About the Author
Author

Sirilo (aka Didi) is WCS Fiji's man in Savusavu, working as a Community Liaison Officer. Originally from Kubulau, Didi is a critical link to the communities - our eyes and ears in the field - and is always available for a talanoa around the grog bowl.

Growing Strong Roots in Nadivakarua

On the 6th and 7th of November, I set out to join the Fijian Department of Fisheries conduct training in Nadivakarua Village in Kubulau District, Bua.

The aim of the workshop was to establish plant nurseries so inland communities could provide favorable conditions for tree seedlings to grow before transplanting and covered topics such as identifying a suitable site for the nursery, building the structure as well as plant production, handling and maintenance.

On the first day, the community gathered the posts from the forest and dug the holes where the posts would later sit forming the foundation of the plant nursery.

Jone Vakarewa and his team from the Department of Fisheries arrived with the remaining materials needed and with his guidance the community participants were able to cut the posts to size and tied wire to each of the posts to close the first day’s activities on a high note.

Around the Tanoa that evening the community congregated in the village hall to gain tips from Jone Vakarewa about successful seedling pots, maintenance, income generation and to discuss community support for the project and unfavorable weather conditions in the area.

On day two the community began by setting up the mesh netting and cutting it into the measured sizes. As part of the workshop, the Forestry officials demonstrated how to mix the soil, fill the potted plants, handling the seedlings and transplanting.

He also emphasized the importance of choosing the right soil for pot plants for the different type of plants before one hundred seedlings of Yasi or Sandalwood were brought in to start with part of 3 kilograms of Yasi seedlings that were paid by the KRMC

The Tui Wainunu, Ratu Orisi Baleitavea paid a visit during the workshop where he was impressed by the participants from each of the villages within Kubulau and was briefed on the progress of the nursery as part of the KRMC GEF funded project in which WCS with the Wainunu RMC

Following the completion of the nursery, the KRMC established a mechanism to assign a few members to look after the nursery and water the pot plants.

Eventually it is envisioned that this project will be able to perform an important ecological task in arresting up-stream soil erosion and sedimentation that negatively impact inshore fisheries and coastal communities livelihoods.

It will also act as a provenance for re-establishing wetlands and re-vegetation projects as logging practices in the area continue.

Meet the chief coordinating community-led management in Bua

As he welcomed us into his village, I was again struck by the friendly and down-to-earth manner of the Tui Wairiki (chief of Wairiki village), Akuila Qio Turaganiqali.

We first met in November, when Akuila accepted his nomination to become the Coordinator for newly formed Bua Yaubula Management Support Team (BYMST). Since then he has also become the Northern Division representative for the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area network (FLMMA). Very much active in each of these roles, Akuila quickly became a regular correspondent, a close ally and a good friend.

Akuila was born in Wairiki, but spent most of his childhood in Suva where he attended school, Fiji Institute of Technology and the University of the South Pacific. Following a career in public service, working for the Department of Agriculture, Land Transport Authority, the Ministry of Health, Public Works Department and Fiji Military Services, Akuila and his wife Teresea resided in Suva until the death of his father (the former Tui Wairiki) in 2011. As is customary for the oldest child, he left his life in the city and returned to take on the chiefly role in the village.

“I had visited regularly over the years, so I knew that things had changed in Wairiki since I was a boy.” remembers Akuila. “After I returned I got a better understanding of the challenges we face here. Our culture, traditions and natural resources are being eroded. Developments like the new road, woodchip mill and logging can help us by providing employment and income but we need to protect the environment we rely on for our daily needs. We also want our grandchildren inherit a bountiful vanua (incorporating the natural resources of the land and ocean).”

Quickly recognizing the scale of these challenges, Akuila set about linking with other communities and partners to address them. “That is why I became active with BYMST and FLMMA.” he recalls “They provide a way of accessing knowledge, support and resources from NGOs whilst helping communities to plan and act together. It is an honor to play a role and I encourage everyone to contribute towards our shared goals.”

With five children and eight grandchildren whom he visits regularly in Suva and New Zealand, one question remained unanswered as Akuila returned from an early morning at the plantation to help lead our workshop – just where does he find the time?

