Why does ICRS matter for Fijian scientists and conservation practitioners?

Why does ICRS matter for Fijian scientists and conservation practitioners?

By Sangeeta Mangubhai

Coral reefs are found in more than 80 developing countries and are critical for the food and economic needs of some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities. Those of us that are scientists or conservationists from developing countries are acutely aware that our reefs are some of the most threatened on the planet and a large weight and responsibility lies on our shoulders to do something about it. But to do that we need to be connected to places beyond our own, and find inspiring highly collaborative people we can work with to help do good applied science that contributes to the protection and better management of our reefs.

As we gathered at the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS), I wanted to reach out to Fijian scientists and conservation practitioners to hear their views and thoughts on attending the symposium and learn more about their work. I wanted to understand why is attending ICRS so important to them?

Many told me they wanted the opportunity to share their work and have their voices heard by their international peers. They wanted to make new connections, learn about others work and find new collaborations. Some said they hoped by attending ICRS they might find opportunities to do Masters or a PhD overseas so that they get access to universities with labs with the latest technology, and have a competitive advantage when finding work in their own countries.

I asked them what their favourite thing was about ICRS and their responses were:

Networking and meeting people whose papers I’ve read and listening in to some of their talks, and rethinking my own ideas and perceptions” – Ron Vave, Fijian scientist studying at University of Hawaii

“The chance to interact with a wide range of people from different backgrounds, working in different areas, with different opinions. Feels like a breath of fresh air being able to ‘get out’ of my own little space.” – Steven Lee, Fijian scientist at Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Ecology (ZMT) and University of Bremen in Germany

Asked what they learnt at ICRS that they would be applying back in their home countries, their answers were:

Moving away from traditional fishing methods has affected the resilience of people and their resources. I would like to see how we can better incorporate traditional knowledge into locally managed marine areas.” – Yashika Nand, Fijian coral scientist at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji

“Quality rather than quantity may be a better approach for conservation of resource management work e.g. rather than having a whole string of Marine Protected Areas which you are trying to manage, it may be more beneficial to choose just a couple and invest more into them. Let the neighbouring communities see firsthand the benefits and convince themselves of it rather than trying to convince them.” – Steven Lee, Fijian scientist at ZMT and University of Bremen

And lastly, I asked them what they would like to see more of at the next ICRS and they answered:

“I would like to see more managers and conservation practitioners at ICRS. We need to bridge the gap between scientists and decision makers” – Margaret Fox, Fijian social scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society

“I recommend that talks be audio and/or video recorded, and made available online. We can’t be in all places at once so it’d be good to listen or watch talks that we missed. And it would be great to have days in which, rather than talking to just ourselves we have sessions where we talk to the public.– Ron Vave, Fijian scientist studying at University of Hawaii

From my side, my personal request would be to see greater diversity of people on different panel discussions. If ICRS is truly an international symposium then there has to be more representation from developing countries on those panels so we can hear different perspectives. And our panels should not just be scientists – instead, we should mix it up and have conservation practitioners and government representatives present too. And for a change, perhaps we could hear the voice of our youth, to listen to their ideas and thoughts about the future of coral reefs. Without this diversity, we are not going to get very far finding those innovative solutions we need to save the world’s coral reefs.

Northern fish wardens meet

A snap shot of the largest town in Fiji's second largest island, Labasa.

A snap shot of the largest town in Fiji’s second largest island, Labasa.

Words by Yashika Nand

The month of August brings us closer to an event the Wildlife Conservation Society, Department of Fisheries and Fiji Environmental Law Association have been planning for months – the hosting of a forum for community fish wardens and enforcement agencies in the Northern division of Fiji.

Supported by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the forum aims at strengthening dialogue and coordination of enforcement efforts on coastal fisheries. Fish wardens will be coming from all three provinces in Vanua Levu. The forum will provide an opportunity to better understand fisheries regulations and hear from the fish wardens themselves about what the real challenges they face monitoring and patrolling their community fishing grounds.

If successful, we hope that the forum serves as a valuable platform for the Department of Fisheries, Fiji Police, prosecutors and other law and enforcement agencies to both more closely together to develop tangible solutions to address illegal fishing activities in our coastal waters.

