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By: Kelera Serelini
Traditional leaders need to be passionate about conservation and address issues concerning the protection of their natural resources said Macuata high chief, Ratu Williame Katonivere.
Macuata Province has one of the largest customary fishing grounds in Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island.
The Province, under the traditional fishing grounds of Macuata Qoliqoli Cokovata which encompasses four districts of Dreketi, Macuata, Sasa and Mali, has custodial ownership for a section of the Great Sea Reef, the second longest reef in the world.
“At the traditional leadership level one has to be aware of the issues that would one day affect food sources for our people,” Ratu Williame said during the recent Fisheries Forum attended by representatives from the fishing industry.
“I have read government policies and our Millennium Development Goals and we’re informed that there is a decrease in fish stocks and as a leader, I have to worry about this.” He continued on to say Chiefs need to participate in fora like this as they are the one that help enforce fisheries laws to their people.
We need to help the Ministry of Fisheries to put a structure in place to ensure that our community efforts are recognised and every chief is aware of all the necessary information to effectively manage their resources for the future.”
The Province of Macuata is currently trialling a method to improve fisheries management. They are making it a requirement that all local and commercial fishers operating in the province provide their catch data to the Ministry of Fisheries.
Ratu Williame also stated “I’m also collating data from within my province so that I’m more aware of the resources we have and what we need to protect. I want to take a similar approach with our forest resources. Our people need to be aware that these timbers would be more valuable if they are left alone for our future generation.”
He added, “like the people of Bua, we also share the vision to protect our natural resources and I will use my traditional role to ensure that our efforts are recognised and our future generation also share in the richness of our resources in years to come.
By Sangeeta Mangubhai
Pacific Islanders have a deep connection to the ocean that spans millennia. Their ancestors were inspirational navigators who sailed across the Pacific, using their immense knowledge of the ocean, the stars and the elements as their guide.
In the hours before the official opening of the IUCN World Conservation Congress, the Governor of Hawai’i and the Kahanamoku and Paoa families welcomed the Pacific Island leaders from Fiji, Cook Islands, Solomon Islands, Federated States of Micronesia on Waikiki Beach. Together they celebrated the Moana Pasifika Voyage, which is “a voyage for the Pacific Ocean, by our ohana in Hawai’i who sail for action on climate change and a sustainable Pacific Ocean. The voyage delivers the voice of our communities and the lessons learned through our traditional to help chart a course to a safer future.”
This theme came out strongly during the Pacific Ocean Summit and Pacific Island Roundtable event, which highlighted that the health of the Pacific Ocean impacts all of humanity, every ecosystem and every economy. Much of the discussion was about the launching of the 2030 Pacific Ocean Partnership “to deliver on the extraordinary actions required to avoid the severe impacts from climate change and biodiversity loss,” to help deliver Sustainable Development Goal 14 to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.
This means taking greater action on climate change, reducing plastics and pollution, building community resilience and knowledge networks, strengthening coastal resilience through the restoration of watersheds, wetlands, mangroves and seagrass beds, and establishing and enforcing protected and other managed areas.
Being around our Pacific Island leaders and colleagues gives me hope. There is a strong sense that we are in the same “vaka” or traditional canoe sailing the same journey, with the same destination, to define a healthy and resilient Pacific. All we need to do is pick up as many people we can along the way and make it a global journey.
By Sangeeta Mangubhai
On 20 February 2016, Fiji was hit by Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Winston — one of the largest cyclones the nation has ever experienced. Over a 24-hour period Winston left a trail of destruction along its path through the middle of the country.
The Fiji Government immediately announced a 30-day state of emergency, calling for coordinated assistance from non-government organisations (NGOs), the private sector, and humanitarian aid agencies for the 40,000 people that needed immediate assistance. Across the country 44 people lost their lives. Some 30,000 homes, 495 schools, and 88 medical facilities were damaged or destroyed.
The cyclone destroyed food and agricultural crops on a large scale and impacted the livelihoods of 62 percent of the population.
Here in Honolulu at the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress, I have been engaging with other practitioners who are starting to look at the relationships between disasters and biodiversity and how to better integrate the environment into disaster recovery to provide resilient solutions. As environmental NGOs we acknowledge it is challenging for us as to find our niche and fit when a disaster strikes and the most urgent need is not conservation, but water, food, shelter, and sanitation.
But in a world where issues can get easily siloed, we are going to have to figure out how to bring the agencies that deal with disasters and disaster risk reduction together with those of us working on the protection and sustainable use of our natural resources. By pooling our organizational strengths, we can build resilient ecosystems that support local communities and national economies. For instance, we need to bring groups that work on disaster risk reduction together with those of us that work on climate change.
