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

Growing Strong Roots in Nadivakarua

On the 6th and 7th of November, I set out to join the Fijian Department of Fisheries conduct training in Nadivakarua Village in Kubulau District, Bua.

The aim of the workshop was to establish plant nurseries so inland communities could provide favorable conditions for tree seedlings to grow before transplanting and covered topics such as identifying a suitable site for the nursery, building the structure as well as plant production, handling and maintenance.

On the first day, the community gathered the posts from the forest and dug the holes where the posts would later sit forming the foundation of the plant nursery.

Jone Vakarewa and his team from the Department of Fisheries arrived with the remaining materials needed and with his guidance the community participants were able to cut the posts to size and tied wire to each of the posts to close the first day’s activities on a high note.

Around the Tanoa that evening the community congregated in the village hall to gain tips from Jone Vakarewa about successful seedling pots, maintenance, income generation and to discuss community support for the project and unfavorable weather conditions in the area.

On day two the community began by setting up the mesh netting and cutting it into the measured sizes. As part of the workshop, the Forestry officials demonstrated how to mix the soil, fill the potted plants, handling the seedlings and transplanting.

He also emphasized the importance of choosing the right soil for pot plants for the different type of plants before one hundred seedlings of Yasi or Sandalwood were brought in to start with part of 3 kilograms of Yasi seedlings that were paid by the KRMC

The Tui Wainunu, Ratu Orisi Baleitavea paid a visit during the workshop where he was impressed by the participants from each of the villages within Kubulau and was briefed on the progress of the nursery as part of the KRMC GEF funded project in which WCS with the Wainunu RMC

Following the completion of the nursery, the KRMC established a mechanism to assign a few members to look after the nursery and water the pot plants.

Eventually it is envisioned that this project will be able to perform an important ecological task in arresting up-stream soil erosion and sedimentation that negatively impact inshore fisheries and coastal communities livelihoods.

It will also act as a provenance for re-establishing wetlands and re-vegetation projects as logging practices in the area continue.

Parrotfish help research traditional knowledge

I joined up with the research team on a Friday in Namalata village in the district of Kubulau. I have always had a keen interest in traditional knowledge, which is in danger of draining away, so this trip was my chance to help investigate whether and how it is being passed on to the next generation.

Team “Bubute” (named after the parrotfish that our interviewees were asked to identify) included Rachel (collecting data for her PhD thesis), Lai and Seini (graduate researchers from USP) and me trying to use my local connections and experience to explore traditional knowledge in these parts.

As Lai was wrapping the waka (kava root used to make the drink for traditional ceremonies), I worried that it would be turned against us – used for an early morning drinking session. This proved right next morning when we presented the sevusevu on the island of Navatu. As soon as Buli Navatu (the local chief) accepted our offering, he ordered for it to be pounded and served to us in the village hall – at 9.00 am on Saturday morning!

When we escaped the drinking, my first interviewee was a man who hailed from Ono-i-Lau in the Lau group of islands. He had married a woman from Navatu and lived there for most of his life. We talked about the different plants and their uses for medicine, food, to sell and for special occasions. I noticed he used most plants at home, rather than selling or donating them to village functions. My traditional links meant I was duty bound to joke that as he is not contributing to the village, maybe they should send him back to Lau without his wife!

The elders relate closely with seasonal weather patterns and know which crops to plant where and when. They will plant a certain species of uvi (yam) in certain weather at a certain time of year to ensure it is perfect to harvest for a feast at Christmas, New Year or a big i-sevu (presentation of root crops to the vanua or church). I now know that planting in July and harvesting the following March will give me the biggest yams (I made a note to take back to my village).

The next stage is to analyse the data and assess the links between traditional knowledge and natural resource management. Hopefully the results will help enhance the effective transfer and application traditional knowledge to meet current needs as well as providing for future generations.

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Can indicators predicting coral reef resilience be mapped from space?

In 2011, I participated in a workshop during the International Marine Conservation Congress in Victoria, Canada, where experts came together to discuss which were the most critical factors that affect the ability of coral reefs to resist and recover from climate disturbance. After much deliberation, our expert consensus produced a list with 11 top resilience indicators, based on their perceived importance, evidence base in the literature, and feasibility for managers to measure. The top indicators included:

–          Presence of resistant coral species

–          Historical temperature variability

–          Nutrient pollution;

–          Sedimentation;

–          Coral diversity;

–          Herbivore biomass;

–          Physical human impacts;

–          Coral disease;

–          Macroalgae;

–          Coral recruitment; and

–          Fishing pressure

We published a paper describing the selection of these indicators and how they might be used to prioritize sites for reef management in a changing climate.

However, during this process, I got to thinking. Site based measures of resilience indicators are nice, but they only allow us to say that one survey point is potentially better than any other survey point and leaves you with no information about all of the unsurveyed reef.

Wouldn’t it be even better, then, if we could combine the field data with satellite imagery to assess what are the main factors influencing the resilience indicators that we can derive from space? Then we could use those relationships to predictively map the resilience indicators over a broader spatial scale, such as across an entire fisheries management area (qoliqoli). This process would yield maps with relative values for every portion of the qoliqoli to enable us to make better decisions about how to plan marine protected areas (MPAs) and MPA networks.

