In February, members of Vuya Village officially blessed their marine protected areas and launched their natural resource management plan. This special event began with a traditional kava ceremony for the district chief, Tui Vuya, and was followed by prayer and blessings from the church. The community has designated three different marine managed areas to protect fish and invertebrates and to help generate income for the community.
Located less than 10 km from the port of Nabouwalu in Bua Province on the south-west coast of Vanua Levu, the people of Vuya are heavily dependent on natural resources for their health and livelihoods. For this reason, the village created both development and natural resource management plans which focus on ways they can improve the status and well-being of their community. They feel that it is their duty as the “vanua” and as Christians to take care of the land and sea, and that they shouldn’t be reliant on outsiders to do so.
Their marine protected areas (known locally as tabu) are not designated to be permanent ‘no-take zones’ but traditional temporal closures to help the community use their resources more wisely so there will always be enough now and for the children of the future. They will also help the community generate income through a newly established pearl oyster farm and community plans to sustainably farm beche-de-mer (or dried sea cucumbers).
Acknowledging the connectivity between ecosystems and taking a “ridge to reef” approach, community protected forest areas have been designated surrounding their drinking water sources. Village by-laws have been created to prohibit farming or cutting trees within 10 metres of any watercourse.
“The biggest challenge is ensuring that everyone works together to deliver the plan” said Mateo Rasili, a village elder who has been heavily involved. “There are about 570 people in Vuya including seven settlements and six religions. We try to focus on good governance as the foundation for any work we do.
In the past two years we have been working to try to bring the different community groups closer together and respect each other in spite of any differences. Projects like our mangrove nursery and the women’s chicken coop have helped bring us together and we have been utilizing our cultural ties and traditional community structure to help achieve our goals. ”
Vuya villagers are currently working with other communities to develop the Vuya District Ecosystem-Based Management Plan, incorporating a wider network of protected areas and management rules covering all ecosystems. The Vuya village model shows how relationship building, awareness raising and collective action can inform ‘bottom-up’ community planning and establish a solid foundation for collaborative management.
Words and images by Brooke McDavid, U.S. Peace Corps volunteer