Kubulau District: Setting the conservation pace

Kubulau District traditional fisheries management area. Photo (c) Chris Roelfsema

Kubulau District traditional fisheries management area. Photo (c) Chris Roelfsema

Kubulau is remotely situated in on the south coast of Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island. With a growing population, heavy reliance on subsistence farming and fishing and lack of access to markets, the people of Kubulau have to manage their resources sustainably to survive.

Fortunately, they have an abundance of natural resources and maintain a very strong connection with their environment. For over a decade, the people of Kubulau have been at the forefront of community-led management in Fiji – investing their time, industry and expertise to ensure that management decisions are informed by the best available knowledge.

The Kubulau Resource Management Committee (KRMC, established in 2007 to ensure effective participation of communities in local management) established Fiji’s first district-level ‘ridge-to-reef’ management plan in 2009.

This applied an ecosystem-based management (EBM) approach and included a network of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine protected areas. Since then, the plan has been implemented, monitored, reviewed and amended periodically to reflect monitoring results and evolving priorities.

With support from the Coral Reef Alliance, KRMC has developed a voluntary payment scheme through which visitors to the Namena Marine Reserve (Fiji’s largest reserve, managed by the Kubulau communities as a permanent no-take zone since the early 1990s) support local community projects. Equitable sharing of these benefits between coastal and inland communities has enhanced commitment to conservation management, with Kubulau widely cited as leading the way for conservation (including recognition from the a prestigious Rareplanet Solution Search Award “Turning the Tides for Coastal Fisheries”).

In 2013, the KRMC applied for funding from the UNDP Fiji GEF Small Grants Programme. The project “Managing in land activities for safeguarding Kubulau’s Freshwater and Marine protected areas” is now well established.

Under this project, they have developed a collaborative approach to generate income through sustainable honey production. They have also engaged NGOs and government to develop land management zoning and waste management plans. Most recently, they have coordinated the planning and building of a district forest nursery.

A case study of EBM in Kubulau published in the journal Environmental Conservation identified key success factors including:
• Effective incorporation of local knowledge, traditions and priorities;
• Strong backing from traditional leaders;
• Clearly articulated relationships between local decision-making processes and government regulation; and
• Perceived equity in distribution of management benefits.

“Through this project we have proved something to ourselves. We planned the project. We obtained this funding. We are managing the activities and meeting our own reporting and accounting responsibilities” said Paulo Kolikata, the longstanding Chairman of KRMC. We still value the input of our government and NGO partners, but this gives us confidence to know we don’t need to rely on them.”

Kubulau continues to provide inspiration and learning as EBM spreads further in Fiji, with KRMC leading the way.

Words by Ged Acton
WCS – Fiji Program

Where science & tradition meet: Vuya marks two milestones

In February, members of Vuya Village officially blessed their marine protected areas and launched their natural resource management plan. This special event began with a traditional kava ceremony for the district chief, Tui Vuya, and was followed by prayer and blessings from the church. The community has designated three different marine managed areas to protect fish and invertebrates and to help generate income for the community.

Located less than 10 km from the port of Nabouwalu in Bua Province on the south-west coast of Vanua Levu, the people of Vuya are heavily dependent on natural resources for their health and livelihoods. For this reason, the village created both development and natural resource management plans which focus on ways they can improve the status and well-being of their community. They feel that it is their duty as the “vanua” and as Christians to take care of the land and sea, and that they shouldn’t be reliant on outsiders to do so.

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Their marine protected areas (known locally as tabu) are not designated to be permanent ‘no-take zones’ but traditional temporal closures to help the community use their resources more wisely so there will always be enough now and for the children of the future. They will also help the community generate income through a newly established pearl oyster farm and community plans to sustainably farm beche-de-mer (or dried sea cucumbers).

Acknowledging the connectivity between ecosystems and taking a “ridge to reef” approach, community protected forest areas have been designated surrounding their drinking water sources. Village by-laws have been created to prohibit farming or cutting trees within 10 metres of any watercourse.

“The biggest challenge is ensuring that everyone works together to deliver the plan” said Mateo Rasili, a village elder who has been heavily involved. “There are about 570 people in Vuya including seven settlements and six religions. We try to focus on good governance as the foundation for any work we do.

In the past two years we have been working to try to bring the different community groups closer together and respect each other in spite of any differences. Projects like our mangrove nursery and the women’s chicken coop have helped bring us together and we have been utilizing our cultural ties and traditional community structure to help achieve our goals. ”

Vuya villagers are currently working with other communities to develop the Vuya District Ecosystem-Based Management Plan, incorporating a wider network of protected areas and management rules covering all ecosystems. The Vuya village model shows how relationship building, awareness raising and collective action can inform ‘bottom-up’ community planning and establish a solid foundation for collaborative management.

Words and images by Brooke McDavid, U.S. Peace Corps volunteer

Reviewing the Management Plan in Fiji’s largest District

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It is almost a year since the Tui Wailevu (district high chief) stood with other chiefs, community members and government officers on the beach beside Wailevu Village to launch the Wailevu Ecosystem-Based Management Plan.

Two Resource Management Committees (RMCs) for Wailevu West and Wailevu East that oversee implementation and monitoring of the management plan recently came together in Urata Village with government officers and NGOs to review progress. They highlighted growing and emerging threats to local ecosystems and reviewed the management rules, protected area boundaries and management activities. Coastal communities discussed increasing fishing pressures from local artisanal fishers, commercial vessels and poachers. Concerns were expressed about new mining elements and increased levels of commercial gravel extraction from local rivers and creeks.

