Fiji Symposium a hit in Darwin

Stacy presenting at SCB Oceania

WCS Fiji recently ran a symposium entitled “Integrating Systematic Conservation Planning with Local Management Actions in Fiji” at the Society for Conservation Biology Oceania section meeting in Darwin, Australia, that ran from September 21 to 23. The mission of the Society of Conservation Biology is to advance the science and practice of conserving the Earth’s biological diversity. The Oceania section includes Melanesia, Polynesia, Micronesia, Australia and New Zealand, and aims to have section meetings in the region every 2 years, with the next one scheduled for Fiji in July 2014!!

 

 

 

The symposium kicked off with an overview of the rather ad hoc evolution of Fiji’s current system of protected areas by WCS Fiji Director Stacy Jupiter. This was followed by two excellent case studies of community-based adaptive management of marine protected area (MPA) networks in Fiji. Rebecca Weeks, formerly of WCS Fiji and currently of James Cook University, showcased the efforts of Kubulau District communities to expand their MPA network and James Comley of the University of the South Pacific’s Institute of Applied Science, highlighted work by USP Masters student Hans Karl Wendt on adaptive reconfiguration of MPAs across all of Kadavu Province. Kasaqa Tora of the National Trust of Fiji then gave an in-depth view of Fiji’s terrestrial gap analysis results and how the national Protected Area Committee has prioritized new areas for conservation that will hopefully be funded under Fiji’s GEF-PAS allocation.

Two further research projects were presented by our collaborators Vanessa Adams, of James Cook University and Charles Darwin University, and Azusa Makino of the University of Queensland. They focused on ways to integrate socioeconomic costs and considerations of land-sea connectivity into systematic conservation plans for Fiji.

We received excellent feedback from all of the presentations, including an offer from an editor of Pacific Conservation Biology to submit a paper to the journal on the intricacies of protected area planning and implementation in Fiji. Our work in Fiji shared many parallels with ongoing efforts to expand conservation and management in indigenous areas of the Northern Territory in Australia, as well as Papua New Guinea and other Pacific island nations.

For more information about the Society for Conservation Biology Oceania section, check out their Facebook page and follow them on Twitter @SCBOceania.

Traditional methods help preserve coral reefs in Fiji

WCS Fiji Director, Dr Stacy Jupiter, talks to Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat about how indigenous communities in Fiji are making huge leaps towards meeting the national target to protect 30% of marine habitats by 2020. Through the determined efforts of local communities to establish traditional tabu areas (marine protected areas) protecting their coral reefs, Fiji has already achieved the internationally agreed 10% protection target for coastal and marine habitats, which is part of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/radio/program/pacific-beat/traditional-methods-helping-preserve-fiji-reefs/1017628

Groupers spawning in Fiji’s paradise

Groupers spawning in Fiji’s paradise

The grouper monitoring program in Kadavu was started by Dr. Yvonne Sadovy and Rick Nemeth from the Society for the Conservation of Reef Fish Aggregations in 2008. Dr. Sadovy assembled an international team consisting of local fisheries officers and local and international scientists to monitor the number and type of groupers in the area.

The area is used by several groupers and many other species for spawning so it was established as a marine protected area (no-take zone) managed by the local village. The main grouper that spawn at the site and are being monitored include the Camouflage grouper (Epinephelus polyphekadion), Brown marble grouper (E. fuscoguttatus), Squaretail coralgrouper (Plectropomus areolatus) and Black saddle grouper (P. laevis).

The study team consisted of me, Brad Erisman a professor of Marine Biology at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California, USA and Rick Nemeth from the Conservation of Reef Fish Aggregation in the Virgin Islands. Our research was supported by Siwa, the dive master, and Tulala the boat captain. We dove three times per day for six straight days, and we saw a lot of groupers. On the first day of diving, Brad and I saw approximately 50-60 Brown marble grouper and a few small groups of Camouflage grouper and Black saddle grouper. Rick didn’t arrive until the next day, because he was delayed because of a hurricane that was passing by his home in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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For the rest of the week, we did not see many Camouflage grouper or Brown marble grouper, which suggested that these fish were not spawning at the time of our visit. For the Camouflage grouper, we suspect they have spawned already, whereas the Brown marble grouper may have spawned just before we arrived (before the full moon). However, with each passing day, we observed more and more Black saddle grouper. Many of these fish were really large – more than 90-100 cm in length and weighing more than 10 kg. The largest ones took on a brilliant coloration with dark gray on their head, front and back of their bodies but with a large white stripe down the middle, a bright white belly and lips. After three years of working at this site, this year seems to have the highest count of Black saddle grouper. These fish would swim by other groupers, turning their bodies to the side and shaking their head violently back and forth. While we are not sure exactly why these fish were behaving this way, in other groupers this behavior occurs in aggressive behavior between males as well by males attempting court and spawn with a female. By the end of the trip, we estimated that there were as many as 135 Black saddle grouper in our survey area.

In 2010, Rick Nemeth had placed three acoustic receivers on the reef to record the presence of any tagged camouflage grouper as they move in and out of the area to spawn. The portion of the project related to the receivers was set to finish this year, so we decided to retrieve all the receivers this week as well.

