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Words by Dwain Qalovaki
A wise crew member on board the Uto ni Yalo once told me that “the vaka or canoe chooses her voyagers and that each person’s involvement is predestined”.
Under the guidance of Captain Angelo Smith from Lautoka and the experience of Sail Master Colin Philp, the 16 member crew on board the Uto ni Yalo journeyed from Fiji to Vanuatu to to Southport, Australia where I boarded.
For the first 36 hours of my voyage on board Fiji’s 22 metre long double hulled traditional voyaging canoe, I honestly thought this saying could not be further from the truth as I literally hung off the star bound side of the canoe battling sea sickness to gain my stripes as a Uto ni Yalo voyager.
Our journey as part of the Mua Voyage saw the Uto ni Yalo join her sister canoes from Aotearoa, Cook Islands and Samoa to sail across 6,000 nautical miles of open ocean to Australia where the 64 crew members from eight Pacific Island countries made a “Pacific Call for Global Action” at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney from 12 – 19 November, 2014.
What a sight to witness a flotilla of traditional Pacific voyaging canoes sailing into Sydney’s Darling Harbour to mark the opening of the congress which is a once a decade global forum on protected areas.
Alongside our political leaders, which included the Presidents of Palau and Kiribati and Prime Minister of Cook Islands, we made a united call to the world for extraordinary partnerships and commitments to value the global significance of our Pacific island space, in a climate challenged planet.
Our region collectively made a “Pacific Promise” to convert 3.7 million square kilometres of ocean space into marine managed areas. Closer to home and heart, this includes a reaffirmed commitment by the Fijian Government at the 2014 United Nations Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) meeting to protect 30 percent of our territorial seas by 2020.
As part of our 30 percent commitment, the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape which rests between Fiji’s two main islands, is one of these ocean spaces being earmarked for special attention due to its immense ecological value. Encompassing the province of Bua, Lomaiviti, Ra and Tailevu and its adjacent waters, the seascape has well over 120 endemic plant species with more than 1,000 fish and 300 coral species which are intrinsically tied to our “Fijianess” and the livelihood of our future generations.
As an indigenous Fijian who has grown up in big cities (well big for Pacific standards!), sailing on the Uto ni Yalo has been an eye opening experience. On one hand I learnt how our ancestors sailed across vast distances guided solely by nature to reach other islands, which speaks to how developed our ancient voyaging cultures are. On the other hand, it has rekindled a passion and traditional duty to advance the conservation of our natural resources, which we inherit as youths and eventually pass onto the next generation of Fijians.
Words by Marama Tuilovoni
Working as a volunteer with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has been very exciting. It has helped me contribute to something I care about and hold dear to my heart – the conservation of our natural resources in Fiji, and especially our diverse marine life.
My initial expectation was that because of my university background I would only volunteering in the finance department. However, I soon realized I was being given a larger opportunity to understand and contribute to the mission of WCS and to be a part of a team of dynamic and highly committed individuals. In my breaks I learnt as much as I could about the history of WCS in Fiji, and the challenges they face working on environmental issues.
I am grateful for the Director Sangeeta who has the humblest personality and the most welcoming spirit. The Finance Manager Nischal is a great mentor and teacher who has helped me develop new skills in my field. Yashika, Gander and Margaret have always guided and advised me during the more difficult and challenging moments I faced as a volunteer. Cagi and Ingrid were always so supportive. Dwain, Morgee, KK and Ged have been such inspiring examples of brothers, constantly pushing me forward. Work also would not be so lively without Waisea’s jokes.
One of my highlights was when I joined the two Directors, Sangeeta and Stacy, at a national workshop hosted by the Protected Areas Committee, which WCS is an active member of. I listened carefully as participants discussed and debated what a typology (or classification) system for protected areas for Fiji should look like. They discussed at length whether our current legislation was adequate or not for establishing a national network of protected areas, to conserve and manage our unique biodiversity.
As I finish off my last week with WCS, I find myself reflecting on what I learnt in these two short months. One thing is for sure, I understand the importance of giving 100% to any task I am working on as I am a part of a team, where every member’s contribution is important. Also I understand the importance of completing tasks well and in a timely manner. I am and always will be grateful for WCS and what it has taught me so far and I’m looking forward to learn more from them in the future. I wish them success in 2015.
Name: Mosese Naleba
Origin: Ra Province
Favourite Color: Blue
Field of Study: Currently completing a Diploma in Environmental Studies at the Fiji National University
How did you come to find out about WCS – Fiji?
