More eggs, more fish!

Dancers hit the streets of Fiji last week, as Suva’s Hibiscus Festival saw Fiji’s largest ever Flash Mob! The mass boogie to the Bee Gees – “Stayin’ Alive” of course – was organised to draw attention to the plight of groupers – an easy and valuable target for fishermen when the fish meet to spawn in large aggregations in Fiji waters.

Watch the video of the dancers in action below! And yes, that is our Director Dr Stacy Jupiter in the front row…

The Flash Mob follows the launch of the National Spawning Aggregations Campaign, a partnership between WCS Fiji, SeaWeb, the Department of Fisheries and other organisations in the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Areas (FLMMA) Network. The ultimate goal of the campaign is to ensure that the fishery can continue to support communities and commerce in Fiji for the long-term. You can find out more in this Fiji Times article: http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=210447.

This project was kindly supported with a grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Plunging into Fiji’s rivers

Stretching between Mt Navotuvotu in the west, past Mt Kasi and towards Mt Sorolevu are large tracts of native forest. Beneath these canopies run crystal clear rivers and streams with abundant fish and invertebrate life. I led a small team to explore previously un-surveyed rivers and record the biodiversity found there. The team of 2 Fisheries Officers, aquatic ecology consultant Aaron Jenkins and I (WCS Fiji’s Freshwater Specialist) left Viti Levu by boat before the sun came up on 30th July, bound for the port of Nabouwalu at the southern tip of Fiji’s second largest island, Vanua Levu.

The team arrived in Nabouwalu and headed straight to Nakawaga village, part of the province of Cakaudrove. After presenting our i sevusevu to the village elders we were given the thumbs-up to undertake our biological assessments of the river fauna beside their village. The villagers assured us that we would find lot of life there, since the river had been protected for the last 10 years. After 4 hours surveying the river we had to conclude that this was not a healthy site: the impacts of upstream activities were really being felt, even in this protected stretch of river. Over a bowl or 2 of kava that evening, we reassured the village that it is still an excellent idea to have protected area in place, but if the communities cannot control upstream activities, then it would be wise to shift the protected area to somewhere they can restrict the surrounding activities.

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

The second site surveyed was the upper catchment of the Wainunu River where we stayed in the upstream village of Navakasali; we were the first visitors that they had had this year! Happily, the sites surveyed were of high water quality with diverse and abundant fish life. There was also high abundance of freshwater prawns; these related well to the traditional methods of catching prawns – the method involves lining up rocks in a V shape along the shallow edge of the stream and placing rotten coconut in the inner part of the V. At night they come and collect prawns by the hundreds from the V.

Our second day from Navakasali was much more disappointing. We surveyed Wailoaloa river near a forestry station. We pulled seine nets and hand nets through the murky water and caught nothing. It was completely lifeless; no fish, no prawns, no mollusks, not even any insects or insect larvae. The local village guides said that inhabitants of the forestry station would often use chemical fishing techniques (i.e. herbicides) to fish here and that is why it was so devoid of life. This was a stark contrast to the previous site we had visited. Further upstream the story was the same – years before herbicides had been used to clear the area before planting mahogany, and chemical fishing had been used frequently in this stretch of river.

We left Navakasali for Daria village – the Wainunu river which passes Daria originates right from the peaks of Mt. Navotuvotu. The site was a protected area (tabu) that stretched for 200m. Despite riverside gardening of dalo (taro), the water in the upper Wainunu was of high quality, with moderate fish diversity. We recorded high abundance of the endemic fish Redigobious leveri, with very large size fishes.

The last village visited was Driti village, in the upper reaches of the Dama River. The forest in these upper catchments was intact and healthy explained the high abundance native fish present. This site was a haven for gobies with four species including the relatively rare endemic Stiphodon isabellae, and abundant prawns.

To conclude, these surveys found the state of upper catchments to be very variable between sites. Often gardening, livestock and forestry have already impacted on the fauna within these upper catchments. The Dawacumu and upper Dama rivers possess the most unique biodiversity and intact fish populations, and the forests are in the best condition of the sites sampled. There is a clear need to do some awareness-raising on the impact of chemical fishing and herbicide use for clearing undergrowth prior to planting of timber trees. Both of these practices are having a severe impact on waterways in Fiji and even in some very isolated and remote upper watershed areas. These results will be presented back to communities in the coming months, as part of a project to identify riparian buffer zones and areas of native forest for protection.

This project is kindly supported by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), a joint program of l’Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the World Bank.

