Fiji TV set to broadcast nature documentaries

Fiji's Wildlife Conservation Society Program Director Sangeeta Mangubhai (left) with Fiji TV Head of Content Karen Lobendahn at the partnership signing.  Picture: SOLOMONE RABULU/Fiji Times

Fiji’s Wildlife Conservation Society Program Director Sangeeta Mangubhai (left) with Fiji TV Head of Content Karen Lobendahn at the partnership signing. Picture: SOLOMONE RABULU/Fiji Times

Avid television viewers in Fiji and across the Pacific region can now look forward to the increase in nature documentaries from the comfort of their homes.

The Pacific’s largest broadcaster, Fiji Television Limited (Fiji TV) announced its partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) for free programs on conservation efforts to encourage public support for the protection of the environment.

Fiji TV’s Head of Content, Karen Lobendhan says that the yearlong partnership is about providing compelling nature programming to not only Fiji but the region as well which will be airing on its Free to Air and Direct to Home platforms.

Fiji's Wildlife Conservation Society Program Director Sangeeta Mangubhai (left) with Fiji TV CEO Geoffery Smith and Head of Content Karen Lobendahn at the partnership deal for a free to air documentary show. Picture: SOLOMONE RABULU/Fiji Times

Fiji’s Wildlife Conservation Society Program Director Sangeeta Mangubhai (left) with Fiji TV CEO Geoffery Smith and Head of Content Karen Lobendahn at the partnership deal for a free to air documentary show. Picture: SOLOMONE RABULU/Fiji Times

The partnership between WCS-Fiji and Fiji TV as the largest broadcaster in the Pacific will see 13 engaging nature documentaries viewed across 14 Pacific island countries and territories.

“These documentaries will feature different types of environmental issues that are relevant to us and will include feature stories about iconic and totemic species such as turtles, humpback whales and fish that are important for us to eat” said WCS-Fiji Country Director, Dr. Sangeeta Mangubhai.

Fiji TV Head of Content Karen Lobendahn (far right) observes as Fiji's Wildlife Conservation Society Program Director Sangeeta Mangubhai (left) signs a partnership deal with Fiji TV CEO Geoffery Smith for a free to air documentary show. Picture: SOLOMONE RABULU/Fiji Times

Fiji TV Head of Content Karen Lobendahn (far right) observes as Fiji’s Wildlife Conservation Society Program Director Sangeeta Mangubhai (left) signs a partnership deal with Fiji TV CEO Geoffery Smith for a free to air documentary show. Picture: SOLOMONE RABULU/Fiji Times

The documentaries where filmed in Fiji, Hawaii, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and other countries like Hong Kong and the United States of America. A few of the documentaries have also attracted international film festivals which reflect the quality of television content that will be broadcast as a result of this partnership.

“The first of the documentaries focuses on showcasing the immense socio-economic and ecological values of the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape and explores our Fijian connection to the environment”, Dr. Mangubhai added.

Introducing the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape

Bula vinaka,

I am proud to share with you the first edition of our Vatu-i-Ra Seascape newsletter to bring you news and stories from this extraordinary place. What makes this place special?

The Vatu-i-Ra Seascape and its 27,000 km2 of forests, mangroves, seagrass meadows, reefs, deep channels, and seamounts is one of the Pacific’s last great wild places. Stretching between Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, it covers the provinces of Bua, Lomaiviti, Ra and Tailevu and their surrounding waters. It is home to the largest population of nesting hawksbills in Fiji as well as green and loggerhead turtles. It is one of the few remaining sanctuaries for the highly prized but globally endangered humphead wrasse (Varivoce), bumphead parrotfish (Kalia) and reef sharks. Our local people thrill to frequent sightings of resident pilot whales and dolphins as well as humpback whales passing through on their annual migrations. Strong currents run through the deep Vatu-i-Ra channel, nourishing a magnificent diversity of more than 300 coral and 1000 fish species. These, in turn, sustain breeding colonies of seabirds.

Over the next 12 months, the Wildlife Conservation Society and partners will be running a campaign to raise awareness about the seascape so that people understand why protecting the Vatu-i-Ra is critical for maintaining our culture and way of life. Earlier this year we launched a website www.fijiseascape.com where you can find information on what is going on in the seascape, and to read inspiring stories from the people who live there and communities’ efforts to care for their forests, rivers and coral reefs. We are currently running a photo competition (with prizes!!), to encourage people to get out into the seascape, experience it first hand and capture its natural beauty and its people through the lens of a camera.

Therefore on behalf of our organisation and stakeholders, I would like to encourage you to contribute to the successful management of the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape by asking questions, engaging on our online campaign platforms and sharing success stories that help build public support for the protection of wilderness area that can be enjoyed by future generations.

Vinaka,
Sangeeta Mangubhai, PhD
Fiji Country Director.

Returning to Kia Island

WCS staff Sirilo Dulunaqio looks at Kia Island approaching in the distance.

