Spawning surveyors set to research fish maturity in Fiji

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Dr Jeremy Prince from Biospherics teaches shows participants how to assess size of maturity of reef fish

Over the course of three days, 35 Fijian fisheries scientists and managers successfully completed an intensive training program to assess the size of maturity in key coral reef fish and invertebrates.

Led by fisheries biologist Dr Jeremy Prince from Biospherics in Australia, the training was designed so that those participating in the workshop are equipped with the theoretical knowledge and the practical skills to lead these surveys. Part of the training focused on how to work with local fishers to do the surveys, focusing on fish that are important to local people. The idea being is that if communities better understand when fish mature and are able to reproduce, they will value the role size limits play in sustaining their fisheries.

Fijian Department of Fisheries Extension Officer Mr. Anare Luvunakoro said, “This training will help us better understand the sizes that important food fishes are now maturing at and when they are able to reproduce replenishing our reefs. I am from Kadavu and based at the Fisheries Office on the island; this information will enable our fisherman to make informed choices on the sizes of fish like Ta which they harvest”.

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Looking at the maturity of gonads (reproductive organs) of reef fish in Fiji

Organized by the Wildlife Conservation Society, at least fifty percent of the participants were women who were largely from the Ministry of Fisheries and Forests and the University of the South Pacific.
Wildlife Conservation Society Country Director, Dr. Sangeeta Mangubhai says that “on a national scale Fiji currently have over 135 management efforts in 410 iqoliqoli areas representing 79 per cent of Fiji’s inshore fishing area. Using this data, and rapid assessment techniques designed for countries with limited resources, we can quickly assess the health of our reef fish stocks and whether we can continue to fish at current levels or whether we need to reduce our fishing effort.”

A number of fish species were highlighted for survey including kawakawa and donu, which are groupers that have been highlighted through the 4FJ Movement, as well as species that are important to communities, like nuqa (rabbitfish), ta (unicornfish) and damu (mangrove snapper).

“Basically, minimum legal fish sizes are not just random or arbitrary numbers. The size limits in Fiji are there to ensure we are not taking fish before they have had a chance to reproduce and contribute to the next generation of fish”, Dr. Mangubhai concluded.

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Participants of the training of trainers course on the assessment of size of maturity of reef fish in Fiji

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

What does the future hold for Pacific Island biodiversity?

Spectacular marine diversity in the Namena Marine Reserve. Photo (c) Lill Haugen

Spectacular marine diversity in the Namena Marine Reserve. Photo (c) Lill Haugen

I have spent a lot of time this year thinking about the fate of Pacific Island biodiversity.Thoughts of falling trees and fish gasping for breath actually keep me up at night – not because I’m a tree-hugging greenie, but because I am grappling to find solutions for how Pacific Islanders can use their natural resources sustainably.

In putting together a special issue of Pacific Conservation Biology on “Conservation of Biodiversity in the Pacific Islands of Oceania”, I had quite a bit of time to reflect on the main drivers of biodiversity loss in our region.

Our islands are plagued with invasive species. In fact, on many islands the number of introduced plants now equals or exceeds native species. Predatory animal invaders have decimated bird populations. Even more insidious, species introductions are often coupled with new pathogens and disease that can have massive impact on agricultural production. For example, fungal leaf blight has wreaked havoc on native varieties of taro in Fiji, Solomon Islands and Samoa.

Ground nesting crested terns  off Vanua Levu, Fiji. Photo (c) Stacy Jupiter

Eggs and chicks of ground nesting birds, like these crested terns, are highly vulnerable to predation by invasive mammals. Photo (c) Stacy Jupiter

At the same time, Pacific forests and fisheries are disappearing out from under our noses, both to provision and feed Pacific people and the world. Natural resources are being extracted at unprecedented rates due to increased consumer demand, improvements in technology, high levels of poverty and few alternatives, and poor or corrupt governance systems. We are in the middle of a development boom. And while there exist many multilateral treaties and regional strategies to control pollution, reduce habitat loss and degradation and mitigate climate change and disaster risk, the enthusiasm by which these instruments have been adopted has yet to be matched with equal attention to implementation, monitoring and enforcement.

So what can we do? Throw our hands up and moan? Being a grumpy grouch usually doesn’t get you that far.

We need to get people involved – bring conservation to the public – show people why they should care. As my co-author Richard Kingsford and I wrote in our editorial:

“Conservation cannot be successful as a perceived pursuit of an ideological few intent on saving every part of this planet. The majority will needs to prevail for effective conservation action.”

Engaging people at the local scale is already occurring across the western Pacific through locally-managed marine areas (LMMAs), which build on Pacific cultural traditions of stewardship over the land and sea. There are hundreds of communities actively involved in the LMMA network, and thousands more who are implementing management on their own.

But how can we start thinking about scaling up local action to achieve broader outcomes across a scale that is meaningful for biodiversity? Well, we’ve had a think about that too. Recognizing a lack of replicability, sustainability and cost-effectiveness in many expensive pilot projects that have been trialled over the decades in the Pacific, we’ve developed a set of principles for integrated island management.

Integrated island management calls for coordinated networks of institutions and local communities that span across species’ habitats from land to sea and connect various stakeholders to develop common goals. Through participatory visioning and management, groups who might outwardly seem to have opposing objectives (e.g. commercial fishermen and recreational divers) may see that they have common interests, for example, in maintaining source populations of fish stocks to support livelihoods and biodiversity conservation.

