Kilaka Forest Conservation Area


Freshwater streams flowing through Kilaka Forest

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has worked with the communities of Kubulau District, Bua Province, for over 10 years and has developed a strong working relationship with the Nadicake mataqali (clan) from Kilaka village that holds land tenure over the Kilaka forest.

In 2006, the clan made a commitment to protect the forest on the land parcel over which they hold tenure for at least 10 years. Although not legally binding, this commitment included a promise not to lease the land for logging. In 2009 the management of this community-managed forest park was incorporated into the Kubulau District EBM plan. Although the forest area is a national priority for conservation, there is considerable and growing pressure to log the forest.

Freshwater prawns collected from streams in Kilaka Forest


Working with the i-Taukei Land Trust Board and the Nadicake mataqali, WCS is exploring options and opportunities to establish a forest conservation area over 402 ha of native forest. Protection of the forest would insure the intactness of the forest for future generations, maintenance of clean drinking water, protection of coastal reefs, and provision of a sustainable stream of revenue to landowners.

Words by Sangeeta Mangubhai and images by Ruci Lumelume (top) and Kini Koto (bottom)


Safeguarding wildlife in Lomaiviti province

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.

Rusiate Valenitabua conducting a field survey in the province.

Rusiate Valenitabua conducting a field survey in the province.

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.

En route to a village meeting in the rain

En route to a village meeting in the rain

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.

At a rural consultation meeting with the Fijian Government's Director of Climate Change, Mr. Peter Emberson.

At a rural consultation meeting with the Fijian Government’s Director of Climate Change, Mr. Peter Emberson.

“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

Returning to Kia Island

WCS staff Sirilo Dulunaqio looks at Kia Island approaching in the distance.

WCS staff Sirilo Dulunaqio looks at Kia Island approaching in the distance.

Spend more than a few minutes on Kia Island and it is obvious that the residents enjoy their fishing. But fishing isn’t just for pleasure, it is a way of life for the communities of Yaro, Ligau and Daku who live on a speck of land no more than 3 square kilometres perched on the edge of Fiji’s Great Sea Reef.

A Kia fisher holds up a sizable catch

A Kia fisher holds up a sizable catch

While the spectacular scenery of the tall rocky cliffs of the island and the warm hospitality of the people of Kia remained the same, much had changed since my last visit in 2009. There was power every night. Sky Pacific satellite dishes crowned the roofs of houses. I no longer needed to walk surreptitiously across the schoolyard to go bathe at the single well with a resident freshwater eel now that large water tanks flanked most of the village houses.

Seagrass and algal beds emergent at low tide on Kia Island

Seagrass and algal beds emergent at low tide on Kia Island

The improvements in lifestyle are probably related to increased fishing income. When I first came to Kia Island in 2008, we saw more fish on the reef than I had ever seen in my life. The values of fish biomass we recorded were nearly off the charts – some of the highest figures that have been published for anywhere in the world. I doubt they are anywhere near the same today.

A few days after we began our surveys, the Kia communities announced that they were opening up their tabu area to fishing. Within four weeks, they had removed nearly 70-80% of the fish biomass, primarily targeting large trevally, unicornfish, grouper, snapper, parrotfish and emperor. Those fish that didn’t get caught, “bailed out” of the tabu area and fled to other adjacent areas of reef, as we noted from a spike in fish numbers and biomass at adjacent survey sites open to fishing.

In 2009, I had the WCS marine team return to Kia Island to look for evidence of recovery as the tabu had supposedly been put back in place. Our results, however, showed a reduction of fish numbers and sizes, suggesting that people were still fishing.

Why? Well, the locals told us that they saw boats from Labasa continuing to fish inside their tabu area – clearly people were not respecting the tabu. We also know that middlemen from seafood export companies moved onto the island, thus there was easy access to a reliable market and hard cash. Hard cash can be used to purchase more fishing gear and boats, thus leading to more fishing pressure.

While the main purpose of our visit this year was to collect some additional social survey information to inform an analysis of the overall effectiveness of management, I also wanted to make sure to present the outcomes of the tabu harvest to the communities.

