In the early 1990s, the communities of Kubulau in the northern region of the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape began to notice their fish stocks depleting. With the help of the Fijian Fisheries Department and non-government organisations, the chiefs within the district implemented a network of tabu areas alongside the coastline. Tabus are temporal or seasonal closures to help replenish fish and invertebrate populations.
Recognizing its benefits, by 2012 the district had expanded their efforts to encompass a network of 17 tabu areas and 3 marine protected areas. Today the infamous Namena Marine Reserve is rated as one of the top 10 diving sites in the world by noted French oceanographic explorer Jean Michel Costeau.
In recognition of efforts by individuals who have demonstrated significant conservation achievements, the Coral Reef Alliance awarded Fijian fisherman Mr. Paulo Kolikata and the District of Kubulau USD 20,000. This prize funding will assist ongoing community efforts to protect coral reefs and sustain fish populations.
Nominated by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Mr. Kolikata was nominated alongside over 20 others worldwide. In receiving the prize money, Mr. Kolikata said that as he would repair existing mooring buoys and install new ones in the Namena Marine Reserve. He also plans on formalizing the Kubulau Resource Management Committee of which, he currently is the volunteer chairman.
This community led conservation effort is now a recognized benchmark for other communities within Bua province and across the country. They have set up more than 78 square kilometres of protected marine habitats.
As a result of the reserve, dive tourism has flourished offering monetary incentives for maintaining the areas pristine beauty. Community revenue is allocated by the resource committee to support management; community development projects, and a scholarship fund of which over 130 children have received scholarships to attend university or college.
Words by Dwain Qalovaki and images by Coral Reef Alliance