Marine Spatial Planning to Protect Biodiversity and $71M Fisheries and Tourism in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape

A group picture of all the stakeholders from across Government, Industry and Civil Society Organisations

Workshop participants from across government and civil society organisations

The Wildlife Conservation Society in collaboration with the Ministry of Fisheries and Forests hosted the second workshop on “Marine Spatial Planning for the Vatu-I-Ra Seascape” at the Tanoa Plaza Hotel in Suva on 8-9 December, 2015. The chief guest, the Acting Permanent Secretary for Fisheries and Forest, Mr. Sanaila Naqali opened the workshop providing full support for marine spatial planning in Fiji.

The Fijian Government's Acting Permanent Secretary for Fisheries Sanaila Naqali opened the workshop

Acting Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Fisheries and Forests Mr. Sanaila Naqali opening the spatial planning workshop

Marine spatial planning is a tool and a practical way to create and establish a more rational use of marine space and the interactions among its uses, to balance demands for development with the need to protect the environment, and to deliver social and economic outcomes in an open and planned way. This is the first time Fiji has attempted marine spatial planning over its state-owned offshore waters. We also have very few examples in the world of governments successfully applying marine spatial planning over offshore waters, so it is exciting to be leading such work in Fiji.

Fisheries Officer Tevita Vodivodidi presents on potential offshore areas

Fisheries Officer Tevita Vodivodi presents on zones for potential offshore marine managed areas

The Vatu-i-Ra Seascape is one of the most diverse and productive areas in Fiji, with the tourism and fisheries sector alone contributing at least FJ $71 million annually to the national economy. Marine spatial planning will ensure that  economic as well as cultural, social and biological values in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape are maintained in a balanced and fair way.

Discussion continues on areas that can be set aside as marine protected areas

Discussion continues on areas that can be set aside as marine managed areas in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape

Over 1.5 days, participants of the second marine spatial planning workshop reviewed areas they had identified as potential offshore (or deeper water) managed areas in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape in July 2015. Specifically they discussed and gained consensus on the placement, size and location of marine managed areas, and developed specific zones for each area. The successful establishment of potential marine managed areas in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape will make an important contribution to the government of Fiji’s commitment to protect 30% of its seas, including deep water offshore areas by 2020. This process is expected to pave a way for other important seascapes in Fiji to go through a similar planning process.

Words by Dwain Qalovaki and Sangeeta Mangubhai and images by Harriet Davis

Green energy powers the Suva marathon

Former Pacific sprint queen Makelesi Bulikiobo and Robert Kafoa lead the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape team at the Suva Marathon. Image by Samuela Ulacake/VCreative Limited

Former Pacific sprint queen Makelesi Bulikiobo and Robert Kafoa lead the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape team at the Suva Marathon. Image by Samuela Ulacake/VCreative Limited

As the starter gun fired in the rain on a windy August morning, 800 runners set out along the capital city’s sea wall as part of the South Pacific’s greatest road race, the Suva Marathon.

Even the young came out to the Suva Marathon to run in support of the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape. Image by Samuela Ulacake/VCreative Limited

Even the young came out to the Suva Marathon to run in support of the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape. Image by Samuela Ulacake/VCreative Limited

A draw card of the marathon which saw runners complete the full marathon (40.2km), half marathon (21.1km), and 10 km fun run was the inclusion of the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape and the Drautabua Acmopyle as the event’s sponsored charities.

Camari Kena and Kini Koto ran the Suva Marathon in support of the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape. Image by Samuela Ulacake/VCreative Limited.

Camari Kena and Kini Koto ran the Suva Marathon in support of the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape. Image by Samuela Ulacake/VCreative Limited.

Team captain Dwain Qalovaki said, “As part of our team, notable Fijians from across the sporting and media sectors ran to build public support for the protection of land and sea between Viti Levu and Vanua Levu”.

Pacific Games Triple Jump Gold medalist Eugene Vollmer lent his support toward the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape. Image by Samuela Ulacake/VCreative Limited

Pacific Games Triple Jump Gold medalist Eugene Vollmer lent his support toward the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape. Image by Samuela Ulacake/VCreative Limited

High performance Fijian athletes participating in the Suva Marathon included the Pacific Games 2015 Shot Put Gold medalist Milika Tuivanuavou, Squash Bronze medalist Andra Whiteside, Athletics dual medalist Younis Bese, Triple Jump Gold medalist Eugene Vollmer, Cocoa Cola Fiji Games athletics champion Helena Young and former Pacific sprint queen Makelesi Bulikiobo, who still holds unbroken records in the region.

