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A traditional fisherman, Rusiate Valenitabua instinctively knows the spawning seasons of different marine animals, fishing techniques unique to his village as well as the role that mangroves play in sheltering communities. From the coastal village of Nukui in Rewa, Rusiate Valenitabua now lives in Lomaiviti as the newly appointed provincial conservation officer.
Having completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Biodiversity and Conservation at the University of the South Pacific, the Rewa lad was initially posted to Serua as the provincial conservation officer before being transferred to Lomaiviti in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape.
His vision is to see that the province develops sustainably where people are able to retain the traditional custodianship of resources to ensure that they are able to leave a healthy natural legacy for the children and grandchildren.
Some of the positive steps being undertaken within Lomaiviti include the ongoing conservation efforts on Gau Island to protect the endangered Fiji Petrel and Collared Petrel birds, a coral regeneration project on Caqalai Island and the planting of sandalwood trees as a high value alternative income source for the communities.
“There is now a natural resource management strategy in place for the province which we are collectively working toward. In this role, I am in constant interaction with community representatives, government and non-government partners to facilitate public consultations and advance awareness on existing programs such as climate change, natural disaster preparedness as well as to address concerns on unsustainable activities”, said Rusiate Valenitabua.
The communities from Ovalau and Koro are also working with the Wildlife Conservation Society to develop island-scale management plans for the two islands, that can an ecosystem-based management approach.
The success of these projects and other efforts are now largely the responsibility of the Lomaiviti Province Yaubula Management and Support team which brings together representatives from the different districts to advance the wise use of its natural resources.
Words by Dwain Qalovaki and images by the Lomaiviti Provincial Council
Ecosystems are linked, so what happens in one place can have an impact elsewhere. For example, the health and resilience of coral reef ecosystems may be affected by the clearing and burning of forest in coastal catchments. To promote an integrated approach to the management of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems, WCS is facilitating a collaborative planning process with communities in districts across the province of Bua.
Each village in Vuya and Dama has nominated 3 or 4 representatives (including a young person and a women’s rep) to take part in district management planning workshops. Their role is to raise awareness in the village and facilitate the input of local people in order to build the understanding, consensus and support required for community-led management. As well as identifying strategies for their management plan, workshops in October included communication and facilitation training to help them fulfill their role.
Seaweb, experts in the use of communications science for community-led conservation, introduced key theories and tools for participants to distill and convey fundamental messages to different target audiences. We explored how villagers process, retain and apply new concepts and how communication can appeal to the heart as well as the head to affect motivations and realize change. Participants were highly engaged and there was plenty of constructive feedback as they demonstrated how they would feedback to different groups. The consensus was that oral and visual messages are more effective than written information and that the status of the person delivering a message can be as important as the message itself.
It was great to see teamwork developing among village representatives as they identified who would deliver messages to different groups. I was even more encouraged to see different villages discussing structural barriers to communication, such as the lack of representation at village meetings or dysfunctional village sub-committees. Some went beyond encouragement and advice to offer practical support, with representatives from two villages discussing tactics for using traditional ties to influence key decision makers.
Village representatives connect top-down and bottom-up processes for effective ecosystem-based management, providing the vital link between district-level planning and village-level implementation. Working with Seaweb, we will continue to focus on understanding and enhancing local communication networks for better outcomes in Bua. With my appetite whetted, watch this space for upcoming research into social networks and communication as well as rolling out communications training through district representatives on the Bua Yaubula Management Support Team.
I recently helped facilitate a workshop in Vuya village, about 5km from the port of Nabouwalu (in Bua Province on the south-west of Vanua Levu). Having met people from Vuya at various workshops over the past year, I was always impressed with their enthusiasm for conservation and their organized approach. I had seen their Village Development Plan, heard about their projects and am also developing a research proposal with Brooke McDavid, a Peace Corps volunteer based in the village. It’s fair to say I was excited to be visiting and keen to find out more.
After the traditional ceremony (sevusevu) to introduce ourselves and ask for acceptance, our guide Mateo showed us around. With a chiefly bure at its centre, the village rises up a hillside overlooking the Vatu-i-Ra Passage, a hot-spot for cetaceans and an important breeding ground for the endangered humpback whale. As well as taking in great views, our tour included a detailed explanation of local challenges and insight into why and how a range of recently established projects were developed, including: a local marine protected area; a mangrove nursery and replanting site; and vegetable gardens dotted around the village.
Chickens are the animal with which the Vuya villagers traditionally associate and they are not supposed to cook or eat them. They recently built an impressive commercial chicken coup (selling the eggs and using the waste as fertilizer) and we awoke each morning to the sound of roosters.
As we drank kava in the hall each evening, villagers wanted to find out more about what is happening around the province. They shared experiences with visitors from across Bua and expressed interest in working together. Maria and Tupi, two ladies from the village development committee, requested to attend and made great contributions to the workshop. Jaoti, a local farmer, sought interest in forming a local cooperative with an emphasis on sustainable farming methods.
We’ll certainly miss Vuya and its people (if not the rooster alarm clock). Their input will be essential to developing an effective district-level management plan and I hope we can return some day.
When the villagers of Nakawaga and Nukubolu heard about Ecosystem-Based Management developing in the neighbouring district (tikina) of Wailevu, they approached WCS Fiji to find out more. Nakawaga and Nukubolu are located in the heavily forested, steep sided upper valley of the Nasekawa River, in the district of Koroalau in Cakaudrove Province. They are approximately 10km upstream from the district border, along the Nasekawa River which crosses Wailevu before discharging into Savusavu Bay.
Recognising their ecological and hydrological connectivity with ecosystems downstream, Nakawaga and Nukubolu hosted an awareness raising workshop and have now made links with Wailevu East Resource Management Committee (WERMC) in July. They will play active role in WERMC, adding their own experience of having managed the upper catchment (protecting a 2km stretch of river for over 10 years) and developed a range of community ecotourism activities.
Veresa Matakaruru, a Nakawaga village elder, said “We Fijian communities are connected by our forests, rivers and natural resources, as well as by our culture. We welcome the opportunity to work with different tikina, to help each other and preserve the natural environment with which we are blessed”.
It was a pleasure conducting the reef resilience “Training of Trainers” workshop in Suva in February. As a part of the outcomes of the training, and requests from participants, WCS Fiji has developed community-friendly posters on:
1. Spotting signs of stress on your reef
2. Considerations for a resilient marine protected area
Please get in touch through firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like copies of these posters to help your community better manage their marine resources!
This project was kindly supported by grants from The Nature Conservancy and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (US Department of Commerce).