Mapping barriers to fish migration

WCS Fiji field officers recently completed a mission to find hanging culverts in Vanua Levu. Hanging culverts are a major barrier to migration of endemic fish from the oceans to upstream areas. Knowledge of hanging culvert locations will help us evaluate threats to biodiversity in the rivers and creeks of the important corridor between Mt. Kasi in the east, and Mt. Navotuvotu in the west. This will help to focus upcoming biodiversity survey effort on the least obstructed rivers which are likely to still be home to healthy populations of endemic fish.

After a 4am start in Suva, work began in as soon as Waisea and I got off the ferry at Nabouwalu, working our way eastwards from there towards Wailevu East in Cakaudrove. Every dusty, bumpy road or track was explored in search of the troublesome culverts. The survey took a total of 5 days to complete, with approximately 280 culverts being mapped, photographed and described. We identified about one third of these as the type of hanging culvert which blocks fish migration routes.

About 98% of Fiji’s freshwater fauna make contact with the sea to complete their lifecycle. So at certain periods in their lives they migrate down to the sea, and ultimately will need to return upstream to complete their lifecycle. These fish are skilled at navigating natural obstacles on their upstream migrations, but unfortunately culverts which hang away from the river surface present an impossible obstacle even for the most intrepid climbers.

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

In recent freshwater surveys in Fiji, the presence of hanging culverts correlated with low species diversity and abundance relative to similar areas without hanging culverts, even in areas where the river was surrounded by intact forest. This implicates the hanging culverts as a possible cause of the decline in fish diversity and abundance.

It can be concluded from the culvert survey that most major catchments which have bridges do not have culverts, whilst small creeks do have culverts. This was a promising sign since most of these major catchments therefore run right up to the headwaters without migration barriers. There were also good indications of intact forest within some areas of Wainunu and Dama districts.

This project is kindly supported by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), a joint program of l’Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the World Bank.

Goby hits IUCN Species Forum

The IUCN Species Forum earlier this month was a positive experience for WCS Fiji’s Kini Koto (aka KK), who attended the conference to present some of our work, and to distribute copies of The Adventures of Joji Goby, our comic. The conference theme of Moving from Science to Conservation focused minds on trying to restore and maintain some of the world’s Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable and endemic species.

KK presented on Human and climate impacts on decline of Fiji’s threatened freshwater fishes – a topic about which the audience had plenty of questions regarding the threats faced by these fish and the conservation actions being taken. WCS Fiji, in Moving from Science to Conservation, have carried out marine and freshwater scientific research, and provided the results of this research back to communities through consultation workshops. These workshops are designed to help communities learn about best-practice for looking after their natural resources, and to identify the best locations to protect in order to conserve these resources. Future food security is a major consideration in these decisions, since rural communities in Vanua Levu depend heavily on the environment to provide their subsistence needs. Communities sit together – either in villages or tribes – as they decide on protected areas covering their forests, rivers, mangroves and coral reefs. After drawing the protected area (tabu) boundaries, the communities write management rules for these areas and for the wider district.

Not only does the process of establishing management rules involve the men, women and youth from each village, but WCS Fiji are also getting the attention of school children, through a comic book about the adventurous lifecycle of a freshwater goby. The comic book is presented to schools alongside a puppet show to bring the conservation message to life (KK plays the hero, Joji Goby, in the show!). KK was delighted to hand-deliver the comic book to the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Gordon Darcy Lilo, who was a special guest at the IUCN Species Forum. The icing on the cake was an invitation from Dr Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, who asked WCS Fiji to become a member of the IUCN/Wetlands International Freshwater Fish Specialist group.

The production of the comic book and puppet shows were made possible by the kind support of the Disney Friends for Change Programme.

Joji Goby and his friends Crab and Snail

Comics Delight Kids

WCS Fiji have just returned from launching a comic book titled “The Adventurers of Joji Goby” at 5 different schools in Kubulau and Wainunu, Bua. The comic is about the life-cycle of Joji a freshwater goby, which hatches in freshwater before migrating to sea as larvae and migrating back as post-larvae. Joji met with a lot of obstacles upon his return journey, on his quest to find his parents. The launch included a puppet show of Joji’s adventure followed by the designation of Goby Youth Ambassadors for each village, who will help with the enforcement of rules in ecosystem-based management plans for the two districts. The comic was created using funds from the Disney Friends for Change Program. You can see more photos of the launch and the very special puppets on the WCS Fiji Facebook page, at www.facebook.com/wcsfijiprogram.