WCS-Fiji: Busy but Fulfilling Year

Sangeeta_WCS

Dr Sangeeta Mangubhai, Director, WCS-Fiji

2015 has been a busy but fulfilling year for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Fiji Country Program, as we launched a number of fisheries initiatives including a Women in Fisheries Programme to support the economic empowerment of rural fisherwomen in Fiji.

Our management team has assisted the remaining districts in Bua Province come to the near completion of their ecosystem-based management plans, and the communities of Koro and Ovalau commence their island-based plans. WCS is now working closely with the Provincial office and district representatives to synthesize district plans into a single integrated coastal management plan for Bua Province building on the three pillars of environment, people and development.

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WCS and Department of Fisheries staff conducting sea cucumber surveys in Bua Province

In partnership with the Department of Fisheries, our science team developed new survey and analytical skills to understand the value chains of key invertebrate fisheries in Fiji. We also applied a new analytical framework called the Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database to assess the ecological and socioeconomic impacts of locally managed marine areas and tabu areas in Fiji. Dr. Stacy Jupiter continued to lead complementary work to look at the impacts of periodic harvests from tabu areas which will be developed into guidance for best practice management that can be shared all across Fiji.

 

WCS continued to play a strong role on the Protected Areas Committee in 2015, and has been invited to join the BIOFIN Committee under the Department of Environment, and Fisheries Offshore Marine Reserve Committee under the Department of Fisheries. In the upcoming months, we will evaluate our conservation work to date and will formulate a new 5 year strategy for WCS-Fiji for launch in 2016, that feeds into a larger Melanesia Strategy. We will continue our commitments to integrated coastal management, ecosystem-based management at district and islands-scale, providing high-quality, scientifically-sound guidance on protected area management and policy, and fostering the enabling conditions for sustainable coastal fisheries management in 2016, while expanding our work on payments for ecosystem services.

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Margaret Fox conducting socioeconomic interviews to look at impact of locally managed marine areas

Our Annual Report for 2015 I now available for downloading from

http://www.wcsfiji.com/Resources/Annual-Reports.aspx

On behalf of the WCS Fiji team, we look forward to continuing and strengthening our partnerships in country and the region, while exploring new opportunities for collaboration. We thank everyone for their support and look forward to a productive and inspiring 2016.

Vinaka vaka levu,

Sangeeta Mangubhai, Director, WCS Fiji

 

 

Images by Francis Mangubhai (top), Sangeeta Mangubhai (middle), Stacy Jupiter (bottom)

Marine Spatial Planning to Protect Biodiversity and $71M Fisheries and Tourism in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape

A group picture of all the stakeholders from across Government, Industry and Civil Society Organisations

Workshop participants from across government and civil society organisations

The Wildlife Conservation Society in collaboration with the Ministry of Fisheries and Forests hosted the second workshop on “Marine Spatial Planning for the Vatu-I-Ra Seascape” at the Tanoa Plaza Hotel in Suva on 8-9 December, 2015. The chief guest, the Acting Permanent Secretary for Fisheries and Forest, Mr. Sanaila Naqali opened the workshop providing full support for marine spatial planning in Fiji.

The Fijian Government's Acting Permanent Secretary for Fisheries Sanaila Naqali opened the workshop

Acting Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Fisheries and Forests Mr. Sanaila Naqali opening the spatial planning workshop

Marine spatial planning is a tool and a practical way to create and establish a more rational use of marine space and the interactions among its uses, to balance demands for development with the need to protect the environment, and to deliver social and economic outcomes in an open and planned way. This is the first time Fiji has attempted marine spatial planning over its state-owned offshore waters. We also have very few examples in the world of governments successfully applying marine spatial planning over offshore waters, so it is exciting to be leading such work in Fiji.

Fisheries Officer Tevita Vodivodidi presents on potential offshore areas

Fisheries Officer Tevita Vodivodi presents on zones for potential offshore marine managed areas

The Vatu-i-Ra Seascape is one of the most diverse and productive areas in Fiji, with the tourism and fisheries sector alone contributing at least FJ $71 million annually to the national economy. Marine spatial planning will ensure that  economic as well as cultural, social and biological values in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape are maintained in a balanced and fair way.