Vatu-i-Ra Seascape stakeholders came out in full force during the Suva Marathon to support the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape. Image by Samuela Ulacake/VCreative Limited

Vatu-i-Ra Seascape stakeholders came out in full force during the Suva Marathon to support the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape. Image by Samuela Ulacake/VCreative Limited

“As we continue to grow the national conversation on being faithful stewards of our beautiful environment, engagement with Fijians from outside the conservation sector is critical. We are humbled that the athletes that joined us took time out of their training schedules to help raise awareness on the need to protect an area of land and sea that is closely linked to our culture, livelihoods and wellbeing”, said Mr. Qalovaki.

Fijian broadcast personalities Mervin Singh and Michelle Tevita - Singh running the Suva Marathon. Image by Samuela Ulacake/VCreative Limited

Fijian broadcast personalities Mervin Singh and Michelle Tevita – Singh running the Suva Marathon. Image by Samuela Ulacake/VCreative Limited

Other notable Fijian runners included Miss Fiji Nanise Rainima, former Miss Fiji and Miss South Pacific Merewalesi Nailatikau, Niu Wave Magazine Deputy Editor Dawn Gibson as well as broadcast personalities Mervin Singh and Michelle Tevita – Singh.

He added that while support for the campaign at the Suva marathon was exceptional, conservation partners like the Department of Fisheries, Nature Fiji/Mareqeti Viti, World Wide Fund for Nature and the Wildlife Conservation Society also fielded runners was also overwhelming. This brought over 60 participants running for the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape.

NatureFiji/MareqetiViti's mascot 'Drautabua' ran the Suva Marathon which captured the attention of the young and young at heart. Image by Samuela Ulacake/VCreative Limited

NatureFiji/MareqetiViti’s mascot ‘Drautabua’ ran the Suva Marathon which captured the attention of the young and young at heart. Image by Samuela Ulacake/VCreative Limited

“Our partnership with the Suva Marathon has been about creating awareness on this amazing blue – green jewel of forest and blue ocean. This special place is home to over 120 endemic plant and 1,000 fish species. This is a place worth fighting for so that it can be enjoyed by many more generations to come”, Mr Qalovaki concluded.

Totoya times two

20130604_Totoya_SJupiter_06a_sm I’m having flashbacks. Two years ago on this very day, I was sitting on board a similar-sized yacht, anchored in the lagoon of Totoya Island in the Yasayasamoala Group of the Lau Islands. In June 2011, I was part of an expedition team from the Wildlife Conservation Society, Pacific Blue Foundation, Waitt Institute, Scripps Institute of Oceanography and Wetlands International-Oceania to survey Totoya’s Sacred Reef.[Editor’s note: See blog from the 2011 expedition at: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2011/06/08/expedition-to-the-sacred-reef-of-fiji-6/]

In honour of World Ocean’s Day, Roko Josefa Cinavilakeba, the high chief of the Yasayasamoala group, redeclared Totoya’s Daveta Tabu protected. In was indeed a great day for the communities of Totoya and those here to participate in the experience.

But time flies fast and furious in the Pacific. Flash forward two years and I’m back to Totoya again, this time on board the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation’s research vessel, the Golden Shadow. In 2008, I wrote a letter to the Foundation, inviting them to come to Fiji as part of their Global Expedition (http://www.sciencewithoutborders.org/science-without-borders/) to investigate the major threats and impacts to coral reefs around the world, with a view to providing data to help innovate new management solutions. It only took them five years to respond – and now, here we are, floating in the remote waters of Fiji’s Lau Province.

The Living Oceans Foundation brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and scientific tools to study coral reef systems, including the ability to map large sections of reefs which provides important information on natural resource inventories for management. When I approached other organizations in Fiji about where the Living Oceans Foundation should focus these efforts, almost unanimously people said Lau. The remoteness and limited options for transport to Lau makes it an unusually challenging place to conduct repeated surveys to assess changes in reef resources – unless you have access to a superyacht, that is.And thanks to Prince Khaled bin Sultan of the Kingdom of Saudia Arabia, we do.

I’ve suggested to the research team to resurvey locations on Totoya, Matuku and Kabara that were previously surveyed in the 1990s and 2000s by researchers from the University of Newcastle in England, as well as the sites that we surveyed inside and adjacent to Totoya Sacred Reef in 2011.

