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I recently helped facilitate a workshop in Vuya village, about 5km from the port of Nabouwalu (in Bua Province on the south-west of Vanua Levu). Having met people from Vuya at various workshops over the past year, I was always impressed with their enthusiasm for conservation and their organized approach. I had seen their Village Development Plan, heard about their projects and am also developing a research proposal with Brooke McDavid, a Peace Corps volunteer based in the village. It’s fair to say I was excited to be visiting and keen to find out more.
After the traditional ceremony (sevusevu) to introduce ourselves and ask for acceptance, our guide Mateo showed us around. With a chiefly bure at its centre, the village rises up a hillside overlooking the Vatu-i-Ra Passage, a hot-spot for cetaceans and an important breeding ground for the endangered humpback whale. As well as taking in great views, our tour included a detailed explanation of local challenges and insight into why and how a range of recently established projects were developed, including: a local marine protected area; a mangrove nursery and replanting site; and vegetable gardens dotted around the village.
Chickens are the animal with which the Vuya villagers traditionally associate and they are not supposed to cook or eat them. They recently built an impressive commercial chicken coup (selling the eggs and using the waste as fertilizer) and we awoke each morning to the sound of roosters.
As we drank kava in the hall each evening, villagers wanted to find out more about what is happening around the province. They shared experiences with visitors from across Bua and expressed interest in working together. Maria and Tupi, two ladies from the village development committee, requested to attend and made great contributions to the workshop. Jaoti, a local farmer, sought interest in forming a local cooperative with an emphasis on sustainable farming methods.
We’ll certainly miss Vuya and its people (if not the rooster alarm clock). Their input will be essential to developing an effective district-level management plan and I hope we can return some day.
Having left freezing Germany, Chantal Denise Pagel is adapting to the tropical heat as she brings her specialist knowledge to a voluntary internship with us here in Fiji. Chantal is a Masters student with a special interest in big ocean mammals, known as cetaceans, and will help apply some of the research we have undertaken on cetaceans in recent years. Her role is to ensure the integration of cetaceans within district and provincial management planning processes, to raise awareness of the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape (between Viti Levu and Vanua Levu) as an important Whale Sanctuary and to help develop special management measures to improve conservation of cetaceans here in the future.
Chantal is particularly interested in the Oceania subpopulation of the endangered Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). Humpbacks were spotted by the WCS team at several locations within the Vatu-i-Ra Channel, with the high abundance of mother-calf-pairs highlighting the importance of this passage for the species.
A range of other baleen and toothed whales are also found and Chantal has already encountered some of them on her first excursion in Fiji waters. “I was lucky to meet a pod of spinner dolphins on my very first day-trip, to Moon Reef off the coast of Tailevu. Jay, our local guide, knew them individually and his insight into each one was incredible.” She explained. “My previous experience with spinners in Mauritius had taught me that marine ecotourism isn’t always sustainable – tourist swimmers had chased and harassed the dolphins in search of a ‘personal experience’ to ‘take back home’. I was relieved to find the spinners here were relaxed as the boat approached, they were obviously happy in our company and looked in good condition.”
In her new role, Chantal has created a presentation for our upcoming village workshops in the province of Bua. “It explains what cetaceans are, what species occur in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape and the growing threats they face from pollution, fishing, shipping and climate change.”
WCS will also be gathering local stories about whales and dolphins from villagers. “I’m looking forward to finding out about their experiences and the special relationship with the ‘Tovuto’ which apparently has great cultural significance for Fijians.” Chantal explained. “I’m so happy to be learning and contributing to conservation here in Fiji.”
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.
WCS Fiji is gearing up for an Integrated Coastal Management (ICM) project in Fiji’s Bua Province. This will complement a parallel project which is already up and running across the waves of Bligh Water. Ra Province, on the northern tip of Viti Levu, faces Bua from the opposite side of the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape. Ra has embraced the ridge-to-reef approach, and become a demonstration site for provincial-level ICM. As well as drawing up an ICM plan for Ra Province, a Fiji Government project will support a national ICM Committee to develop a national plan. The Ra model will also provide a framework on which other provinces can build their own ICM plans.
National, provincial and local stakeholders from Ra have been finding out about existing plans for development and natural resource management in Ra, to make decisions about how these plans can be brought together under the umbrella of ICM for Ra. This Fiji ICM project will run from 2011-2015 and is part of a wider suite of work to ensure future food security, under the Pacific Coral Triangle Initiative. Other countries involved are PNG, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Timor Leste. Funders include the Asian Development Bank (ADB) Global Environment Fund (GEF), USAID and AusAID.
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.