Kubulau District: Setting the conservation pace

Kubulau District traditional fisheries management area. Photo (c) Chris Roelfsema

Kubulau District traditional fisheries management area. Photo (c) Chris Roelfsema

Kubulau is remotely situated in on the south coast of Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island. With a growing population, heavy reliance on subsistence farming and fishing and lack of access to markets, the people of Kubulau have to manage their resources sustainably to survive.

Fortunately, they have an abundance of natural resources and maintain a very strong connection with their environment. For over a decade, the people of Kubulau have been at the forefront of community-led management in Fiji – investing their time, industry and expertise to ensure that management decisions are informed by the best available knowledge.

The Kubulau Resource Management Committee (KRMC, established in 2007 to ensure effective participation of communities in local management) established Fiji’s first district-level ‘ridge-to-reef’ management plan in 2009.

This applied an ecosystem-based management (EBM) approach and included a network of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine protected areas. Since then, the plan has been implemented, monitored, reviewed and amended periodically to reflect monitoring results and evolving priorities.

With support from the Coral Reef Alliance, KRMC has developed a voluntary payment scheme through which visitors to the Namena Marine Reserve (Fiji’s largest reserve, managed by the Kubulau communities as a permanent no-take zone since the early 1990s) support local community projects. Equitable sharing of these benefits between coastal and inland communities has enhanced commitment to conservation management, with Kubulau widely cited as leading the way for conservation (including recognition from the a prestigious Rareplanet Solution Search Award “Turning the Tides for Coastal Fisheries”).

In 2013, the KRMC applied for funding from the UNDP Fiji GEF Small Grants Programme. The project “Managing in land activities for safeguarding Kubulau’s Freshwater and Marine protected areas” is now well established.

Under this project, they have developed a collaborative approach to generate income through sustainable honey production. They have also engaged NGOs and government to develop land management zoning and waste management plans. Most recently, they have coordinated the planning and building of a district forest nursery.

A case study of EBM in Kubulau published in the journal Environmental Conservation identified key success factors including:
• Effective incorporation of local knowledge, traditions and priorities;
• Strong backing from traditional leaders;
• Clearly articulated relationships between local decision-making processes and government regulation; and
• Perceived equity in distribution of management benefits.

“Through this project we have proved something to ourselves. We planned the project. We obtained this funding. We are managing the activities and meeting our own reporting and accounting responsibilities” said Paulo Kolikata, the longstanding Chairman of KRMC. We still value the input of our government and NGO partners, but this gives us confidence to know we don’t need to rely on them.”

Kubulau continues to provide inspiration and learning as EBM spreads further in Fiji, with KRMC leading the way.

Words by Ged Acton
WCS – Fiji Program

Where science & tradition meet: Vuya marks two milestones

In February, members of Vuya Village officially blessed their marine protected areas and launched their natural resource management plan. This special event began with a traditional kava ceremony for the district chief, Tui Vuya, and was followed by prayer and blessings from the church. The community has designated three different marine managed areas to protect fish and invertebrates and to help generate income for the community.

Located less than 10 km from the port of Nabouwalu in Bua Province on the south-west coast of Vanua Levu, the people of Vuya are heavily dependent on natural resources for their health and livelihoods. For this reason, the village created both development and natural resource management plans which focus on ways they can improve the status and well-being of their community. They feel that it is their duty as the “vanua” and as Christians to take care of the land and sea, and that they shouldn’t be reliant on outsiders to do so.

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Their marine protected areas (known locally as tabu) are not designated to be permanent ‘no-take zones’ but traditional temporal closures to help the community use their resources more wisely so there will always be enough now and for the children of the future. They will also help the community generate income through a newly established pearl oyster farm and community plans to sustainably farm beche-de-mer (or dried sea cucumbers).

Acknowledging the connectivity between ecosystems and taking a “ridge to reef” approach, community protected forest areas have been designated surrounding their drinking water sources. Village by-laws have been created to prohibit farming or cutting trees within 10 metres of any watercourse.

“The biggest challenge is ensuring that everyone works together to deliver the plan” said Mateo Rasili, a village elder who has been heavily involved. “There are about 570 people in Vuya including seven settlements and six religions. We try to focus on good governance as the foundation for any work we do.