The workshop is timely as we continue to advance the effective protection of 466 existing marine protected areas within 135 traditional fishing areas in Fiji. These locally managed marine areas have varied levels of enforcement in place. There are just too few people and resources to monitor our vast seas.

Looking forward I am optimistic of the fruits (or should that be fish!) that this forum will bear. If we can work collectively, and better support our community fish wardens we can to improve enforcement around illegal fishing, by supporting community management rules, stop poaching, reducing undersized catch, and following restrictions on fishing gears. All these things will have a positive impact on community tabu areas and improve the state of our coastal fisheries resources. Well, that is what I hope for!

Value Chain Analysis – what is it, and why is it important?

By Sangeeta Mangubhai

Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Department of Fisheries staff members are partnering up to undertake a value chain analysis of the sea cucumber fishery in Fiji. While it might sound complicated it really isn’t. Basically a value chain is the full range of activities required to bring a product from its conception, through the different phases of production, to delivery to final customers. What this means for sea cucumbers, it is the full range of activities from the harvesting of the sea cucumbers, through to the processing, packaging, transportation, and to its final consumption by people, whether it be in Fiji or overseas.

A value chain analysis helps us better understand the key consumers and how they like their product For example, what species do consumers want, and is there a particular standard they expect? Value chain analysis also helps us identify who are the key players in the industry and what are their roles and relationships to each other.

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Armed with this information, the Department of Fisheries, can work with all those involved in the fishery to identify opportunities and constraints to industry growth and competitiveness in Fiji. And ultimately if we understand how markets work around particular fisheries like sea cucumbers, we can take the right actions or put the right policies in place that ensures our fisheries are sustainable.
To launch this importance piece of work for Fiji, WCS and Department of Fisheries participated in a two-day training in Suva on the main island of Viti Levu, and Labasa on the island of Vanua Levu. A questionnaire has specifically been developed to capture information on the sea cucumber fishery. The survey will be conducted throughout many of the districts in Bua Province, and one of the districts in the adjacent Cakaudrove Province.

There is much excitement amongst the team as we head out to Natuvu village, loaded up with our questionnaires, snorkeling gear and food (and toilet paper, because there are some things I cannot live without!!). Internet permitting, I will be live blogging from the field sharing with you our findings, and what we learn about this important fishery in Fiji.

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!

Conference brings young conservation minds together!

Yashika Nand (in white dress) with fellow SCCS delegates in Brisbane, Australia. Image: Facebook

Yashika Nand (in white dress) with fellow SCCS delegates in Brisbane, Australia. Image: Facebook

Words by Yashika Nand

More than 100 young conservationists and scientists presented their research on areas of spatial planning and prioritization, habitat and species protection, culture and conservation, and the science of effective decision-making for conservation. Participants were mainly graduate students representing their academic institutions and/or organizations. I was amongst the few students from the University of the South Pacific (USP) who got the opportunity to broaden our understanding on current issues, efforts and challenges of global conservation. We got to share our ideas and work to address conservation challenges in Fiji and the wider Pacific region.

The SCCS conference was a great opportunity to connect with young conservationists around the global as well as the larger Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) family. During the conference, I met colleagues from Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, China, and India. I was really impressed with the diversity of our work as an organization on different aspects of conservation and the enthusiasm young WCS scientists and managers have for conservation.

Yashika Nand (in pink dress) with fellow conference delegates. Image: Facebook

Yashika Nand (in pink dress) with fellow conference delegates. Image: Facebook

For example, I learned about the customary use of vulturine parrots and its implications for conservation in the highlands of Papua New Guinea – which incidentally won a special topics award. Our multiple disciplinary approaches link us to conservation in marine and terrestrial environments, endangered species in the wild and traded species, science and culture. The work presented at this conference was just a glimpse of what WCS’ global vision for conservation in future.

As a young conservationist, this conference made me realise the importance of networking and information sharing. Although we focus on different approaches and areas, sharing ideas leads to innovation and this is what strengthens the pillars of our conservation efforts. Different areas of research connect in a unique way in nature – we are more successful when we combine our efforts. As the conference closes, I look forward to the next five days of strengthening my research skills. I will be attending a series of workshop on varies topics from species distribution model, statistics analysis, spatial conservation planning, writing grant proposals, to improving conservation with social science and decision science tools for conservation. Lots to learn and bring home to Fiji!