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.

Cetacean spotting in Vatu-i-ra Seascape

Watching cetaceans play in waters of Fiji’s Vatu-i-Ra Seascape was a lovely experience. The whales and dolphins love to entertain while they guide travelers during bad weather, according to the village elders. Their performances are so varied; they breach, spin, spy-hop (when dolphins pop their heads above the surface and look around), flap their tail or flippers – all part of their communication system, but an amazing display of behaviour for us. They also make different noises underwater, sometimes to attract mates or just talk to each other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was part of the 2012 WCS Fiji Cetacean Hotspot Survey (1st to 11th August), together with Margy and Waisea, community representatives, and Dr Cara Miller from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) as the cetacean expert to guide us. We were hosted in the beautiful village of Nasau in Ra Province, northeastern Viti Levu, where we were welcomed with lot of excitement.

On Day 1 of the survey we were rewarded with a sighting of a humpback whale as soon as we reached Vatu-i-Ra Island – a tiny speck in the waters of the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape, over 20 km from the nearest land. We started by testing two different methods for recording sightings: boat transects and land-based sightings from a vantage point with a 360° view of the open ocean. Later the land-based team joined the boat team due to bad weather preventing clear sightings from land. Day 2 was a day without any sightings, although we did manage to record some faint whale songs. I was getting anxious, hoping I would catch some close-up glimpses of the whales and dolphins recorded in previous years. Things improved on Day 3 as we spotted a pod of Bottlenose dolphin adults with calves – they were cute, fat, and fast swimmers. Much to our delight, one of the calves was spy-hoping while our cameras snapped. The same day we encountered a pod of Shortfin pilot whales scattered over a larger area, with one of the group coming to check us out – you can see a short clip of his visit below!

We had evening events every night where Waisea explained the day’s happenings to the villagers and we showed them videos, pictures and songs. All songs were recorded using a hydrophone provided by WDCS, so that the songs could be analysed later and compared cetacean songs from other regions. Some of the songs we recorded on Day 4 sounded like whale and dolphin rap, where the whales would sing first and the dolphins would respond to it! The adventure continued with plenty of whales and dolphins sighted on the 4th day – Spinner dolphins, Shortfin pilot whales and Humpback whales were all there, swimming happily in the water. After a break on Sunday, we were welcomed on Monday with deteriorating weather which restricted us to land-based survey for a few days. Finally we managed to complete our last few boat transects, with a few more sightings and songs recorded.

I returned very happy because we saw so many different cetaceans, and recorded songs almost every day – it was an adventurous trip!

WCS Fiji gratefully acknowledge funding from The Marisla Foundation to carry out this work.

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.

Goby hits IUCN Species Forum

The IUCN Species Forum earlier this month was a positive experience for WCS Fiji’s Kini Koto (aka KK), who attended the conference to present some of our work, and to distribute copies of The Adventures of Joji Goby, our comic. The conference theme of Moving from Science to Conservation focused minds on trying to restore and maintain some of the world’s Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable and endemic species.

KK presented on Human and climate impacts on decline of Fiji’s threatened freshwater fishes – a topic about which the audience had plenty of questions regarding the threats faced by these fish and the conservation actions being taken. WCS Fiji, in Moving from Science to Conservation, have carried out marine and freshwater scientific research, and provided the results of this research back to communities through consultation workshops. These workshops are designed to help communities learn about best-practice for looking after their natural resources, and to identify the best locations to protect in order to conserve these resources. Future food security is a major consideration in these decisions, since rural communities in Vanua Levu depend heavily on the environment to provide their subsistence needs. Communities sit together – either in villages or tribes – as they decide on protected areas covering their forests, rivers, mangroves and coral reefs. After drawing the protected area (tabu) boundaries, the communities write management rules for these areas and for the wider district.

Not only does the process of establishing management rules involve the men, women and youth from each village, but WCS Fiji are also getting the attention of school children, through a comic book about the adventurous lifecycle of a freshwater goby. The comic book is presented to schools alongside a puppet show to bring the conservation message to life (KK plays the hero, Joji Goby, in the show!). KK was delighted to hand-deliver the comic book to the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Gordon Darcy Lilo, who was a special guest at the IUCN Species Forum. The icing on the cake was an invitation from Dr Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, who asked WCS Fiji to become a member of the IUCN/Wetlands International Freshwater Fish Specialist group.

The production of the comic book and puppet shows were made possible by the kind support of the Disney Friends for Change Programme.

Joji Goby and his friends Crab and Snail

Fiji Fish Fundraiser Breaks the Bank

Fish harvested from the Kia Island tabu area. Photo (c) Stacy Jupiter

In September 2008, residents of Kia Island opened their community-managed marine protected area for a fundraiser. WCS was there to survey the impacts during the harvest and one year later. Our findings are described in this new press release, as well as an article recently published in the journal Coral Reefs:

http://www.wcs.org/news-and-features-main/fiji-fishing-fundraiser.aspx