Launching the Wailevu Ecosystem-Based Management Plan

In beautiful Wailevu village, overlooking the stunning blue waters of Savusavu Bay, a formal ceremony took place outside the home of Tui Wailevu, Ratu Kinijoji Rarokoqica Maivalili (High Chief of the District) to launch the Wailevu District Ecosystem-Based Management Plan.

In front of assorted Chiefs, representatives of government, NGOs and community members, the Tui Wailevu spoke of his support for the management plan and the need to safeguard precious local environmental resources. “This is a historic occasion for the people of Wailevu” he stated, “I thank the Provincial Office, the Wildlife Conservation Society and other partners for their support as we take steps to manage our resources for future generations”.

The management plan, developed by communities over the past two years, includes management rules for a network totaling 67Km2 of marine, freshwater and terrestrial protected areas, as well as additional regulations to protect local resources within the district and its customary fishing grounds (iqoliqoli).

It was great to see so many partners and community representatives present as High Chiefs signed the document and it was blessed in a ceremony on the beach.

Dr. Stacy Jupiter, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Fiji Country Program had flown in to take part. “This reflects a community-driven approach that is informed by extensive scientific assessments alongside local ecological knowledge”, she stated. “I congratulate the people of Wailevu on the management plan, which provides a focus for them working together to maintain healthy ecosystems that benefit all communities.”

Wailevu is the largest district in Fiji, with 27 villages and over 6,000 people. Considerable coordination is required for effective management across its large terrestrial and marine areas. Two resource management committees have been established (for Wailevu West and Wailevu East) to deliver the plan and report progress to traditional leaders through the Bose Vanua. The management plan also includes communities in the Upper Nasekawa River Basin area of neighbouring Koroalau district, demonstrating a commitment to cooperation across boundaries as part of an Ecosystem-Based Management approach.

The Roko Tui Cakaudrove, Bulutani Mataitawakilai also offered his support. “The Cakaudrove Provincial Council Office congratulates the people of Wailevu, who have recognised the importance of working together to protect their natural resources for future generations. Working with Cakaudrove Yaubula Management Support Team, the Provincial Office will continue to support the Vanua Wailevu and encourages other Tikina in the Province to adopt their approach. We thank the Tui Wailevu and his Masi ni Vanua for adopting and supporting sustainable natural resources management”.

So much work has gone into the planning process, but this is only a starting point. With plenty to be done in raising awareness, implementing and monitoring the plan, I guess this is where the real work begins!

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Can indicators predicting coral reef resilience be mapped from space?

In 2011, I participated in a workshop during the International Marine Conservation Congress in Victoria, Canada, where experts came together to discuss which were the most critical factors that affect the ability of coral reefs to resist and recover from climate disturbance. After much deliberation, our expert consensus produced a list with 11 top resilience indicators, based on their perceived importance, evidence base in the literature, and feasibility for managers to measure. The top indicators included:

–          Presence of resistant coral species

–          Historical temperature variability

–          Nutrient pollution;

–          Sedimentation;

–          Coral diversity;

–          Herbivore biomass;

–          Physical human impacts;

–          Coral disease;

–          Macroalgae;

–          Coral recruitment; and

–          Fishing pressure

We published a paper describing the selection of these indicators and how they might be used to prioritize sites for reef management in a changing climate.

However, during this process, I got to thinking. Site based measures of resilience indicators are nice, but they only allow us to say that one survey point is potentially better than any other survey point and leaves you with no information about all of the unsurveyed reef.

Wouldn’t it be even better, then, if we could combine the field data with satellite imagery to assess what are the main factors influencing the resilience indicators that we can derive from space? Then we could use those relationships to predictively map the resilience indicators over a broader spatial scale, such as across an entire fisheries management area (qoliqoli). This process would yield maps with relative values for every portion of the qoliqoli to enable us to make better decisions about how to plan marine protected areas (MPAs) and MPA networks.