In the past two years we have been working to try to bring the different community groups closer together and respect each other in spite of any differences. Projects like our mangrove nursery and the women’s chicken coop have helped bring us together and we have been utilizing our cultural ties and traditional community structure to help achieve our goals. ”

Vuya villagers are currently working with other communities to develop the Vuya District Ecosystem-Based Management Plan, incorporating a wider network of protected areas and management rules covering all ecosystems. The Vuya village model shows how relationship building, awareness raising and collective action can inform ‘bottom-up’ community planning and establish a solid foundation for collaborative management.

Words and images by Brooke McDavid, U.S. Peace Corps volunteer

Question & Answers with a Fijian Scientist

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An interview with the WCS Marine Scientist, Yashika Nand
Interview by Dwain Qalovaki

Q. What got you interested in coral disease?
Nand: In 2012, I conducted a “Training of Trainers” workshop for community leaders and conservation partners on “Reef Resilience”. Coral disease was a minor component of that training as an emerging threat to reef ecosystems. The interest and concerns raised by community representatives on coral disease got me interested in the topic. After doing a literature search on global impacts of coral disease, and reading about the challenges in identifying the causes and environmental dynamics associated with pathogens, I was determined to join the group of coral disease researchers.

With limited information in Fiji on coral disease and no known expertise, I was challenged but was glad WCS Fiji Director Dr. Stacy Jupiter introduced me to Professor John Bythell, who is keen scientist specializing in coral disease.

Equipped with a supervisor like Professor Bythell and advisor like Dr. Jupiter, I couldn’t stop myself from starting a Masters program at the University of the South Pacific (USP). Later Dr. Joeli Veitayaki (USP) and Dr. Cara Miller from the Whales and Dolphins Conservation Society joined my journey of discovery to understand coral diseases in Fiji by agreeing to be my co-supervisors.

Q. What is the focus of your Masters research in relation to coral disease?
Nand: I am looking at the general distribution and prevalence of coral disease in Fiji. My research is likely to be the first baseline study on coral disease for the country but I will also be focusing on the progression rates of one specific coral disease referred to as the “White Syndrome” in the Western Pacific Region.

A similar condition referred to as “White Plague I & II” in the Caribbean caused more than 80% coral mortality; hence it’s considered a serious threat to reef ecosystems. My research will also assess temporal changes over hot (November – April) and cold (May-October) months in Fiji over a year.

Q. Has anything unexpected come up during your research so far?
Nand: Currently, a lot of anomalies observed in corals with very high prevalence in some areas and patchy distribution of disease in other areas. There are a few corals that are more vulnerable to certain types of disease. I expected more coral disease in areas closer to the coastline but to my surprise in some cases I found more disease on outer reefs further from the land.

Q. What are the major ecosystem threats that you are beginning to notice at your research site?
Nand: Influx of nutrients and freshwater especially for Leleuvia Island that is causing more stress to corals in the area. Moreover, the sudden change in water temperature makes it difficult for corals to adapt. I have seen evidence for this in the months of December 2013 – February 2014, where warm waters caused coral bleaching in many places around Fiji including the Yasawa Islands.

Under these conditions, corals immune system weaken and pathogens such as bacteria, ciliates, and fungi present in the water column take advantage and invade corals causing different types of disease. Some are extremely detrimental to the health of corals.

Other threats include predation which causes coral mortality. Organisms like Crown-of-Thorns starfish (COTS), Drupella snails, and some marine worms have the potential to kill a whole colony. Cyclone damage can also affect reef systems, fragmenting and killing fast growing corals.

Q. Going forward, how can we slow, stop or reverse these effects?
Nand: I am still analysing videos that I collected from September 2013 to February 2014 so some of these questions will be answered later on in my Masters. Researchers in the Caribbean, Australia and Hawaii are also looking for answers to these same questions.

Q. Do you have any advice for Fijian or Pacific Island scientists who want to get more involved in coral disease research?
Nand: Try to collect data on coral disease. Taking photos/videos of reefs that show signs of disease can help us understand where and how disease spreads within reef systems. Pacific Islands are so scattered that it is really difficult to collect data so most predictions on outbreaks of coral disease or other stressors on reefs are made based on data from easily accessible places – this does not give a good representation of reef health in the region.