WCS staff Sirilo Dulunaqio looks at Kia Island approaching in the distance.

Spend more than a few minutes on Kia Island and it is obvious that the residents enjoy their fishing. But fishing isn’t just for pleasure, it is a way of life for the communities of Yaro, Ligau and Daku who live on a speck of land no more than 3 square kilometres perched on the edge of Fiji’s Great Sea Reef.

A Kia fisher holds up a sizable catch

A Kia fisher holds up a sizable catch

While the spectacular scenery of the tall rocky cliffs of the island and the warm hospitality of the people of Kia remained the same, much had changed since my last visit in 2009. There was power every night. Sky Pacific satellite dishes crowned the roofs of houses. I no longer needed to walk surreptitiously across the schoolyard to go bathe at the single well with a resident freshwater eel now that large water tanks flanked most of the village houses.

Seagrass and algal beds emergent at low tide on Kia Island

Seagrass and algal beds emergent at low tide on Kia Island

The improvements in lifestyle are probably related to increased fishing income. When I first came to Kia Island in 2008, we saw more fish on the reef than I had ever seen in my life. The values of fish biomass we recorded were nearly off the charts – some of the highest figures that have been published for anywhere in the world. I doubt they are anywhere near the same today.

A few days after we began our surveys, the Kia communities announced that they were opening up their tabu area to fishing. Within four weeks, they had removed nearly 70-80% of the fish biomass, primarily targeting large trevally, unicornfish, grouper, snapper, parrotfish and emperor. Those fish that didn’t get caught, “bailed out” of the tabu area and fled to other adjacent areas of reef, as we noted from a spike in fish numbers and biomass at adjacent survey sites open to fishing.

In 2009, I had the WCS marine team return to Kia Island to look for evidence of recovery as the tabu had supposedly been put back in place. Our results, however, showed a reduction of fish numbers and sizes, suggesting that people were still fishing.

Why? Well, the locals told us that they saw boats from Labasa continuing to fish inside their tabu area – clearly people were not respecting the tabu. We also know that middlemen from seafood export companies moved onto the island, thus there was easy access to a reliable market and hard cash. Hard cash can be used to purchase more fishing gear and boats, thus leading to more fishing pressure.

While the main purpose of our visit this year was to collect some additional social survey information to inform an analysis of the overall effectiveness of management, I also wanted to make sure to present the outcomes of the tabu harvest to the communities.

WCS staff Sirilo Dulunaqio interviewing a fisher from Ligau Village, Kia Island

WCS staff Sirilo Dulunaqio interviewing a fisher from Ligau Village, Kia Island

In Yaro Village in particular, there was a lot of discussion. People were genuinely concerned that the level of fishing might not be sustainable, but they feel a bit powerless to make rules to control effort. The Tui Macuata has the ultimate authority regarding when the tabu area can be opened, thus, to use a banking analogy, there is reluctance to reinstate the tabu for fear that the accrued benefits will be withdrawn by people from outside the community.

The Kia communities are caught in a governance dilemma. What are some of the possible solutions? We counselled them that they could form a fishing committee to be able to take a stronger, unified voice to Bose Vanua meetings to discuss the issues with the traditional community leaders. Because there is such a small area of land available on Kia for planting crops, the communities are nearly completely dependent on fishing for their livelihoods, and outside fishing pressure represent a real threat to their very existence.

Secondly, they can continue the excellent monitoring that they are already doing to assess whether the fish that they are catching are reproductively mature. If too many fish are taken out of the water before they are able to replenish the stock, populations will eventually fall below levels needed to support food and income needs.

Trained fish catch monitors on Kia Island are recording the size and sexual maturity status of each fish caught.

Trained fish catch monitors on Kia Island are recording the size and sexual maturity status of each fish caught.

Kia fishers are regularly assessing whether fish caught are sexually mature by looking at their gonads.

Kia fishers are regularly assessing whether fish caught are sexually mature by looking at their gonads.

Unfortunately, Kians have been hit by a double whammy. In addition to increased fishing pressure, Tropical Cyclone Evan wreaked havoc on their reef. The brilliant colours of the fringing reef bordering the island are gone – likely victim to the cyclone’s thrashing in December 2012, as evidenced by many tipped over coral plates. Instead, it is pipefish paradise as they hide in the turf algae waiting to feed on small unsuspecting invertebrates like copepods. Without a high number of “sasamaki fish” – the fish that eat the algae and clean up the reef – the corals will be unlikely to come back and the reef structure will degrade, thus reducing habitat for other fish and their prey.

One of many pipefish hunting in turf algal habitat on heavily impacted fringing reefs of Kia Island

One of many pipefish hunting in turf algal habitat on heavily impacted fringing reefs of Kia Island

Now is the time to act. We hope to bring back soon the outcomes of our work on periodic harvests of tabu areas to provide better guidelines of how much can be harvested from tabu areas and how often. We are also keen to partner with other NGOs, like WWF, to help the communities come up with a plan to control fishing effort and move towards sustainable extraction levels.