need alternative livelihood initiatives to reduce the impact on recovering fisheries.
A report, to be launched shortly, provides guidance to the Fiji Government and development agencies on where to target limited resources to support the recovery of the most vulnerable and impacted fishing-dependent communities in Fiji. And working with government, academic and NGO partners, WCS recently completed an Integrated Vulnerability Assessment (IVA) on Koro Island to quantify the vulnerability of communities and their resources to cyclones, other natural disasters, and to climate change.
The assessment is being used by the Climate Change Division under the Ministry of Economy to guide discussions around the relocation of communities to safer locations on the island, as well as to take an integrated approach to address five critical areas of importance for the people of Koro: food security, human health, water security, ecosystems health, and energy security.
Extreme events like Cyclone Winston are likely to become more frequent if we cannot make significant progress globally to address climate change. But those of us in the Pacific cannot afford to wait. We need to ensure that protecting the environment is a core part of reducing our risk to natural disasters and climate change.
Dr. Sangeeta Mangubhai is Country Director for the Fiji program at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).
By Sangeeta Mangubhai
Coral reefs are found in more than 80 developing countries and are critical for the food and economic needs of some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities. Those of us that are scientists or conservationists from developing countries are acutely aware that our reefs are some of the most threatened on the planet and a large weight and responsibility lies on our shoulders to do something about it. But to do that we need to be connected to places beyond our own, and find inspiring highly collaborative people we can work with to help do good applied science that contributes to the protection and better management of our reefs.
As we gathered at the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS), I wanted to reach out to Fijian scientists and conservation practitioners to hear their views and thoughts on attending the symposium and learn more about their work. I wanted to understand why is attending ICRS so important to them?
Many told me they wanted the opportunity to share their work and have their voices heard by their international peers. They wanted to make new connections, learn about others work and find new collaborations. Some said they hoped by attending ICRS they might find opportunities to do Masters or a PhD overseas so that they get access to universities with labs with the latest technology, and have a competitive advantage when finding work in their own countries.
I asked them what their favourite thing was about ICRS and their responses were:
“Networking and meeting people whose papers I’ve read and listening in to some of their talks, and rethinking my own ideas and perceptions” – Ron Vave, Fijian scientist studying at University of Hawaii
“The chance to interact with a wide range of people from different backgrounds, working in different areas, with different opinions. Feels like a breath of fresh air being able to ‘get out’ of my own little space.” – Steven Lee, Fijian scientist at Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Ecology (ZMT) and University of Bremen in Germany
Asked what they learnt at ICRS that they would be applying back in their home countries, their answers were:
“Moving away from traditional fishing methods has affected the resilience of people and their resources. I would like to see how we can better incorporate traditional knowledge into locally managed marine areas.” – Yashika Nand, Fijian coral scientist at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji
“Quality rather than quantity may be a better approach for conservation of resource management work e.g. rather than having a whole string of Marine Protected Areas which you are trying to manage, it may be more beneficial to choose just a couple and invest more into them. Let the neighbouring communities see firsthand the benefits and convince themselves of it rather than trying to convince them.” – Steven Lee, Fijian scientist at ZMT and University of Bremen
And lastly, I asked them what they would like to see more of at the next ICRS and they answered:
“I would like to see more managers and conservation practitioners at ICRS. We need to bridge the gap between scientists and decision makers” – Margaret Fox, Fijian social scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society
“I recommend that talks be audio and/or video recorded, and made available online. We can’t be in all places at once so it’d be good to listen or watch talks that we missed. And it would be great to have days in which, rather than talking to just ourselves we have sessions where we talk to the public.” – Ron Vave, Fijian scientist studying at University of Hawaii
From my side, my personal request would be to see greater diversity of people on different panel discussions. If ICRS is truly an international symposium then there has to be more representation from developing countries on those panels so we can hear different perspectives. And our panels should not just be scientists – instead, we should mix it up and have conservation practitioners and government representatives present too. And for a change, perhaps we could hear the voice of our youth, to listen to their ideas and thoughts about the future of coral reefs. Without this diversity, we are not going to get very far finding those innovative solutions we need to save the world’s coral reefs.