WCS-Fiji: Busy but Fulfilling Year

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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)

The bumpy road to a conservation career

Recently, I had the privilege of accepting an Early Career Conservationist award from the Society for Conservation Biology at their biennial congress held this year in Montpellier, France. In preparing for my acceptance speech, I spent some time reflecting back on how I came to be working for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Fiji on ridge to reef management issues.

One might say that I had some fairly inauspicious beginnings as a conservationist. When I was twelve year old, I asked my parents if I could paint a rainforest meets reef mural on my bedroom wall. They surprisingly said yes, not wanting to stifle my burgeoning artistic talent.

But this is where I made my first blunder as a conservationist. Growing up near Boston, I hadn’t really visited any rainforests or reefs, and in these pre-internet days, I drew inspiration for our trusty World Book Encyclopaedia for images of different tropical birds and reef fish. What I ended up with was an ecologist’s nightmare with scarlet macaws from the Amazon, sulphur crested cockatoos from Australia, and toucan from the Neotropics living in my forest, while my reef was inhabited with Caribbean and Indo-Pacific species cavorting together.

Stacy's 12 year old artistic talents on display in her bedroom mural

Stacy’s 12 year old artistic talents on display in her bedroom mural

My second real conservation blunder came when I joined the U.S. Peace Corps and was assigned to be a rural fisheries extension officer in Gabon, Central Africa, where I spent two and half year teaching rural farmers how to raise non-native tilapia. What I learned about these fish was what makes them such successful aquaculture species also makes them very successful invaders in other systems.

Stacy as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Gabon harvesting tilapia

Stacy as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Gabon harvesting tilapia

This really hit home when I moved to Fiji when I started working for WCS in 2008, first as an Associate Conservation Scientist and then as the Fiji Program Director in 2009. The first paper that I published using Fiji data showed 2 factors strongly associated with lower species richness and abundance of native freshwater fish species: loss of forest cover and presence of non-native tilapia.

After WCS put out a press release on the findings, the trouble really started. Who would have thought that these fish that I raised myself would nearly get me kicked out of the country? A Fiji journalist somehow misquoted me saying that I called tilapia “aquatic cockroaches” and the Fiji Government threatened to revoke my work permit because “tilapia are here to stay”.

A big lesson that we learned from this experience is that correlation does not equal causation. The lead author Aaron Jenkins and I had to make abundantly clear in an editorial to the Fiji Times that we were not implying that tilapia were killing native fish, merely that their presence is associated with the decline. Moreover, we agreed that tilapia can be a very good aquaculture fish where it has already established. We were only suggesting keeping it out of near pristine systems where it had not yet invaded. After much kava drinking with Fisheries Department staff, we were allowed to stay in Fiji, much to my great relief.

But fortunately, my time in Peace Corps in Gabon taught me how to deal with adversity and unexpected challenges. We actually used the results from this study as one of the cornerstones in communicating with local communities why it is important to manage ridge to reef systems holistically. At meetings in rural villages to discuss the rationale for integrated management, I actually saw grown men and women well up in tears when they realized that the forestry and farming practices they were involved with were potentially affecting the very food and water that they need for their families’ survival.

Getting stuck in the mud in Gabon helped Stacy learn how to deal with adversity

Getting stuck in the mud in Gabon helped Stacy learn how to deal with adversity

Over the past seven years, I have spent several months a year living and working in remote villages in Fiji to help local communities to design integrated management plans and better understand the effectiveness of their management actions. This has really been the most rewarding part about my job. I fell in love with working with local communities while living in Gabon, and it has been amazing to me what local people can accomplish with a vision and dedication to conservation and management.

Spending time in local communities has been the highlight of Stacy's experience with WCS

Spending time in local communities has been the highlight of Stacy’s experience with WCS

As such, while it was a great honour to be recognized by the Society for Conservation Biology for my work in Oceania, in truth I have mostly just been a conduit for delivering information to local communities and governments faced with tough decisions about managing a myriad of threats affecting their biodiversity and livelihoods. It has been a privilege to interact with these decision makers in Fiji and across the Pacific who are the true champions of biodiversity and stewards of the Earth’s resources.

Not just a map lady

WCS-Fiji G.I.S Officer Ingrid Qauqau

By Ingrid Qauqau

Most of my colleagues and friends call me the “Map Lady”. I often think back of how I started my career as a map lady with Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Fiji. I graduated from the University of the South Pacific with an undergraduate degree in Environmental Science in 2002.

I remember applying for jobs in governments and non-profit organizations knowing very well that it was challenging finding work opportunities in Fiji. I was delighted when WCS offered me the opportunity to work for them as their GIS Officer. GIS stands for Geographical Information System, and it is a computerized data management system that is used to capture, store, manage, retrieve and display maps or spatial information.

It generally involves using different software to create and produce maps. For the past 12 years, I’ve been able to do what I love: produce and make maps for all WCS Fiji’s conservation projects.

An example of a map done by WCS G.I.S Officer Ingrid Qauqau

Knowing how to read a map isn’t difficult. It is more challenging however, to create a map that can be easily understood and used by others. Maps allow us to see the big picture (e.g. the whole area) and to plan and take action together in targeted and effective ways. There are different types of maps for different purposes. For example, there are roads maps for drivers that demarcate highways and byways, tourist maps show famous landmarks, topographic maps for features elevation gradients, and also maps for pilots show air routes and terminal areas.

The maps I make generally include natural features such as, land-use and agricultural areas, soil types, forests, wetlands and mangroves. The maps incorporate survey data showing areas where species biodiversity is highest and where rare endemic species reside. Creating map for communities and different stakeholders is about delivering to them a picture of the resources that they own and hold dear to their hearts.

These maps are intended to help them better assess and manage their resources both now and in the future. I also take care to ensure they are clear and easy on the eye, helping people understand local ecosystems and threats in order to develop appropriate management strategies.

So I am not just a map lady. I realized that my role is critical to help support conservation work looking after our environment and future generation. It is more than just drawing lines. Where you see a map I see an essential tool for management planning. My maps help communities to identify the resources that they have and make decisions about how to better manage them.