Village adventures in Vuya

Accompanied by the BYMST (Bua Yaubula Management Support Team) Coordinator and the Assistant Roko Tui, we received a warm welcome and a big bowl of kava as we arrived for the first time in Vuya Village. This was the start of a week of village workshops across the district of Vuya, at the southern tip of the province of Bua. It was also an early step in a process to help develop an ecosystem-based management plan for the district, supporting communities to work together for sustainable management of their natural resources.

We had been well briefed by Brooke, a locally-based Peace Corps volunteer, so knew the village had already developed a management plan and delivered some impressive projects (including its recently-established mangrove nursery!). Attended by 38 local men and women, the workshop identified ways they can build on their plan and achieve even more.

Our plans to visit Navave were scuppered by unforeseen circumstances, so next stop was Nabouwalu Village, overlooking the jetty that takes people and goods (including truckloads of taro) to and from Viti Levu. Presentations, discussions and conceptual modeling explored the threats to local ecosystems and strategies through which these might be addressed. More kava followed as we talked and got to know each other into the night.

Finally we arrived in Wairiki Village, the chiefly home of our companion Akuila Qio Turaganiqali, the BYMST Coordinator. Workshop participants showed great enthusiasm to learn more in order to safeguard their resources for future generations. The local development agenda includes major road building, mining, commercial forestry and development of Nabouwalu into a town – so there are plenty of challenges and opportunities.

The icing on the cake was lunch at Wairiki, where villagers prepared a feast of the highly poisonous moray eel to test me. Knowing the traditional ties from my mother’s side (Kavula village) to the natives of Wairiki, I was torn over whether to tuck into this dish with its potentially lethal effects. I trusted my instincts and took the advice of my trusted colleague Didi, who said that ‘if the flesh is as white as milk; there is no reason to refuse.’ It was a great relief to finish the bowl and I must say that it was a memorable and tasty meal!

We are already looking forward to returning, working with our new friends and enjoying many more bowls of kava.

[Editor’s note: While KK survived his moray meal unscathed, a man from Nakodu village was not so lucky recently where the WCS Marine Team were working to assess the impacts of harvests from tabu areas.]

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Cetacean conservation in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape

Having left freezing Germany, Chantal Denise Pagel is adapting to the tropical heat as she brings her specialist knowledge to a voluntary internship with us here in Fiji. Chantal is a Masters student with a special interest in big ocean mammals, known as cetaceans, and will help apply some of the research we have undertaken on cetaceans in recent years. Her role is to ensure the integration of cetaceans within district and provincial management planning processes, to raise awareness of the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape (between Viti Levu and Vanua Levu) as an important Whale Sanctuary and to help develop special management measures to improve conservation of cetaceans here in the future.

Chantal is particularly interested in the Oceania subpopulation of the endangered Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). Humpbacks were spotted by the WCS team at several locations within the Vatu-i-Ra Channel, with the high abundance of mother-calf-pairs highlighting the importance of this passage for the species.

A range of other baleen and toothed whales are also found and Chantal has already encountered some of them on her first excursion in Fiji waters. “I was lucky to meet a pod of spinner dolphins on my very first day-trip, to Moon Reef off the coast of Tailevu. Jay, our local guide, knew them individually and his insight into each one was incredible.” She explained. “My previous experience with spinners in Mauritius had taught me that marine ecotourism isn’t always sustainable – tourist swimmers had chased and harassed the dolphins in search of a ‘personal experience’ to ‘take back home’. I was relieved to find the spinners here were relaxed as the boat approached, they were obviously happy in our company and looked in good condition.”

In her new role, Chantal has created a presentation for our upcoming village workshops in the province of Bua. “It explains what cetaceans are, what species occur in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape and the growing threats they face from pollution, fishing, shipping and climate change.”

WCS will also be gathering local stories about whales and dolphins from villagers. “I’m looking forward to finding out about their experiences and the special relationship with the ‘Tovuto’ which apparently has great cultural significance for Fijians.” Chantal explained. “I’m so happy to be learning and contributing to conservation here in Fiji.”

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