We previously took this approach to predictively map characteristics of reef fish assemblages across the Kubulau qoliqoli in Vanua Levu, Fiji, and published the results in a paper in Remote Sensing. I went back to my co-authors from Simon Fraser University and the University of Queensland and asked, “Do you think we can take this same approach for mapping indicators of reef resilience?”

Our findings have just been published in a more recent issue of Remote Sensing, accessible here. We specifically focused on mapping resilience indicators for which data products were not already available. These included:

–          Stress-tolerant coral taxa, as a measure of resistance to coral bleaching;

–          Coral diversity, as a measure of resistance to bleaching and potentially past recovery potential;

–          Herbivorous fish biomass, as a measure of recovery potential due to the ability of herbivorous fishes to remove macroalgae from the reef, thus preventing harmful coral-algae interactions and allowing space for new corals to settle;

–          Herbivorous fish functional group richness, as a measure of recovery potential as fish remove algae in different ways (e.g. excavating, scraping, browsing) and it is necessary to have the full complement of types of herbivores to effectively remove most of the macroalgae;

–          Juvenile corals, as a measure of recovery potential from recent coral recruitment and survival; and

–          Cover of live coral and crustose coralline algae, as a measure of recovery potential both as a indicator of current coral-algal dynamics when coupled with the amount of macroalage, as well as a proxy for the amount of substrate available for coral settlement and source of new recruits.

We specifically used high resolution satellite data (<4 m pixels) to enable production of maps of resilience indicators at a scale meaningful for customary management systems in Fiji and the rest of the Western Pacific. We did not try to predictively map indicators which other people have successfully mapped (e.g. historical temperature variability, nutrients, sedimentation, physical impacts and macroalgae), but noted that our predictive maps could be combined with these data products within a spatial planning framework.

How well did we do? We were able to reasonably map relative differences in potential susceptibility to coral bleaching based on the composition of coral communities observed in the field. We were able to do this because some corals are more tolerant to environmental stress than others and they tend to be found in different environments and micro-habitats.

We also did a good job predicting distributions in the number of functional groups of herbivorous fish. This indicator likely also has strong environmental determinants as large excavators, such as bumphead parrotfish, steephead parrotfish and bicolor parrotfish, tend to be associated with forereef slopes and reef crests. We noted, though, that the total amount of “reef cleaning” performed by each group of herbivorous fish will be influenced by how many fish are present and their size. In addition, not all herbivorous fishes are created equal. A new, separate study from Fiji found that only 4 species of fish were responsible for eating 97% of the algae set out in a feeding experiment.

We did not do such a good job in predicting distributions of juvenile corals, but this was expected given that there are many factors that influence where corals may settle and how many survive. We also did not do very well in predicting coral diversity patterns. This was somewhat surprising given how much is already known about relationships between coral diversity and depth, exposure to waves and reef habitat. However, our results were likely influenced by errors in georeferencing and incomplete sampling across all of the habitat types in Kubulau qoliqoli. These issues could easily be improved upon in future studies.

What does this mean for reef managers? In the context of MPA planning, managers now have the potential to set targets for reef resilience indicators, in addition to habitat and feature representation, when designing MPA networks within decision support software (e.g. Marxan). This represents a considerable improvement over the current practice of designing or adapting MPAs based on site-based resilience score collected from relatively few sites across the planning region.

"Herbivores like this parrotfish help clean the reefs of algae. (c) Keith Ellenbogen" "New corals settling onto the reef surface help reefs recover from disturbance. (c) Keith Ellenbogen"

Korovou hosts first “Poverty Alleviation Workshop” for 2013

With the Fiji Government’s determination to alleviate poverty in Fiji, the Prime Minister’s Office has been conducting “Poverty Alleviation Awareness Workshop” in remote areas of Fiji since 2012. Despite our very tight schedule helping communities in Bua, Margy and I represented WCS at workshop held in Korovou, a small town in the district of Tailevu, located in the north-eastern part of Viti Levu on the 13th and 14th of March, 2013.

