Why does ICRS matter for Fijian scientists and conservation practitioners?

Why does ICRS matter for Fijian scientists and conservation practitioners?

By Sangeeta Mangubhai

Coral reefs are found in more than 80 developing countries and are critical for the food and economic needs of some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities. Those of us that are scientists or conservationists from developing countries are acutely aware that our reefs are some of the most threatened on the planet and a large weight and responsibility lies on our shoulders to do something about it. But to do that we need to be connected to places beyond our own, and find inspiring highly collaborative people we can work with to help do good applied science that contributes to the protection and better management of our reefs.

As we gathered at the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS), I wanted to reach out to Fijian scientists and conservation practitioners to hear their views and thoughts on attending the symposium and learn more about their work. I wanted to understand why is attending ICRS so important to them?

Many told me they wanted the opportunity to share their work and have their voices heard by their international peers. They wanted to make new connections, learn about others work and find new collaborations. Some said they hoped by attending ICRS they might find opportunities to do Masters or a PhD overseas so that they get access to universities with labs with the latest technology, and have a competitive advantage when finding work in their own countries.

I asked them what their favourite thing was about ICRS and their responses were:

Networking and meeting people whose papers I’ve read and listening in to some of their talks, and rethinking my own ideas and perceptions” – Ron Vave, Fijian scientist studying at University of Hawaii

“The chance to interact with a wide range of people from different backgrounds, working in different areas, with different opinions. Feels like a breath of fresh air being able to ‘get out’ of my own little space.” – Steven Lee, Fijian scientist at Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Ecology (ZMT) and University of Bremen in Germany

Asked what they learnt at ICRS that they would be applying back in their home countries, their answers were:

Moving away from traditional fishing methods has affected the resilience of people and their resources. I would like to see how we can better incorporate traditional knowledge into locally managed marine areas.” – Yashika Nand, Fijian coral scientist at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji

“Quality rather than quantity may be a better approach for conservation of resource management work e.g. rather than having a whole string of Marine Protected Areas which you are trying to manage, it may be more beneficial to choose just a couple and invest more into them. Let the neighbouring communities see firsthand the benefits and convince themselves of it rather than trying to convince them.” – Steven Lee, Fijian scientist at ZMT and University of Bremen

And lastly, I asked them what they would like to see more of at the next ICRS and they answered:

“I would like to see more managers and conservation practitioners at ICRS. We need to bridge the gap between scientists and decision makers” – Margaret Fox, Fijian social scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society

“I recommend that talks be audio and/or video recorded, and made available online. We can’t be in all places at once so it’d be good to listen or watch talks that we missed. And it would be great to have days in which, rather than talking to just ourselves we have sessions where we talk to the public.– Ron Vave, Fijian scientist studying at University of Hawaii

From my side, my personal request would be to see greater diversity of people on different panel discussions. If ICRS is truly an international symposium then there has to be more representation from developing countries on those panels so we can hear different perspectives. And our panels should not just be scientists – instead, we should mix it up and have conservation practitioners and government representatives present too. And for a change, perhaps we could hear the voice of our youth, to listen to their ideas and thoughts about the future of coral reefs. Without this diversity, we are not going to get very far finding those innovative solutions we need to save the world’s coral reefs.

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.

Understanding the role communities play in the sea cucumber fishery

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By Sangeeta Mangubhai

We are currently in Natokalau village, where we will be based for a week doing our value chain analysis surveys in different villages in Kubulau district, in Bua Province. Margaret Fox, Wildlife Conservation Society’s dynamic social scientist, has been leading the surveys with Tevita Vodivodi from the Department of Fisheries and our lively volunteers. Each day they sit down with fishers from different villages and ask them questions that help us understand their role and engagement in this fishery.

