Teambuilding fun in the forest

On Friday the WCS Fiji staff headed off on an adventurous retreat to Colo-i-Suva Forest Park.  Various commitments conspired against a Christmas party this year, so we scheduled this away-day instead. We were even joined by our esteemed Community Liaison Officer, Didi, fresh off the boat from Savusavu and just registered for his Boatmaster training in Suva.

Just 10 minutes from Suva along the Prince’s Road, Colo-i-Suva is a mix of mahogany (planted in the 1940s and 50s) and native flora and fauna. We were glad that Akuila’s booming voice didn’t scare off all the wildlife as we spotted a a Barking Pigeon and a Blue Crested Broadbill in the tree tops.

Waisea and Margi gave us an insight into some traditional uses of forest plants, including natural ‘Fijian chewing gum’ (given to children to help develop their speech), ‘soap plant’ (also known as toilet paper!) with leaves that produce a lather, a plant with an inner stem that cures mouth ulcers and another with ‘menthal vapour’ roots to clear your nose.

Akuila led the way when we reached the waterfall at lower pools – straight onto the rope-swing and into the cool clean water!  After that Stacy couldn’t resist and others followed.  Waisea showed his climbing skills, confidently getting up into the high branches before backing out and retreating down to howls of laughter.

It was uphill all the way back, stopping to check out the big freshwater prawns and a great view over eastern Suva and the Rewa Delta.

Afterwards we had a lovely lunch at Raintree lodge as the TV showed Fiji losing to Scotland and England announced their intent at the Wellington Sevens by beating New Zealand – a great end to a wonderful day!

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Consulting with clans and consuming kava

We’ve been out in the field again, this time consulting with land owning clans (mataqali) about setting up Community Forest Parks and River Buffer Zones to safeguard the ecosystem services that forests and rivers provide to the communities, such as clean water and flood protection. The 23 clans on our list were selected as a high priority for this work, because of the threats to their natural resources. Our schedule was packed, so our consultation had to be really focused as we set off on the next stage of engagement with these remote areas of Fiji’s second largest island, Vanua Levu.

The first stop was Nakawaga, where we were joined by the acting Roko Tui Cakaudrove, the Mata ni Tikina Koroalau and the Provincial Environment Officer – great support from Cakaudrove Provincial Office! There was great interest in sharing knowledge and experiences from different mataqali, particularly in relation to establishing nurseries for a range of trees and plants.

Next we travelled across Savusavu bay to Natua village. With Viliame from the Forestry Department and Solomone from iTaukei Land Trust Board, we discussed plans to generate income from logging to help their church. This highlighted a newly proposed protected area that many mataqali members were not aware of. This just shows the need for more consultation and the mataqali leaders will facilitate this through their next village meeting.

Further west in Kilaka, the mataqali Nadicake had identified an area that they are keen to establish as a Forest Reserve. Viliame advised them on options to achieve this, providing the basis for more local consultation as they decide how to take this forward.

Much of Vanua Levu is covered in forested mountains and valleys

Landowning clans are planning how they can manage terrestrial and freshwater habitats sustainably

Next we entered Wainunu, where approximately 53% of the district (148 square km) is covered by logging concessions. Viliame and Solomone assured the mataqali that logging in these areas will be monitored to ensure compliance with Fiji’s Logging Code of Practice. They also encouraged local people to help by reporting any non-compliant logging activity they see on the ground.

We move on through Nadi and Solevu districts, adapting our plans to in light of several funerals and the relocation of key mataqali members who have left their village to live on farms and relocated to work in Labasa, Savusavu and even Suva.

As usual plenty of kava was consumed along the way – an essential ritual that helped us get to know the people whilst developing our understanding of their issues and building trust. We may have taken this too far after our final consultation in Naruwai, when the kava drinking almost caused us to forget our bags! We’ll be back again soon for follow-up consultations with all the mataqali once they have had a chance to discuss with all their members ……….Vinaka vakalevu to everyone and see you all again soon.

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.

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.

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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.

Fiji communities cross boundaries for conservation in Cakaudrove

Mapping proposed protected area locations for Nakawaga.

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”.

Fact-finding mission in Vanua Levu

This week I’m back in the office after a fascinating trip to Vanua Levu. My mission was to gather maps of areas under logging concession, as well as information about any other planned activities. WCS Fiji will use these maps in our work with landowners to identify new forest protected areas. Akanisi Caginitoba (Cagi for short) was my right-hand woman, making sure that we followed proper Fijian protocol in our visits to various offices – including always taking morning or afternoon tea to the people we were visiting!

We started in dusty Labasa, and spent a few days visiting offices there. Department of Forestry and iTaukei Land Trust Board are key contacts for mapping this kind of information. The office of the Commissioner Northern made us most welcome; in the future the Commissioner hopes to build a mapping system for the whole of Vanua Levu, to show areas for development and those to be protected for conservation.

All logging companies operating in Vanua Levu have a base in Labasa, so we spent a lot of time learning about how the logging industry works, and pouring over maps with them. We gleaned a lot of useful information. The people we met were very supportive of spatial planning, using maps to decide what activities should go where. Areas not ideal for logging are often of high conservation value because of the inaccessible nature of those forests.

From Labasa we carried on to Savusavu, to check in with WCS’ Community Liaison Officer Didi and the Cakaudrove Provincial Office. (Here we tasted the finest pizza in Vanua Levu.) Then it was a long and bumpy journey back to Nabouwalu. On the road from Dreketi to Nabouwalu we passed the famous Nawailevu bauxite mine and saw the loads of soil waiting for export.

After a night in Nabouwalu, we met with the Bua Provincial Office to discuss our project, before we caught the ferry back home to Suva. My laptop returned full of information, so this week we are very busy getting the maps ready to be used in the next stage of the project: identifying landowners to work with in order to set up community-based management of forests.

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.

WCS Fiji team visited Fiji Forest Industries, near Labasa, who hold most logging concessions in Wainunu district.