We expected it to be more business-oriented type workshop on how to make money, so we made sure to share our alternative livelihood project ideas in order to let the communities know that conservation and managing resources can help them earning as well. Margy designed a beautiful poster for the “kuta mat project” that instantly became a hit amongst women passing by.

Kini Koto came in to help on the 13th and was the star among school kids telling all about freshwater fish, while Margy stole the show with the cetacean videos proving her favorite quote “charismatic mega-faunas always win!”. I stood there thinking, how can I be so boring? So I had to literally interfere with the 2 stars and promote the puppet show that was scheduled for 4.00 pm. I directed kids to the publication poster to tell them about the “entertainment type” benefits of conservation- “comic books – easy and attractive”. Unfortunately for us, the puppet show had to be cancelled in the end as it was quite late and the students headed home by 3.30 pm.

I was quite impressed with the enthusiasm of the students about natural resources, mainly marine life. We had a lot of kids come around later to ask us, “Ma’am, how can we join this?” and I thought, “Wow, this is our future!”. All of the hype and enthusiasm about conservation was a reward for taking our time out to go for this workshop, not a bad deal after all.

Having our WCS booth about conservation and resource management in the middle of most money making institutions and Government Departments was like a little gift to people interested in resource management and school kids worried about the environment. Talking to us gave them an excellent opportunity to think about ways of getting money out of natural resources without exploitation. Sharing the experiences and stories of the beneftis that communities have gained from engaging with conservation was a big boost to other people coming into the workshop.

Until next time, moce!

Branching out with the Community Educators Network

The Community Educators’ Network, which WCS and partners have been supporting in Kubulau, will be rolled-out across Bua in 2013.

Community Educators receive training that enables them to provide information, facilitate and inform local debate on key issues.

The idea is that this will empower communities and influence local decision-making, helping to address problems and encouraging sustainable management of natural resources.

Alumeci Nakeke from Seaweb presented this to the Bua Yaubula Management Support Team and partners at a recent workshop.

‘This has been a great way of localizing and spreading information for sustainable resource management in Kubulau – now we want other districts to benefit in a similar way’.

Modules are being developed on freshwater management, marine protected areas, disaster management, farming and forestry.  Seaweb will work closely with BYMST, the Provincial Office, PCDF, WCS and others to identify and train Community Educators.  Great to see everyone working together towards shared goals!

News from Bua

BYMST Coordinator Akuila Qio Turaganiqali

BYMST Coordinator Akuila Qio Turaganiqali

Bua Yaubula Management Support Team (BYMST) brings together representatives from the 9 districts Bua (the rural western province of Vanua Levu) for sustainable management of natural resources.

Thanks to funding from the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Program, BYMST representatives met up with government officials and NGOs in Nabouwalu on 19-20th Feb to plan and coordinate activities.

BYMST Coordinator Akuila Qio Turaganiqale introduced the Roko Tui Bua, who opened the workshop by outlining Provincial priorities for 2013. He highlighted imminent development of the new road from Nabouwalu to Dreketi (reducing travel time to Labasa and Savusavu) and urged communities to take advantage of opportunities arising from this.  The Provincial Administrator from the Commissioner Northern’s Office provided further detail on this and other big projects including the plans for Nabouwalu to become Bua’s first town!

The people of Bua are looking to achieve a difficult balance between economic development and maintaining the ecosystems upon which they rely. BYMST will surely play a vital role.

Having heard what different NGOs are delivering (and identified ways we can link up), the BYMST reps drafted their own plan for 2013. This will start by developing the BYMST structure (enhancing their influence through better links with chiefs and government officers) and operational guidelines, obtaining funding and raising awareness. With ongoing support from Bua Provincial Office and talk of hiring a Conservation Officer to help implement plan it could be a busy and exciting year ahead.