Finally after much planning and a minor setback (ferry stopped for two days!), we are off to the island of Ovalau in the province of Lomaiviti. Ovalau is a popular place for locals and tourists, who flock to Levuka our former capital city (until 1877), which was recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage Area. I have a great fondness for Levuka as I spent many a school holiday barefoot with friends, swimming and pottering about the shoreline with not a care in the world.
Over the next six days, a small team of scientists from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the University of Western Australia (UWA) will be doing surveys of fish abundance and size in the traditional fishing grounds of Nauouo and Natokalaus. It has been a year since the team has visited these villages to participate in the opening of a community ‘tabu’ area and to help the community monitor their harvest. Tabu are important traditional fisheries management tools that are used across Fiji, as well as other Melanesian countries, as a way to manage specific fisheries resources. However, there is increasing pressure on communities to open tabu areas for harvesting for food or much needed income.
Why is this this of research important? Well, WCS is trying to gather this data to help develop guidelines to local communities about the opening, closing and harvesting of tabu areas. Communities keep asking us questions like “how do we decide when to open our tabu area?” “How long should we close the tabu area for?” “When we open our tabu areas, how much fish can we take out?” These are great questions, and well, it is about time we scientists help get some of the answers!
Our time in the village will also give us a chance to present some of the preliminary results from our work, and learn more from communities about their reefs and natural resources, they are so dependent on.
So follow along over the next four days as we complete our surveys and try and understand how well fish communities have recovered after the harvesting of two community tabu areas almost 12 months ago.
And feel free to post questions to any of the scientists!
By Sangeeta Mangubhai