Questions vary from when they go fishing for sea cucumbers, how often and with whom, to questions relating to their catch and how much they earn from selling different species of sea cucumbers. We try and find out if they process the sea cucumbers themselves or prefer to sell the live animals to middlemen or exporters directly. Importantly, we ask how much the money they receive from sea cucumbers contributes to their fortnightly or monthly income. This allows us to understand how dependent they are on the resource, and if they have other options available to them, such as agriculture or copra.

Quality of the processing and the final product are important in this fishery and can impact on the income local communities make from their sea cucumbers. Villagers that know how, and how long to cook sea cucumbers without causing their skins to blister and break open get a better price for their product. Those that know how to gut, salt and dry the sea cucumbers get an even higher price, if it is done properly.

What has been interesting to learn is how some villagers operate individually, and others operate collectively. The ones that are operating collectively as a village, strictly controlling tabu areas and the timing of harvests appear to be doing much better. The money they earn gets used to provide facilities (e.g. schools, church) and village projects where everyone benefits. They also have stronger bargaining powers when it comes to selling their product, and more incentive to manage their fishery sustainably.

As Margaret and I reflected on this, she reminded me of an old slogan that was used in Fiji a few years ago that appears to be alive here in Kubulau – “Conservation Begins With Communities.”

Reflections on organizing the SCB Oceania Fiji conference

Author Stacy Jupiter (in blue mini-dress) with co-organizers Sangeeta Mangubhai and Rebecca Weeks and participants of a science writing and presenting workshop for young Pacific scientists

Author Stacy Jupiter (in blue mini-dress) with co-organizers Sangeeta Mangubhai and Rebecca Weeks and participants of a science writing and presenting workshop for young Pacific scientists

About 3 years ago, fellow WCS colleague and now President-elect of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) James Watson asked me to “throw my name in the hat” to get on the SCB Oceania Board.

Having no idea what this entailed, I penned a quick biography, shot it over to James, and thought nothing more about it until a few months later when he sent me a congratulatory note saying “You’ve been elected!”

His next words were, “We should have a conference in Fiji.”

Uh oh, I sighed. Here we go.

I have some experience running conferences. WCS Fiji ran two very successful Fiji Conservation Science Forums in 2009 and 2011. But those were easy and local.

For the SCB Conference, we had the challenge of developing a website and portal to accept registration, developing scientific content and associated workshops, inviting interesting plenary speakers, fundraising to support attendance by young Pacific Islanders, and ensuring there was enough money in the coffers to pay for all of the conference goodies (e.g. water bottles, bags, name badges, food, and evening entertainment – a must!).

The first thing to do was round up some help. I begged and arm-twisted a very capable team to form a local organizing committee, including the generous Gilianne Brodie and ebullient Randy Thaman of the University of the South Pacific (USP). The incredibly organized Tamara Osborne arranged for a team of 50 USP student volunteers to handle all of those nitpicky logistical issues and deal with the inevitable barrage of questions from confused participants during the event. Our dedicated student committee members, Moana Waqa and Aman Narayan, planned a fantastic student evening networking event. Our own Sangeeta Mangubhai went through round after round of refining the scientific program to ensure that we had well-matched content in sessions. Swee Kok knocked on doors all over town to wrangle up items for our silent auction to support local NGO NatureFiji-MareqetiViti in their work to develop a national park on Taveuni. Meanwhile, our two jacks-of-all-trade, Dwain Qalovaki and Mata St. John stayed up late into the evenings hoping, wishing, praying that everything would go to plan when the first event of the Society for Conservation Biology 2014 Fiji conference opened on July 7.

Some of the 50 USP student volunteers who so capably assisted at the SCBO 2014 Fiji conference

Some of the 50 USP student volunteers who so capably assisted at the SCBO 2014 Fiji conference

Having lost nearly all of my weekends and evenings since February to conference planning, I was at the end of a very thin rope by the time the first workshops began. I spent most of Sunday night awake after dreaming of lecture theatres getting flooded by tsunamis – clearly a projection of my internalized fear that utter disaster would befall us.