Maintaining fish stocks may require regulation of land-based activities. For example, new work from Solomon Islands suggests that sedimentation from logging activity has severely affected the nursery habitat of bumphead parrotfish, a large commercial fishery. Better regulation of logging activity and restoration of waterways may have the double benefits of improving downstream fisheries and maintaining clean water for drinking and health.

Solutions for Pacific biodiversity conservation will require people to step out of their comfort zones and think outside of the box. We will need to embrace new relationships with industry. Given the importance placed by Pacific Island governments on economic development, economic incentives and market-based solutions, where appropriate, can encourage and support sustainable use of natural resources and reduce waste. Managers, decision-makers and local communities need to be better informed about the options for actions and consequences of their choices, and better recognize the close relationship between the environment, social systems and the economy in the Pacific.

Fiji Symposium a hit in Darwin

Stacy presenting at SCB Oceania

WCS Fiji recently ran a symposium entitled “Integrating Systematic Conservation Planning with Local Management Actions in Fiji” at the Society for Conservation Biology Oceania section meeting in Darwin, Australia, that ran from September 21 to 23. The mission of the Society of Conservation Biology is to advance the science and practice of conserving the Earth’s biological diversity. The Oceania section includes Melanesia, Polynesia, Micronesia, Australia and New Zealand, and aims to have section meetings in the region every 2 years, with the next one scheduled for Fiji in July 2014!!




The symposium kicked off with an overview of the rather ad hoc evolution of Fiji’s current system of protected areas by WCS Fiji Director Stacy Jupiter. This was followed by two excellent case studies of community-based adaptive management of marine protected area (MPA) networks in Fiji. Rebecca Weeks, formerly of WCS Fiji and currently of James Cook University, showcased the efforts of Kubulau District communities to expand their MPA network and James Comley of the University of the South Pacific’s Institute of Applied Science, highlighted work by USP Masters student Hans Karl Wendt on adaptive reconfiguration of MPAs across all of Kadavu Province. Kasaqa Tora of the National Trust of Fiji then gave an in-depth view of Fiji’s terrestrial gap analysis results and how the national Protected Area Committee has prioritized new areas for conservation that will hopefully be funded under Fiji’s GEF-PAS allocation.

Two further research projects were presented by our collaborators Vanessa Adams, of James Cook University and Charles Darwin University, and Azusa Makino of the University of Queensland. They focused on ways to integrate socioeconomic costs and considerations of land-sea connectivity into systematic conservation plans for Fiji.

We received excellent feedback from all of the presentations, including an offer from an editor of Pacific Conservation Biology to submit a paper to the journal on the intricacies of protected area planning and implementation in Fiji. Our work in Fiji shared many parallels with ongoing efforts to expand conservation and management in indigenous areas of the Northern Territory in Australia, as well as Papua New Guinea and other Pacific island nations.

For more information about the Society for Conservation Biology Oceania section, check out their Facebook page and follow them on Twitter @SCBOceania.

Fiji was a global attraction at the International Coral Reef Symposium

Fiji delegates shared conservation success stories and ongoing efforts at the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Cairns, Australia (9-13 July 2012). Fiji was represented by partner organizations from the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area (FLMMA) network, including WCS Fiji (Stacy, Margy, Akuila and I made up our team), the Institute of Applied Sciences (IAS) at the University of the South Pacific, and SeaWeb.

Although not officially part of the coral triangle hotspot, Fiji was shown to be a marine biodiversity hotspot in Stacy’s presentation. Margy captured a lot of attention by linking traditional knowledge to protecting spawning aggregation sites in Fiji. Akuila shared his story on the importance of adaptive management. I became a celebrity, posing with my poster on “Consideration of disturbance history for resilient MPA network design”. Ron Vave (IAS), charmed the audience with his findings on the effectiveness of locally managed marine areas in Fiji, while Saki Fong (IAS) shed more light on the socioeconomic implications of establishing these marine protected areas. Semesi Meo gave the audience a show on ecological effectiveness of community-based management in Fiji. Alifereti Tawake (a former IAS staff member, now a PhD student at James Cook University) talked about social and cultural attributes of effective adaptive management systems.


Our shared experiences of conservation on the ground were enough to let the world know about Fiji. The reports from international students who have worked in Fiji got other people interested in working in these beautiful islands in the future – this really gave us a boost to hear their enthusiasm.

ICRS was a great chance for us to network with a number of leading conservation managers and scientists from all over the world. At the same time we were digesting as much information as possible from the diverse efforts being undertaken internationally to ensure coral reefs thrive in the future.

Fiji Youth Ministry takes up the environmental challenge

Children in Wailevu district, Cakaudrove, with mangrove seeds. Photo (c) Stacy Jupiter

Environmental issues will be at the heart of Fiji’s youth agenda – helping young people to address key environmental challenges. WCS Fiji attended a recent Ministry of Youth and Sport consultation workshop to inform strategies and plans for this new Ministry.

The workshop identified barriers and gaps affecting the engagement of young people and made recommendations for the Ministry, including:

  • Capacity building on youth engagement for traditional leaders (particularly Turaga ni Koro through i-Taukei Affairs)
  • Influence existing church and youth groups to tackle environmental challenges
  • Involve young people in monitoring their local environment
  • Incorporate climate change awareness/adaptation (in a Fijian context) into the national curriculum – empowering young people to participate in informed community debate and decision making processes
  • Showcase/promote good practice in youth engagement

We look forward to supporting the Ministry and young people in Fiji to make a better future for all.