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Sea cucumber harvest provides church roof

Holothuria scabra collected in Natuvu village

On the 24th September 2012 the communities of Natuvu village in Wailevu district started harvesting sea cucumbers (Holothuria scabra, or dairo in Fijian) from the shallow waters outside their marine protected area. Sea cucumbers are being cultured in Natuvu village through a joint project with Fiji Department of Fisheries, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, and James Cook University. The dried animals fetch a high price for sale in Asian markets – up to $100 per kilo. Around 1,200 of the valuable animals were collected on the first day of the harvest and 1,000 individuals on the second day. We are waiting to hear the final catch figures for the harvest from the communities.

During the harvest I saw first-hand the long drying process to prepare the catch for sale. First the communities cooked the dairo then buried them in sand for 24 hours. After this, they cleaned them and cooked again for 10 minutes and then dried the cooked animals using dryers. Finally, the sea cucumbers are cooked again for 15-20 minutes and then sun dried until they are sold.

It was very encouraging to see the community come together as the women of the village cleaned the dairo while all the men helped out in the cooking, cleaning and drying. Harvesting will continue until enough money is collected from selling sea cucumbers to purchase new roofing material for their village church.

Catch information collected from this harvest will contribute to a study by the University of Georgia in the US. In August, WCS Fiji staff assisted Professor Mark Hay and his team to carry out surveys inside and outside the marine protected area owned by Natuvu village, for example gathering seabed sediment samples and assessing the density of sea cucumbers before the planned harvest. These data are now being analysed by Professor Hay, before he returns to Natuvu for a post-harvest survey. The research hopes to answer questions about the effects of large-scale harvests of sea cucumbers on ecosystem functions such as nutrient cycling.

Surveying the sea cucumbers of Kubulau

Recently I was part of a team of researchers that went to Kubulau to receive sea cucumber survey training, conducted by Mr Kalo of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community. The team included nine Fisheries officers from all four corners of Fiji (Western, Central, Northern and Eastern Divisions), as well as three staff from the NGO Partners in Community Development Fund.

Community-managed tabu areas and district MPAs in Kubulau

The team surveyed 57 stations with different methods: manta tows, transects on reef benthos and transects on soft bottom habitats. Each method was carried out both inside community-managed marine protected areas (tabu areas) and in open access areas.

The surveys covered the marine protected areas of Nakali, Namuri, Nasue, Cakau Vusoni and Dromoninuku – the new tabu area established this year, belonging to Navatu village. Open access areas surveyed were the reefs in between Namuri and Nasue marine protected areas, and in front of Waisa village down to Kiobo village, and from Waisa north to Nadivakarua Bay. Unfortunately we were not able to go to the famous Namena MPA due to bad weather.

 

Of the 24 commercially harvested species of sea cucumber present in Fiji, 18 were found in Kubulau during this survey. Previous surveys conducted by WCS Fiji have recorded 14 of these sea cucumber species, so we were happy to add four new species for Kubulau to the records.

Curryfish (Stichopus variegatus) in its shallow water habitat.

There were not many differences between marine protected areas versus open access areas – in some cases there were in fact larger numbers of sea cucumbers recorded outside the protected areas than inside (Holothurius atra, Lollyfish). For the high value species, we recorded only one White teatfish (Holothuria fuscogilva) and few Stonefish (Actinopyga lecanora) during the day. However there were more high value species recorded in Navatu when we visited the buyer. These high value species were caught during the night. Long-handled spears were used to catch bigger ones in the deep, as clearly explained by the local fishermen.

 

It has been mentioned that Crown of Thorns starfish populations might be increasing in Kubulau; we did observe Crown of Thorns during the survey but I personally think that the numbers were much lower than previously recorded by WCS Fiji’s surveys in neighbouring Wailevu district in 2011, where the damage has been more serious.

Actinopyga lecanora, or stonefish – a high value nocturnal species of sea cucumber

Raw data were presented back to the Turaga ni Yavusas (spokesmen for the tribes in the area) during the talanoa session, as requested by the Chairman of the Kubulau Resource Management Committee. These data were also made available to partner organisations as part of a national consultation process on Fiji’s National Sea Cucumber Fishery, together with some community recommendations about sea cucumber harvesting. The export value of sea cucumbers from Fiji is currently estimated at F$22 million annually (~US$12.4 million).