I think coral disease is a challenging yet important and interesting area of research that may grow in prevalence if we do not better manage our reefs, or with the growing stressors associated with climate change.

Reviewing the Management Plan in Fiji’s largest District

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It is almost a year since the Tui Wailevu (district high chief) stood with other chiefs, community members and government officers on the beach beside Wailevu Village to launch the Wailevu Ecosystem-Based Management Plan.

Two Resource Management Committees (RMCs) for Wailevu West and Wailevu East that oversee implementation and monitoring of the management plan recently came together in Urata Village with government officers and NGOs to review progress. They highlighted growing and emerging threats to local ecosystems and reviewed the management rules, protected area boundaries and management activities. Coastal communities discussed increasing fishing pressures from local artisanal fishers, commercial vessels and poachers. Concerns were expressed about new mining elements and increased levels of commercial gravel extraction from local rivers and creeks.

Success stories included progress in waste management and sustainable income generation, particularly community eco-tourism projects, which benefit from increasing numbers of tourists coming through the nearby town of Savusavu.

Participants stressed the need to further raise awareness and support within their villages. Using the ‘message box’ methodology provided through Seaweb Asia-Pacific, participants undertook training to distill key messages and plan how they will be delivered to specific audiences. This was mapped against village communication and decision-making structures to enable targeted awareness-raising and optimize their influence on key people.

The RMCs reviewed their structures and protocols to increase flexibility and engagement across Fiji’s biggest district (home to 28 villages and over 6,000 people). This led to the development of new ‘cluster groups’ in remote Wailevu West, where neighbouring villages will meet regularly and only come together with the wider committee once a year.

The Cakaudrove Yaubula Management Support Team, a group of volunteers committed to help site-based management implementation around the province, provided updates on what is happening elsewhere in the province and the RMCs also adopted monitoring templates developed in neighboring Kubulau district in the province of Bua.

Words by Ged Acton & Images by Dwain Qalovaki
WCS – Fiji Program

Reflections on Kadavu, a decade later …

In 2001, back when I was a small ‘panda’, my friend and colleague Etika Rupeni and I led an expedition to the Great Astrolabe Reef in Kadavu Province for WWF South Pacific. The Great Astrolabe Reef is a barrier reef situated approximately 70km south of Viti Levu. During our expedition we explored 47 sites to understand the impact of the 2000 coral bleaching event in Fiji.

For those not familiar with this term, coral bleaching occurs when sea water temperatures are warmer than normal. The increasing frequency and intensity of these warming events is associated with climate change, and if extreme, can cause the mass die-off of coral reefs. It’s a growing concern for the hundreds of millions of people who live on the coast and whose lives depend on reefs and the fish they support.

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During our 2001 expedition we were saddened to see and document how much of the lagoonal corals that support community fisheries had died. There was less than 10% coral cover remaining. As we surveyed the outer windward side of the barrier reef, we were heartened to see the coral communities were largely in tact. We had hypothesised that the waves on the windward side kept the reef a little cooler, giving the corals a better chance of resisting the warm water stress. We also hoped at the time that these more ‘resilient’ reefs might help reseed the more impacted reefs.

Thirteen years later I am excited (and relieved) to see recovery has occurred. Not at all sites, but at enough sites to make me feel positive. Lagoon sites with good current are now covered with coral colonies of all sizes – a good sign of recovery. The algae that had covered a lot of the reef have receded and is no longer out-competing the corals for space on the reef – another good sign of recovery.

Over time more and more species and coral colonies should settle and the community should return. It is not a fast process – but at least it is happening. But all this will depend on how we manage the stresses to those reefs. And some stresses are beyond our control. Right now a large number of the colonies are showing signs of bleaching stress. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that these unusually warm temperatures we have been having over the last 12 weeks go away. The corals are not dead at this stage, and if the stress dissipates, the corals can recover.

Words & Images by Dr. Sangeeta Mangubhai,
WCS – Fiji Program.