So closer to home, what have we been doing? In Fiji, WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) has been working with local communities in Bua Province to develop ridge to reef management plans that incorporate ecosystem based management principles. Two weeks ago four districts launched these management plans, which include networks of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine protected areas and best management practices.
In collaboration with the Department of Fisheries and partners, WCS has quantified the impact of Cyclone Winston on fisheries-dependent communities. We assessed the impact on fishing infrastructure (e.g. boats, engines and gear) to provide a monetary estimate to government to guide recovery efforts, estimated village dependence on local fisheries to determine the impact on food security and livelihoods, and identified the villages that may need alternative livelihood initiatives to reduce the impact on recovering fisheries.
A report, to be launched shortly, provides guidance to the Fiji Government and development agencies on where to target limited resources to support the recovery of the most vulnerable and impacted fishing-dependent communities in Fiji. And working with government, academic and NGO partners, WCS recently completed an Integrated Vulnerability Assessment (IVA) on Koro Island to quantify the vulnerability of communities and their resources to cyclones, other natural disasters, and to climate change.
The assessment is being used by the Climate Change Division under the Ministry of Economy to guide discussions around the relocation of communities to safer locations on the island, as well as to take an integrated approach to address five critical areas of importance for the people of Koro: food security, human health, water security, ecosystems health, and energy security.
Extreme events like Cyclone Winston are likely to become more frequent if we cannot make significant progress globally to address climate change. But those of us in the Pacific cannot afford to wait. We need to ensure that protecting the environment is a core part of reducing our risk to natural disasters and climate change.
Dr. Sangeeta Mangubhai is Country Director for the Fiji program at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).
Ten days of surveying Fiji’s coral reefs post cyclone Winston has sent this message loud and clear:
Mothers, fathers, teachers, divers: Take your children to see a coral reef – now – before it is too late. Don’t wait until they have have finished school. Don’t delay it in favour of a theme park holiday. Because if storms like Winston keep bombarding us, coral reefs will not exist by the time your children are your age.
Get your face inches from a turtle having his shell cleaned by wrasse. Watch curious reef sharks cruise right by you. Be engulfed by barracuda swirling in current, follow a dragonet until its dorsal flares like a rainbowed lightning bolt. Discover crabs like bejewelled sumo wrestlers, slugs that fly, eels that tango, octopus that mimic and, of course, discover coral. Coral branching into blue water. Coral cascading over steep drop offs, coral spreading a roof over pinnacles, coral clustering in floral arrangements, coral exploding from every crevice like fireworks bursting from a cityscape.
A healthy coral reef is the most exquisitely beautiful, overwhelming and bizarre place in the world. Nowhere else can you get closer to such a diverse array of wild animals and experience so intimately and vividly the interconnectedness of life on this planet. After more than 30 years diving coral reefs throughout the Asia-Pacific, I have never felt more grateful that coral reefs are my passion. But I’ve also never worried more that this love affair will end.
Right now in Fiji, wonderful coral reefs certainly still exist, indeed many thrive. But every year reefs teeter on a cliff that overlooks coral bleaching from hot ocean currents, fishing or pollution pressure, crown of thorns explosions, ocean acidification and, most suddenly destructive of all, increasingly powerful cyclones. Some of our most famous NAI’A dive sites were so structurally altered by this recent storm as to be unrecognisable. Some are still so gorgeously unscathed it defies logic. Winston is a particularly dramatic reminder that nothing, especially on a coral reef, stays the same.
The barrier reef outside Gau bleached so horrifically in 2000, I thought we’d never dive there again. Today it is an expanse of robust and varied hard corals frequented by sea snakes, turtles, snapper schools and nesting triggerfish. A film crew declared Wakaya “dead” in 2001. But from the rubble emerged a stunning soft and hard coral habitat featuring numerous “cleaning stations” that manta rays frequent. Nigali Passage suffered a major blow from anglers targetting groupers, Napoleon wrasse and sharks in 2002. But with the local people more willing to guard that small but signifcant breeding site, fish numbers have steadily risen and it remains one of the most exciting dives on the planet. Vatu-i-Ra’s current-flushed corals resisted mass bleaching over several recent summers and recovered many times faster than expected from damage that did occur.
Namena, Fiji’s inspirational and iconic marine park, has copped harsh blow from Cyclone Winston which swept away some of the most lavish coral reef cover I’ve seen anywhere. But I do remember 20 years ago, following cyclone Hina in 1997, the Namena bommies sported only patchy growth and we mainly celebrated diving among fish and sharks there. Since then it grew into a coral and critter paradise.