WCS staff Sirilo Dulunaqio interviewing a fisher from Ligau Village, Kia Island

WCS staff Sirilo Dulunaqio interviewing a fisher from Ligau Village, Kia Island

In Yaro Village in particular, there was a lot of discussion. People were genuinely concerned that the level of fishing might not be sustainable, but they feel a bit powerless to make rules to control effort. The Tui Macuata has the ultimate authority regarding when the tabu area can be opened, thus, to use a banking analogy, there is reluctance to reinstate the tabu for fear that the accrued benefits will be withdrawn by people from outside the community.

The Kia communities are caught in a governance dilemma. What are some of the possible solutions? We counselled them that they could form a fishing committee to be able to take a stronger, unified voice to Bose Vanua meetings to discuss the issues with the traditional community leaders. Because there is such a small area of land available on Kia for planting crops, the communities are nearly completely dependent on fishing for their livelihoods, and outside fishing pressure represent a real threat to their very existence.

Secondly, they can continue the excellent monitoring that they are already doing to assess whether the fish that they are catching are reproductively mature. If too many fish are taken out of the water before they are able to replenish the stock, populations will eventually fall below levels needed to support food and income needs.

Trained fish catch monitors on Kia Island are recording the size and sexual maturity status of each fish caught.

Trained fish catch monitors on Kia Island are recording the size and sexual maturity status of each fish caught.

Kia fishers are regularly assessing whether fish caught are sexually mature by looking at their gonads.

Kia fishers are regularly assessing whether fish caught are sexually mature by looking at their gonads.

Unfortunately, Kians have been hit by a double whammy. In addition to increased fishing pressure, Tropical Cyclone Evan wreaked havoc on their reef. The brilliant colours of the fringing reef bordering the island are gone – likely victim to the cyclone’s thrashing in December 2012, as evidenced by many tipped over coral plates. Instead, it is pipefish paradise as they hide in the turf algae waiting to feed on small unsuspecting invertebrates like copepods. Without a high number of “sasamaki fish” – the fish that eat the algae and clean up the reef – the corals will be unlikely to come back and the reef structure will degrade, thus reducing habitat for other fish and their prey.

One of many pipefish hunting in turf algal habitat on heavily impacted fringing reefs of Kia Island

One of many pipefish hunting in turf algal habitat on heavily impacted fringing reefs of Kia Island

Now is the time to act. We hope to bring back soon the outcomes of our work on periodic harvests of tabu areas to provide better guidelines of how much can be harvested from tabu areas and how often. We are also keen to partner with other NGOs, like WWF, to help the communities come up with a plan to control fishing effort and move towards sustainable extraction levels.

Understanding the role communities play in the sea cucumber fishery

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By Sangeeta Mangubhai

We are currently in Natokalau village, where we will be based for a week doing our value chain analysis surveys in different villages in Kubulau district, in Bua Province. Margaret Fox, Wildlife Conservation Society’s dynamic social scientist, has been leading the surveys with Tevita Vodivodi from the Department of Fisheries and our lively volunteers. Each day they sit down with fishers from different villages and ask them questions that help us understand their role and engagement in this fishery.

Questions vary from when they go fishing for sea cucumbers, how often and with whom, to questions relating to their catch and how much they earn from selling different species of sea cucumbers. We try and find out if they process the sea cucumbers themselves or prefer to sell the live animals to middlemen or exporters directly. Importantly, we ask how much the money they receive from sea cucumbers contributes to their fortnightly or monthly income. This allows us to understand how dependent they are on the resource, and if they have other options available to them, such as agriculture or copra.

Quality of the processing and the final product are important in this fishery and can impact on the income local communities make from their sea cucumbers. Villagers that know how, and how long to cook sea cucumbers without causing their skins to blister and break open get a better price for their product. Those that know how to gut, salt and dry the sea cucumbers get an even higher price, if it is done properly.

What has been interesting to learn is how some villagers operate individually, and others operate collectively. The ones that are operating collectively as a village, strictly controlling tabu areas and the timing of harvests appear to be doing much better. The money they earn gets used to provide facilities (e.g. schools, church) and village projects where everyone benefits. They also have stronger bargaining powers when it comes to selling their product, and more incentive to manage their fishery sustainably.

As Margaret and I reflected on this, she reminded me of an old slogan that was used in Fiji a few years ago that appears to be alive here in Kubulau – “Conservation Begins With Communities.”

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.