We previously took this approach to predictively map characteristics of reef fish assemblages across the Kubulau qoliqoli in Vanua Levu, Fiji, and published the results in a paper in Remote Sensing. I went back to my co-authors from Simon Fraser University and the University of Queensland and asked, “Do you think we can take this same approach for mapping indicators of reef resilience?”

Our findings have just been published in a more recent issue of Remote Sensing, accessible here. We specifically focused on mapping resilience indicators for which data products were not already available. These included:

–          Stress-tolerant coral taxa, as a measure of resistance to coral bleaching;

–          Coral diversity, as a measure of resistance to bleaching and potentially past recovery potential;

–          Herbivorous fish biomass, as a measure of recovery potential due to the ability of herbivorous fishes to remove macroalgae from the reef, thus preventing harmful coral-algae interactions and allowing space for new corals to settle;

–          Herbivorous fish functional group richness, as a measure of recovery potential as fish remove algae in different ways (e.g. excavating, scraping, browsing) and it is necessary to have the full complement of types of herbivores to effectively remove most of the macroalgae;

–          Juvenile corals, as a measure of recovery potential from recent coral recruitment and survival; and

–          Cover of live coral and crustose coralline algae, as a measure of recovery potential both as a indicator of current coral-algal dynamics when coupled with the amount of macroalage, as well as a proxy for the amount of substrate available for coral settlement and source of new recruits.

We specifically used high resolution satellite data (<4 m pixels) to enable production of maps of resilience indicators at a scale meaningful for customary management systems in Fiji and the rest of the Western Pacific. We did not try to predictively map indicators which other people have successfully mapped (e.g. historical temperature variability, nutrients, sedimentation, physical impacts and macroalgae), but noted that our predictive maps could be combined with these data products within a spatial planning framework.

How well did we do? We were able to reasonably map relative differences in potential susceptibility to coral bleaching based on the composition of coral communities observed in the field. We were able to do this because some corals are more tolerant to environmental stress than others and they tend to be found in different environments and micro-habitats.

We also did a good job predicting distributions in the number of functional groups of herbivorous fish. This indicator likely also has strong environmental determinants as large excavators, such as bumphead parrotfish, steephead parrotfish and bicolor parrotfish, tend to be associated with forereef slopes and reef crests. We noted, though, that the total amount of “reef cleaning” performed by each group of herbivorous fish will be influenced by how many fish are present and their size. In addition, not all herbivorous fishes are created equal. A new, separate study from Fiji found that only 4 species of fish were responsible for eating 97% of the algae set out in a feeding experiment.

We did not do such a good job in predicting distributions of juvenile corals, but this was expected given that there are many factors that influence where corals may settle and how many survive. We also did not do very well in predicting coral diversity patterns. This was somewhat surprising given how much is already known about relationships between coral diversity and depth, exposure to waves and reef habitat. However, our results were likely influenced by errors in georeferencing and incomplete sampling across all of the habitat types in Kubulau qoliqoli. These issues could easily be improved upon in future studies.

What does this mean for reef managers? In the context of MPA planning, managers now have the potential to set targets for reef resilience indicators, in addition to habitat and feature representation, when designing MPA networks within decision support software (e.g. Marxan). This represents a considerable improvement over the current practice of designing or adapting MPAs based on site-based resilience score collected from relatively few sites across the planning region.

"Herbivores like this parrotfish help clean the reefs of algae. (c) Keith Ellenbogen" "New corals settling onto the reef surface help reefs recover from disturbance. (c) Keith Ellenbogen"

Inspired by kuta-weaving women

On the 18th of November Ged and I departed Nausori airport for Labasa to conduct kuta weaving training sessions in Bua and Cakaudrove. I have been really excited about this project, which hopes to revive the traditional Buan craft of making mats from Eleocharis dulcis, the freshwater reed known locally as kuta. It will also help women to generate income for their families and communities, reducing the pressures that contribute to unsustainable fishing, farming and logging practices.

The main objectives of the workshops were:

  • to enhance kuta-weaving skills amongst local women
  • to encourage women to pass on their kuta weaving skills within communities
  • to explore opportunities for a co-operative to generate and manage income
  • to raise awareness about good practice in managing kuta plantations

At our first workshop, the participants were mostly young mothers from the districts of Lekutu, Nadi and Solevu. They were keen to establish an alternative source of income and had good access to kuta growing in nearby villages.

It got even better at the next workshop at Namalata in Kubulau, where the ladies had organized the men to cook and serve all the meals!  This let them focus on the weaving and the results were really impressive.   Some young mothers even brought their children to the community hall – they were so determined to finish their mats by the end of the 2nd day.

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Our third workshop in Valeni was for the ladies of Wailevu district (in Cakaudrove) and showed that weaving skills are not confined only to Bua.  As we reached Savusavu at the end of a wonderful week I was even more positive that this project will take off. It had been great to see women of different ages and from different communities working together for a common cause.  They were so talented and grasped everything really quickly.

I texted a special thanks to our specialist trainer Edith Whippy, who not only taught the weaving techniques but motivated us all with her own story. Kuta mats are now Edith’s major source of income, so she told the ladies that if she can do it – so can they!

I even got a round kuta mat of my own (thanks Edith) and am looking forward to seeing the ladies make their first sales in 2013. Vinaka vakalevu to the Flora Family Foundation and Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund for supporting this work.