Overall, the trip was a great success. The entire staff at the resort was wonderful, generous, and helpful to us throughout our trip. We were invited by the chief and the staff to take part in a kava ceremony, where we learned a lot more about the local communities and their resources. Of course, we also accomplished all our research goals for the trip. Hopefully, if we are lucky, next year when we return we’ll get to see the spawning of the Black saddle grouper.

Environmental planning at provincial level in Macuata

Communities, government departments, NGOs and the private sector came together on 22-24 August in a significant step towards a natural resource management plan for Macuata province.

Hosted by Macuata Provincial Office with support from WWF, the planning workshop took place at the Civic Centre in the provincial town of Labasa in the north of Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island. Macuata is one of 14 provinces and contains some of Fiji’s most intact ecosystems (from Welewara to Udu Point in the north-west) as well as some the most degraded (Qawa river catchment and around Wainikoro). Macuata’s customary fishing grounds include part of the Great Sea Reef, the third largest coral reef ecosystem in the world.

Stakeholders explored a wide range of issues; establishing a vision, identifying priority areas and drafting a structure for natural resource management. They outlined a key role for the Provincial Office, district environment committees and traditional leaders to link community, district (tikina) and provincial activities. They formed management recommendations for the Great Sea Reef (initially to undertake research and establish a network of marine protected areas, MPAs) and mapped out a wide range of existing and proposed priority areas for conservation.

Stakeholders mapping conservation areas during the workshop

Presentations on national and provincial strategies highlighted economic development plans emerging from the government’s Look North Policy, such as Bauxite mining at Dreketi and a new international port in next few years. The stream of trucks taking cane through town to the mill each night reminded us that sugar has shaped the local landscape and economy. During the workshop ANZ bank announced a $120million loan to Fiji Sugar Corporation. As that industry redefines itself, it was particularly good to see its representatives involved in discussions on how Macuata’s ecosystems can be sustainably managed for future generations.

Deputy Permanent Secretary for i-Taukei Affairs Colonel Apakuki Kurusiga, participating in the workshop, noted that “Macuata is the first province to start management planning on this scale, setting a great example for other provinces to ensure that provincial development and sustainability go hand in hand”. With that in mind, the Macuata process provides valuable lessons for upscaling natural resource managment planning in Fiji. We hope these can be applied in other provinces, and particularly towards WCS Fiji’s forthcoming involvement in Integrated Coastal Management planning in the neighbouring province of Bua.

Surveying the sea cucumbers of Kubulau

Recently I was part of a team of researchers that went to Kubulau to receive sea cucumber survey training, conducted by Mr Kalo of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community. The team included nine Fisheries officers from all four corners of Fiji (Western, Central, Northern and Eastern Divisions), as well as three staff from the NGO Partners in Community Development Fund.

Community-managed tabu areas and district MPAs in Kubulau

The team surveyed 57 stations with different methods: manta tows, transects on reef benthos and transects on soft bottom habitats. Each method was carried out both inside community-managed marine protected areas (tabu areas) and in open access areas.

The surveys covered the marine protected areas of Nakali, Namuri, Nasue, Cakau Vusoni and Dromoninuku – the new tabu area established this year, belonging to Navatu village. Open access areas surveyed were the reefs in between Namuri and Nasue marine protected areas, and in front of Waisa village down to Kiobo village, and from Waisa north to Nadivakarua Bay. Unfortunately we were not able to go to the famous Namena MPA due to bad weather.

 

Of the 24 commercially harvested species of sea cucumber present in Fiji, 18 were found in Kubulau during this survey. Previous surveys conducted by WCS Fiji have recorded 14 of these sea cucumber species, so we were happy to add four new species for Kubulau to the records.

Curryfish (Stichopus variegatus) in its shallow water habitat.

There were not many differences between marine protected areas versus open access areas – in some cases there were in fact larger numbers of sea cucumbers recorded outside the protected areas than inside (Holothurius atra, Lollyfish). For the high value species, we recorded only one White teatfish (Holothuria fuscogilva) and few Stonefish (Actinopyga lecanora) during the day. However there were more high value species recorded in Navatu when we visited the buyer. These high value species were caught during the night. Long-handled spears were used to catch bigger ones in the deep, as clearly explained by the local fishermen.

 

It has been mentioned that Crown of Thorns starfish populations might be increasing in Kubulau; we did observe Crown of Thorns during the survey but I personally think that the numbers were much lower than previously recorded by WCS Fiji’s surveys in neighbouring Wailevu district in 2011, where the damage has been more serious.

Actinopyga lecanora, or stonefish – a high value nocturnal species of sea cucumber

Raw data were presented back to the Turaga ni Yavusas (spokesmen for the tribes in the area) during the talanoa session, as requested by the Chairman of the Kubulau Resource Management Committee. These data were also made available to partner organisations as part of a national consultation process on Fiji’s National Sea Cucumber Fishery, together with some community recommendations about sea cucumber harvesting. The export value of sea cucumbers from Fiji is currently estimated at F$22 million annually (~US$12.4 million).