But the floods didn’t come. The projectors all worked (for the most part). People showed up who were registered. We had over 200 participants in total, coming from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, India, USA, Samoa, Kiribati, French Polynesia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Tonga and . . . of course, Fiji!

The most exciting part of all was seeing our Pacific students and young conservationists shine during the event. Their presentations ranged from shark biology, to conservation of bats and herpetofauna in Solomon Islands, to understanding home ranges of cuscus in Papua New Guinea, to cetacean songs in Fiji and Tonga, to distributions of coral disease, and much, much more.

So was all of the pain worth it? I can truly say that seeing the future of Pacific Island conservation made me forget about all of those dark hours fiddling with font size on the conference program. During the week I was able to develop new networks, showcase our good work from WCS Fiji, and show off what makes Fiji so special.

Vinaka vakalevu to all that were involved in organizing this truly successful event. We look forward to the next SCB Oceania conference in Brisbane in 2016 (just please don’t put us on the organizing committee!).

Keeping busy bees in Kavula

A joint blog post by Sirkka Killmann & Naomi Folaukitoga of WCS

As part of our Alternative Livelihoods Project in the province of Bua, Vanua Levu, we travelled on 12 and 13 November to facilitate a beekeeping training for a group of women in Kavula, a small village surrounded by luscious green mountains and countless fruit trees in the interior of Bua.

The Bua ladies in bee suits undergoing training. By Naomi Folaukitoga

The Bua ladies in bee suits undergoing training. By Naomi Folaukitoga

The women involved in honey production belong to a local women’s club selling their produce to buyers in Labasa for a low price, making very little profit out of it. Additionally, the women lack the skills and knowledge to tend to their bees properly in order to get maximum quantity and quality produce.

Therefore, at our last visit to the village, the women had expressed an urgent need for a basic beekeeping and marketing training in order to develop their honey production into a small business that could contribute to their livelihoods and to the food security of the whole community.

Led by the beekeeping expert from the Department of Agriculture in Labasa, Darmend Prasad, we organized a two-day workshop tailored to address the women’s needs in overcoming the challenges they were facing.

After our arrival by ferry at Nabouwalu, one broken down car and a flat tire later, we were warmly received by the Turaga ni Koro for Kavula village, Tomasi Se, who hosted us in his cozy bure. Following a hearty breakfast of dhal and rice the next morning, the workshop started off with hands-on practice at the beehives which are situated on a small hill overlooking the village.

It became clear that the hives had not been inspected since the last harvest three months ago, since a bee colony had already constructed an additional hive in between the boxes provided. This again showed the urgency of this workshop.

Looking for the queen bee during the  workshop. Photo by Naomi Folaukitoga

Looking for the queen bee during the workshop. Photo by Naomi Folaukitoga

Besides lessons on proper maintenance and inspection of beehives, the schedule included efficient ways of feeding the wax, grafting and wiring techniques and maintenance of frames. The second day was filled with information about proper breeding of queen bees, splitting techniques and marketing of honey, amongst others.

Darmend interacted very well with the ladies, challenging them constantly to take initiatives and give feedback and the time spent together was never short of jokes and laughter. The ladies were motivated to take better care of their bees and bring their beekeeping to the next level.

The ladies stated that most of the information was new to them and that the workshop had provided them with invaluable skills. Now it is up to them to put their new skills into practice.

We are very thankful to Darmend for sharing his time and knowledge and for the friendliness and hospitality received from the villagers. Apart from the excellent Buan dalo, we brought back five kilos of delicious organic honey as a sample which hopefully can be enjoyed all around Fiji in the near future!

This work is generously supported by the Flora Family Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Dharmend Prasad from the Fijian Department of Agriculture demonstrates how to feed the frames with wax using a car battery. Photo by Naomi Folaukitoga

Dharmend Prasad from the Fijian Department of Agriculture demonstrates how to feed the frames with wax using a car battery. Photo by Naomi Folaukitoga