This opportunity came about following my search for a “hands on” internship program. I started in April 2014 and will finish in January 2015.
What has been your most exciting experience with the Fiji Country Program?
It would be a draw between getting hands on experience with coral and fish data entry in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape as well as visiting my ancestral village of Verevere in Nakorotubu, Ra as part of our survey. No one in my family been there so it was an exciting experience for me to go as part of the WCS team and explore my roots.
It has also been an exciting time to travel around the country meeting new people along the way and to train resource owners on how to conduct Catch Per Unit Effort so that communities can monitor changes in their fish catch over time.
What exactly does a Diploma in Environmental Studies entail?
At the Fiji National University where I am currently completing my Diploma, the program equips students to understand broad environmental principles and blends both terrestrial and marine disciples however after joining this organisation; I definitely would like to focus more on marine conservation in Fiji.
What message would you share with someone who’s thinking of volunteering or working for conservation efforts in Fiji?
Working in conservation takes perseverance, hard work and commitment. Going into this field, a person must be driven to care and manage the resources we have been blessed with. Conservation is not about monetary gain but about the passion for the cause.
What will be your focus in 2015?
The plan is to finish off my Diploma in Environmental Studies than apply to do the Bachelors Degree programme. Eventually I would like to graduate with a Masters degree in Environmental Studies with an emphasis in the marine field.
In my extended family, apart from my female cousins I am currently the only male who’s received University level education so my family are very supportive of my aspirations and that is very important.
Words & Images by Ged Acton
The forests, wetlands, mangroves, seagrass meadows, reefs and estuaries of Fiji support an incredible diversity of life: over 1,000 fish species, 300 species of coral, whales, dolphins, sea turtles and sharks. Critically endangered parrotfish and wrasse find shelter in its vibrant seas, while the adjoining coastal forests boast endemic crested iguanas, tree frogs, and important nesting and breeding sites for sea bird populations. Fiji is undoubtedly a special place – our very own version of paradise.
Supported by recent visits from the Chinese President and Indian Prime Minister, the government is moving forward with a strong agenda for economic growth. Fiji’s rapid development is already evident in rural areas like the province of Bua, on Fiji’s second largest island of Vanua Levu. A new highway is being built to connect people and goods between the town of Labasa in the North, the port of Nabouwalu and daily access to markets in Suva and beyond. Blessed with dry weather, they have made rapid progress cutting the road and laying substrate along the 70km track. What was once a five hour journey will eventually take just over two hours.
Taking the ferry back from a recent workshop in Bua, I noted a long line of trucks carrying timber (big trunks of mahogany), huge colourful fish crammed into containers, cattle, taro, coconuts, cassava and other crops. Trucks groaned as more sacks were weighed, loaded and paid for on the wharf.
Catalyzed by rising prices and better access to markets, Bua’s resources are being extracted and exported to meet growing demand elsewhere.
The question is whether communities can harness new economic opportunities without compromising the ecosystems on which they rely for food, clean water and medicines and which are such an inherent part of their spiritual and cultural identity.
As the wheels of development turn, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is supporting communities, who retain customary rights to forests and fishing grounds, to develop district and island-level management plans. Based on a ‘ridge to reef’ approach, scientific information and traditional local knowledge, management plans protect ecosystems to promote local health, culture and livelihoods.
Management plans are part of the solution, but only if they are effectively implemented, monitored and adapted over time. Despite the legal framework in place, Fiji’s over-stretched agencies struggle to enforce environmental laws. Environmental Impact Assessments often lack rigor. Developers’ compliance with any stated conditions is rarely checked, so they can be ignorant and neglectful without much fear of punishment.
Poor logging and agricultural practices are common, reducing soil fertility, increasing flood risk and causing sedimentation. Poaching in local marine protected areas and indiscriminate fishing methods diminish fisheries resources. Gravel extraction at inappropriate sites is destroying river habitats.
At WCS in Fiji we work at the interface of people and nature, traditional culture and globalization. We believe in sustainable development and its new sibling ‘green growth’. To promote effective co-management, we also invest in the capacity of communities to implement and adapt their management plans. This helps them to understand, monitor and enforce environmental regulations. As well as drawing on their cultural obligations as custodians of the environment, we seek to empower them to challenge public bodies and the private sector, holding them to account when required to protect local ecosystems and uphold the law.
Like local communities, we also have to be pragmatic – looking for positive trade-offs, seeking to minimize the rate of damage and moving incrementally towards our goals. Like them, we are optimistic that those goals can be achieved, striking the right balance to ensure the long-term health and prosperity of Fiji’s wonderful people and wildlife.