In the meantime, myself, Ron Vave of the University of the South Pacific, and Willie Saladrau of the Fiji Department of Fisheries are searching far and wide to assess the status of sea cucumbers in this region, which are being increasingly exploited for cash income by local communities. Sea cucumbers are easy targets – with limited mobility, they can’t get away from a keen freediver. And the perception is that they are just money sitting on the reef. In reality, sea cucumbers have an important ecosystem function to regulate the amount of nutrients in coral reef sediments, which likely keeps algal blooms under control (as I described in my blog on our surveys of Western Bua: http://wcsfiji.org.fj/coral-reef-resilience-surveys-in-western-bua/). So far, Willie, Ron and I have not had much luck finding the critters – but we are hopeful that some are still out there to sustain the livelihoods of the local communities.

Duty calls – time to get back in the water and then on to a meke session in Tovu village.

Moce mada.

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Fiji was a global attraction at the International Coral Reef Symposium

Fiji delegates shared conservation success stories and ongoing efforts at the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Cairns, Australia (9-13 July 2012). Fiji was represented by partner organizations from the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area (FLMMA) network, including WCS Fiji (Stacy, Margy, Akuila and I made up our team), the Institute of Applied Sciences (IAS) at the University of the South Pacific, and SeaWeb.

Although not officially part of the coral triangle hotspot, Fiji was shown to be a marine biodiversity hotspot in Stacy’s presentation. Margy captured a lot of attention by linking traditional knowledge to protecting spawning aggregation sites in Fiji. Akuila shared his story on the importance of adaptive management. I became a celebrity, posing with my poster on “Consideration of disturbance history for resilient MPA network design”. Ron Vave (IAS), charmed the audience with his findings on the effectiveness of locally managed marine areas in Fiji, while Saki Fong (IAS) shed more light on the socioeconomic implications of establishing these marine protected areas. Semesi Meo gave the audience a show on ecological effectiveness of community-based management in Fiji. Alifereti Tawake (a former IAS staff member, now a PhD student at James Cook University) talked about social and cultural attributes of effective adaptive management systems.

                   

Our shared experiences of conservation on the ground were enough to let the world know about Fiji. The reports from international students who have worked in Fiji got other people interested in working in these beautiful islands in the future – this really gave us a boost to hear their enthusiasm.

ICRS was a great chance for us to network with a number of leading conservation managers and scientists from all over the world. At the same time we were digesting as much information as possible from the diverse efforts being undertaken internationally to ensure coral reefs thrive in the future.

Ecosystem-Based Management is taking shape in Nadi and Solevu

Two more districts in Vanua Levu are establishing Ecosystem-Based Management Plans to safeguard their natural resources.

The districts of Nadi and Solevu, situated in the province of Bua, rely heavily on natural resources to meet their subsistence needs. In November 2011, they sent representatives to a management planning workshop in the nearby district of Wainunu, where they found out more about environmental issues and Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM), which fuses scientific principles with local and traditional ecological knowledge to promote sustainable management of terrestrial, freshwater, estuarine, coastal and marine habitats. These representatives took part in a conceptual modeling exercise which identified conservation targets, threats affecting those targets and strategies through which the threats could be addressed.

Participants at a workshop in Nadi devise management rules for their terrestrial & marine protected areas.

In January 2012, WCS Fiji has facilitated further consultation with each village in Nadi and Solevu. Recent district-wide workshops have further defined networks of freshwater, terrestrial and marine protected areas and sets of rules to govern the management of natural resources. These rules and protected area network will provide the basis for Ecosystem-Based Management Plans to maintain healthy, productive and resilient ecosystems in order to overcome pressure from population growth and climate change, enhance local quality of life and meet the needs of future generations.

WCS Fiji’s Director Stacy Jupiter stated “We would like to thank the leaders and communities of Nadi and Solevu. They should be congratulated on their progress and we look forward to supporting the development and implementation of their management plans.”

Children of Solveu will reap the benefits of the new protected area network.

WCS Fiji has applied EBM in working with communities in adjoining districts of Kubulau, Wainunu and Wailevu along the south of Vanua Levu. The expanding reach of this approach reflects its success (particularly in Kubulau where the approach has been established for longest), associated growth in demand from communities and WCS Fiji’s focus on the Vatu-i-Ra Ecoscape, one of Fiji’s last great wild places.