So, with these positive experiences diving recovered reefs and all the reassurances from science that storms are a normal part of a coral reef’s life, why the fuss now?
Because I’ve never seen storm damage so extensive in places that have been so spectacularly strong. Because it’s getting harder and harder to find newly thriving coral reef. Because regeneration will be slow and mercilessly dependent on other reef stressors, instigated by humans. Because more storms like Winston are on their way as our globe warms. The harsh reality is that in 30 years of diving in Fiji, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Kiribati, Thailand and Tahiti, I’ve seen more destruction than I have recovery. And unlike many coral reef scientists, I’m in the business of finding beauty and diversity.
Coral reefs are so magnificent and important that I won’t risk my kids missing out on them. Expect the best and prepare for the worst. It’s common sense. It’s now or never to protect – and preserve – coral reefs. The time for baseline studies is long gone. The baseline is shifting faster than we can measure it. It’s time for courageous acts by governments. It’s time for innovative strategies by scientists. It’s time for conservation and fishing to quit bickering and cooperate on the common goal. It’s time for tourists to put nature before shopping.
Winston is more than a wake-up call, it’s a shock to my system. These “natural cycles” for coral reefs may prove to actually be a revolution. Some ecologists, with far more experience than I, say extinction is imminent. I hope they are wrong. But I’m not willing to bet on it. Instead, I’m going diving and you should too.
See a coral reef. Admire it’s grand view and marvel at it’s tiny intricasies. Coral reefs are fading already. And if they do disappear, you will be thankful not to have missed out on an incredible experience that will reshape the way you understand this planet and your place in it. If coral reefs survive, you’ll share visceral joy with the next generation of coral reef adventurers, instead of just passing around a fading photograph of how our tropical seas used to be.
BY: Sangeeta Mangubhai
On Saturday, 20 February 2016, Fiji with a population of 900,000 was hit by Category 5 Cyclone Winston. It was one of the largest cyclones we had experienced with winds of up to 185mph. Over a 24-hour period the cyclone left a trail of destruction through the centre of the country, and through the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape where the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) works. The Fijian Government immediately announced a 30 day state of emergency, calling for coordinated assistance from NGOs, private sector and humanitarian aid agencies. As images flood in from across the country, we are getting the full sense of the damage that has been done especially within the communities we work, and the long recovery road that is ahead of Fiji.
Much of our effort so far, has been around providing food and water relief to our communities until authorities and humanitarian organisations can step in. However, over the next 10 days, through the generous support of Nai’a Cruises, a live-aboard ship that has been diving in Fiji since 1993, I have the opportunity to survey coral reefs throughout the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape to assess the damage caused by cyclone Winston, and collect data on coral bleaching.
Why is this important? Fijians are highly reliant on their coral reef for both food and for livelihoods. In fact, fish is the main source of protein, and therefore healthy productive coral reefs and their associated fisheries, are critical to Fiji’s food security.
I will be using two main techniques to assess the reefs. Firstly, I will be taking a series of random underwater photos from about half a meter above the reef surface at 12-15m depth. They have to be random because I have to be careful not to bias my sampling and favour one type of substrate (e.g. coral) over another (e.g. sand). So what I do is close my eyes for about five to ten kicks of my fins, open my eyes and wherever I land I point the camera down and take a photo. All the photos are later analysed in software specifically designed to help capture how much hard coral covers the reef, versus soft coral, algae, sand or rock.
Secondly, I will be assessing the scale and intensity of coral bleaching across different reefs throughout the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape. Just before the cyclone, there were increasing reports from dive operators and local scientists of coral bleaching throughout Fiji, caused by the El Niño cycle. Coral bleaching occurs when a coral is stressed which more often is in response to increases in sea surface temperatures. Under stress, coral will sever the unique relationship they have with an algae living inside them called zooxanthellae. The algae gives coral their colour and turn sunlight into food. Without zooxanethellae corals become pale to white (hence the term coral bleaching), and slowly start to starve.
On this trip, I will visit both sites I surveyed in 2001 with Nai’a Cruises, as well as explore new areas. The data I will collect can also serve as a baseline for both measuring changes on coral reefs, as well as the recovery of reefs, post-cyclone and post-bleaching. The ability of our reefs to either resist stresses like from cyclones and high sea surface temperatures will affect how healthy they are, and therefore their ability to support local fisheries in Fiji.