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

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

Urgent protection needed for Vatu-i-Ra Island Sanctuary

Red-footed booby chick peering down from the remaining canopy

Red-footed booby chick peering down from the remaining canopy

Today was the first time that I stepped on Vatu-i-Ra Island in almost a year and a half. Right away, I knew things looked different.

“Why is there so much light streaming through the canopy?” I wondered.

And then I saw the branches and trunks of felled trees all around. Damage from Tropical Cyclone Evan? Possibly a little bit, but our hosts seemed to think that people were cutting trees to build fires for camping.

 

 

The small (2.3 ha) Vatu-i-Ra Island, located off of Ra Province, is a critically important seabird site, home to a large breeding colony of black noddies (Anous minutus), as well as dense populations of red-footed boobies (Sula sula) and lesser frigatebirds (Fregata ariel), breeding hawkesbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) and the endemic pygmy snake-eyed skink (Cryptoblecephalus eximius). Due to these features, BirdLife International declared the site an Important Bird Area.

Vatu-i-Ra Island is particularly special because of an enormously successful project by BirdLife International, NatureFiji-MareqetiViti, the Pacific Invasives Initiative, the Pacific Invasives Learning Network and the New Zealand Department of Conservation to eradicate invasive rats (Rattus exulans), which were having a negative impact on bird populations. The island was declared rat free in 2008 and the bird populations have boomed. Ever since, Sione Gonewai, leader of the traditional landowners from the Yavusa Nagilogilo, has been working courageously to try to get Fiji Government to protect this critically important bird breeding ground.

But now I saw their breeding habitat in tatters. There were dead birds in the trees and on the ground. Moreover, a boat of fishers pulled ashore and started building a fire with the dead branches.

“Have you been fishing?” I asked.

They replied yes. They had come from Tailevu and worked as a crew to sell fish to a middleman based in Rakiraki, who then vends his haul at Nausori market.

“Did you know that this area is protected?” I further questioned.

They claimed no. It is somewhat understandable, given that the communities only declared the island and the northern half of Vatu-i-Ra Reef tabu in March 2012 and the protected status has been little publicized. Sione was not happy, but he agreed to let them off without penalty if they consented to be interviewed for a documentary we are making to highlight the need for increased management across the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape.

Today’s encounters highlighted to me just how urgently this protection is needed. It appeared as if perhaps a quarter of the trees have already been lost. And it would not take much for an errant match to ignite all of the dry brush that has accumulated and burn down the remaining habitat.

“Do you like the birds?” I asked the fishermen.

“Yes,” they replied. “Where there are sea birds, there are fish.”

I hope that through our efforts and assistance we can help hasten the protection of this critical bird sanctuary and ensure the adjacent reefs are managed both to support the breeding populations of birds and the fishermen from all across Fiji who depend on fish for their livelihoods.

We will soon be kicking off a campaign to protect the biodiversity and livelihoods of people and ecosystems across the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape. This project is being supported by the Waitt Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Stay tuned for more information to come.

Felled trunk and branches in the centre of Vatu-i-Ra Island

Felled trunk and branches in the centre of Vatu-i-Ra Island

A fishing boat from Tailevu pulls ashore

A fishing boat from Tailevu pulls ashore

A white-tailed tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus) at the top of the island

A white-tailed tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus) at the top of the island

 

 

Marine protected areas blessed in Wainunu district

Symbolic blessing of the marine protected area network of Wainunu.

The villagers of Wainunu District (Bua Province, Fiji) gathered yesterday at Daria village to watch a special ceremony – the blessing of their new protected area network by chiefs and church leaders. Community leaders also signed their district ridge-to-reef management plan. The protected area network includes 4 marine protected areas and 3 forest protected areas, and covers almost 50 km2. Stacy Jupiter (WCS Fiji’s Director) and Sirilo Dulanaqio (Community Liaison Officer) attended the ceremony on behalf of WCS Fiji.

We feel very privileged to have worked with the dedicated and enthusiastic people of Wainunu over the last 2 years: first we gathered biological and socio-economic data, then we facilitated the identification of the protected areas through a series of community workshops and consultations. We have supported the villages to form a resource management committee which is now responsible for implementing the new ecosystem-based management plan for the district. The actions laid out in this plan are designed to boost the health of the forests, rivers and reefs upon which the people of Wainunu depend and which contribute to the incredible diversity of the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape.

You can find more photos of the launch event on our Facebook page at this link, and a description of the event in this Fiji Times article. You download the full Wainunu Ecosystem-based Management Plan from tinyurl.com/WainunuEBMPlan.

This project was kindly supported by grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (US Department of Commerce), and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Wailevu communities moving forward together

Communities in Wailevu came together in April to finalise plans promoting sustainable use and conservation of their natural resources.

Wailevu is siituated in the province of Cakaudrove in Vanua Levu. Consisting of 30 villages and significant settlements, it is geographically the largest district in Fiji. Well known for farming dalo and yaqona, the district is also home to Waisali Forest Reserve, the Mount Kasi gold mine, an established pearl farm and a range of community eco-tourism sites.

Building on the success of Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) in neighbouring Kubulau, WCS Fiji is supporting Wailevu communities to develop a collaborative plan through which to protect local habitats, promote sustainable resource management and enhance quality of life.

The plan will be implemented and monitored by a Resource Management Committee in Wailevu West and another in the East of the district. “It is good to see such strong support from all the villages. With the backing of our Chiefs, we have been working together to identify tabu areas and management rules that will preserve our resources for future generations” stated Timoci Rokosuli, Chairman of the Wailevu West Resource Management Committee. “We thank WCS for their support and look forward to working together for the benefit of Wailevu”.

A range of stakeholders have also been involved in developing the plans. Jone Vakamino from the Cakaudrove Yaubula Management Support Team said he had attended several workshops in the past six months. “The Roko Tui has seen the value of this work and the Provincial Council is actively supportive”, he stated “the communities are taking responsibility to ensure a healthy environment. This can also benefit them economically, with potential for ecotourism projects like the one that is growing in Bagata”.

EBM fuses scientific principles with local and traditional ecological knowledge to promote sustainable management of terrestrial, freshwater, estuarine, coastal and marine habitats. It aims to maintain healthy, productive and resilient ecosystems that can overcome pressure from population growth and climate change to meet the needs of future generations.