Success stories included progress in waste management and sustainable income generation, particularly community eco-tourism projects, which benefit from increasing numbers of tourists coming through the nearby town of Savusavu.

Participants stressed the need to further raise awareness and support within their villages. Using the ‘message box’ methodology provided through Seaweb Asia-Pacific, participants undertook training to distill key messages and plan how they will be delivered to specific audiences. This was mapped against village communication and decision-making structures to enable targeted awareness-raising and optimize their influence on key people.

The RMCs reviewed their structures and protocols to increase flexibility and engagement across Fiji’s biggest district (home to 28 villages and over 6,000 people). This led to the development of new ‘cluster groups’ in remote Wailevu West, where neighbouring villages will meet regularly and only come together with the wider committee once a year.

The Cakaudrove Yaubula Management Support Team, a group of volunteers committed to help site-based management implementation around the province, provided updates on what is happening elsewhere in the province and the RMCs also adopted monitoring templates developed in neighboring Kubulau district in the province of Bua.

Words by Ged Acton & Images by Dwain Qalovaki
WCS – Fiji Program

Village representatives enhance communication for conservation

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.

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Are tabu areas really taboo?

Special to WCS by science writer, Amy West

Conducting underwater fish and coral surveys with Inoke on board. Photo by Amy West

Conducting underwater fish and coral surveys with Inoke on board. Photo by Amy West

Kusima. That’s the Fijian word for an overwhelming desire to eat fish. The last high chief of the district that contains Fiji’s first capital, Levuka, had copious kusima. The fish he ate could only come from his own designated fishing spot called Vadalevu. And before he passed away he asked the district officer, Inoke, to create a marine protected area.

This week we are here to harvest that protected area.

 

 

This protected area, or tabu in Fijian, is located in front of a picturesque village and mountainous backdrop named Nauouo (pronounced Now-wo-wo) just north of Levuka. It’s had no international visitors other than Peace Corps volunteers, who built the big meeting hall thirty-five years ago where we presented sevusevu to Inoke and shared many bowls of kava. On the floor of this building he told that story of what prompted him to set up this tabu. He warmly welcomed our convoy of nearly a dozen people carrying a month’s ration of food, water and gear saying, “We will not get in your way. Do whatever you need.”

We made the daylong journey ferrying over to Ovalau and traveled along dirt roads to conduct WCS’s fourth experimental harvest. WCS asked that the tabu Inoke set up in 2009 be fished after four years of being off-limits to fisherman. Our mission: record the abundance and size of fish that live here before they begin spearfishing and hand lining. After the harvest we survey the sites again to measure the fishing impact. The group will return a year later to survey again and investigate whether fishing surpassed a sustainable level, or if the tabu handled the pressure. Gathering this data gives the village an idea of how much fishing is too much, and if they are properly managing their tabu.

Visiting the outer reef near the tabu.P hoto by Amy West

Visiting the outer reef near the tabu.P hoto by Amy West

Two teams took off diving the next day- one boat with Odei, a local fisherman, and the other with Inoke to sample within the boundary and outside it. After visiting two fishing sites that toed the tabu boundary, we encountered some confusion on its exact location. Though we thought we were inside the protected area, the fisherman, often referencing off an arbitrary point on land, said he fished in this spot. When comparing our original GPS coordinates later with the boundaries that the chief indicated while on the water with us, we noticed the marine protected area had noticeably shrunk. Since the tabus are not typically created using GPS, this problem is common.

 

But the incident took me back to the question the chief first asked us that night, “Is our tabu big enough?”

That’s not easy nor a fast one to answer, but it’s the principle question so many villages want to know. Each tabu has a different fishing history, habitats, and pressures. It’s impossible to gather data on all of these tabus, but those that WCS assess help build a management plan to predict what can work for these locally managed areas.

Thus far our surveys closest to Nauouo’s shore (where most fishing occurs) were largely fishless- particularly the large ones. In fact, the WCS Fiji program director, Stacy Jupiter, remarked that goatfish appeared smaller than the normally tiny damselfish.

The village of Nauouou. Photo by Amy West

The village of Nauouou. Photo by Amy West

When we traveled a few kilometers along the shore outside of the tabu, however, fish were still small but numerous.  Had the tabu been fished previously to the extent that it didn’t recover? Were the boundaries too nebulous or were poachers at fault? Either way fish life in the reserve did not seem to be thriving.

Tabu regions are not new per se. Historically some villages would cease fishing to honor particular deceased relatives or wait to harvest an area for a function. Motives didn’t necessarily include long-term conservation or guaranteed food fish for the future. Establishing more formal tabu began fifteen years ago- with 415 created to date. However, a longstanding off-limits “reserve” is atypical for this culture. With market access reaching even the remote regions, WCS wants to see these protected regions, succeed. In a supportive village like Nauouo, so do the residents.

Diving with underwater video to capture the fish abundance. Photo by Amy West

Diving with underwater video to capture the fish abundance. Photo by Amy West

Threats to the success include poachers, lack of enforcement, and unawareness of fish biology and benefits of a truly no-take zone. Therefore, another WCS team is on the ground here, traveling from village to village to ask each household critical questions such as why open a tabu, what size indicates a mature fish, and what perceived benefits come from a tabu?

The harvest should bring in enough fish for a big provincial meeting occurring right after the fishing ends. But an ensuing question remains: will there be enough for the next function?

Amy West has traveled worldwide as a marine scientist, specializing in fisheries and deep-sea ecology. Now as a science communicator she brings stories about ocean realms to the public through radio, video, photography, and writing. She’s usually diving into adventurous stories that take her on or below the water.