When I received an invitation from the government to speak at a symposium on sustainable agricultural development for Wallis and Futuna, I jumped at the opportunity. “When will I ever get to go to Wallis and Futuna again?” I reasoned.
Some of you may wonder where is Wallis and Futuna? Wallis and Futuna is comprised of three islands, Uvea (Wallis) and Futuna and Alofi (Futuna), which are part of the French Overseas Territories in the Pacific. Wallis and Futuna shares Exclusive Economic Zone boundaries with Fiji (to the south), Tuvalu (to the north), and Samoa and Tonga (to the east). Futuna is closer to Fiji though has closer linguistic connections to Samoa and has two kings. Wallis is nearer to Samoa but has language similarities closer to Tonga and has just one (elected) king, who was curiously recently dismissed.
An hour and twenty minutes after boarding the plane in Nadi, I disembarked at the airstrip in Wallis with the other workshop participants to be greeted by beautiful young Polynesian women who presented us with garlands of perfumed local flowers of all varieties. I later found out that this is the way of life on Wallis and Futuna. Every morning the ladies will choose selective flowers, leaves and seeds to send their men off to work in island colours and scents. And so it was that every morning at the workshop, our participants who hailed from New Caledonia, France, Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga were bestowed with these customary gifts.
I knew relatively little about Wallis and Futuna before arriving, except that I would need to drag out my rusty French from the dark recesses of my brain. I remembered to grab my French-English dictionary before I left, which proved to be somewhat useful, but not all that necessary since the Territorial Government organizing the workshop arranged for interpreters from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community to provide translation services. So, when I wanted to refresh my vocabulary, I would listen to talks in French, but when the French speakers got overly carried away in flourish and speed, as they are wont to do, I could simply press a button and with my UN-style headphones be fully briefed on the presentations in English.
Wallis and Futuna is a study of contrasts. There is no public transportation here on Uvea, which is 15 km long and 8 km wide, so people need their own vehicles and 4 x 4 Fords, Totoyas and Mazdas seem to be ever present. But with 47% of the people completely reliant on family farms and fishing, and with no domestic or export market for produce, I am baffled by how anyone can afford to purchase the cars. One source may be from remittances send back by young Wallatians and Futunians seeking study and employment overseas.
Indeed, that was a running theme of the workshop in terms of whether the recent surge in youth emigration is a problem or an opportunity. The customary leaders continued to express concern that their youth were losing their traditional knowledge of planting, getting fat from eating too much butter and jam, and are only interested in Facebook and the wonders of the internet. By contrast, some academics presented an alternative view that migration and education presented opportunities to bring innovation and skills back to the islands, as long as the youth are instilled with their local values from an early age so that they will want to return and build a sustainable future in their island homes.
Local values and traditional knowledge was another cross-cutting theme of the workshop. I think many of us were confused and somewhat appalled when the leader of the Territorial Assembly opened the workshop saying that “culture is a hindrance” to growth. By contrast, almost all of the subsequent presentations emphasized the need to build on the foundations of culture and traditional knowledge in order to ensure future sustainability and community resilience. For example, Pacific Islanders had past practices of planting and preserving “famine foods”, like fermented breadfruit, to ensure food security in times of local natural disasters.
The Territorial Government has aspirations to develop an Agriculture Development Plan that addresses both growth of economic opportunities and sustainability through 2030. But before putting their goals and objectives on paper, they wanted to learn from the experiences from their Pacific Island neighbors. They thus invited a diverse range of researchers and practitioners from the agriculture, fisheries, environment, culture and health sectors to think about island management in a truly integrated way. My contribution to the workshop came in the final presentation where I delivered a summary from a recent guide that we developed on Pacific Integrated Island Management, which highlights principles for good practice in managing across sectors and ecosystems in tropical island settings, and showcases examples from across the Pacific.
I have to congratulate the people of Wallis and Futuna for embracing the idea of holistic management. With such strong intact culture and rich natural resources, based on the foundations of an enormous wealth of agrobiodiversity, there is hope that the communities here can thrive into the future. What that means for Wallis and Futuna may be different from more developed countries. They will likely never rank highly on scales for Human Development Index or Gross Domestic Product, indicators that are traditionally used to describe growth and productivity. However, do these indicators actual relate to happy, healthy lifestyles? I think that if we measured across scales related to human well-being and cultural richness, we might find that Wallis and Futuna are leading the way.