Discussion continues on areas that can be set aside as marine protected areas

Discussion continues on areas that can be set aside as marine managed areas in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape

Over 1.5 days, participants of the second marine spatial planning workshop reviewed areas they had identified as potential offshore (or deeper water) managed areas in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape in July 2015. Specifically they discussed and gained consensus on the placement, size and location of marine managed areas, and developed specific zones for each area. The successful establishment of potential marine managed areas in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape will make an important contribution to the government of Fiji’s commitment to protect 30% of its seas, including deep water offshore areas by 2020. This process is expected to pave a way for other important seascapes in Fiji to go through a similar planning process.

Words by Dwain Qalovaki and Sangeeta Mangubhai and images by Harriet Davis

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.

Measuring Fish on the Big Island

WCS Fiji Volunteer, Mosese Naleba in Kubulau District, Bua

WCS Fiji Volunteer, Mosese Naleba in Kubulau District, Bua

Words by Mosese Naleba

“Catch Per Unit Effort” (CPUE) is a fisheries tool used to estimate how fish catch and effort changes over time, and therefore how heathy fish stocks are. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is currently working with over 100 villages around the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape, the Suva district, and on the island of Taveuni in Fiji to conduct CPUE monitoring. Villagers were taught how to measure fish and enter data into a logbook, to enable local fishers keep better track of their fisheries resources, and be active stewards of their i qoliqoli (traditional fishing grounds). The villagers enter the data using their local names, and then WCS scientist Waisea Nasilisili matches these up with the scientific names.

Some of the fish that is caught and recorded by communities. Image by Sangeeta Mangubhai

Some of the fish that is caught and recorded by communities. Image by Sangeeta Mangubhai

Through CPUE training and data collection, I got to see places that I only dreamt of seeing. These were places likes Waiqanake village in the province of Rewa, Navatu Village in Bua province, Nadogoloa, Nabukadra and my ancestral village Verevere in the province of Ra. Growing up in the mainland of Viti Levu, I always hoped one day to visit Vanua Levu (literally means “Big Island”) – so when offered the opportunity to go there with WCS, I took it.

CPUE training was conducted on the beautiful island of Navatu, with participants coming from Kubulau district and Taveuni. The atmosphere during training was relaxed, with lots of opportunities for jokes and laughter in between the intense training. It was great to see firsthand how much these villagers appreciated the training, and what types of concerns they had about their fisheries.

When the training ended, we set down together with the participants and villagers of Navatu Island for a session around the tanoa bowl. I talked with the village elders of Navatu, who told me stories of ancestral linkages, their connections to land and sea, and most importantly, the changes that were occurring all around them. The stories were the same – that there was a steady decline in their fish stocks, and it was harder to catch fish for food and to sell at local markets.

They talked about how vibrant their qoliqoli areas were in the past, from shallow lagoons to deeper reefs. One elder told me,

“before, we were knee deep with fish. The hard part was reaching down and picking them up. Now we are on our knees begging for fish.”

These words continue to reverberate within me, admittedly bring tears to my eyes when I remember my first trip to Vanua Levu. The village elders and participants acknowledged the declines in their fish populations, but felt more hopeful that as their community became more involved in monitoring and management efforts to improve fisheries within their qoliqoli areas.

Community representatives undergoing Catch Per Unit Effort training. Image by Sangeeta Mangubhai

Community representatives undergoing Catch Per Unit Effort training. Image by Sangeeta Mangubhai

As I finish off my six month internship with WCS and prepare to return to Fiji National University to complete my degree in environmental science, I cannot help reflect on how much I have learnt and experienced in six short months. It has been a privilege to be part of the WCS team and I will always treasure the experiences I had and the communities I met and interacted with. I return to my studies with a much clearer and more inspired vision of where I am heading. I know now how much I want to assist my fellow Fijians treasure the beauty and bountifulness of their natural resources, that they have been blessed with. Stand by WCS – I will be back!

A Sustainable Future for Wallis and Futuna

 

Taro gardens on Uvea

Taro gardens on Uvea

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.

Youth performing traditional dances from Wallis and Futuna

Youth performing traditional dances from Wallis and Futuna

Customary leaders of Wallis and Futuna voicing issues at the agricultural symposium

Customary leaders of Wallis and Futuna voicing issues at the agricultural symposium

Wallatian man with coconuts by the sea

Wallatian man with coconuts by the sea