Communities and tourism working together to save marine life

Champions of the Marine World - Fiji Shores and Marinas 2019
Champions of the Marine World – Fiji Shores and Marinas 2019

Fiji’s abundant marine life

Fiji has more than 10,000 Km2 of coral reef around its coastal waters, and
they are the foundation of the Fijian peoples’ health and welfare. Healthy reefs and mangroves provide nutritious food all year long, and protect the land from damaging storms in cyclone season.

For the past 3,000 years Fijian people have fished for their subsistence livelihood, with fish and shellfish still providing much of the protein in a community’s diet.

Traditional women’s fish drive on Taveuni Island. Photo: Daniel Schmitt

Protection and management

More recently, as the islands’ populations have increased, overfishing has become a significant problem, with fewer, and smaller, fish being caught.

To correct this, many Fijian villagers have formed small marine protected areas (traditionally called “Tabu” areas) where fish and shellfish can breed for their long-term sustainability. Such protected areas are usually marked by a dead tree, sometimes with a coconut leaf flag, set upright as a reef marker, which will be observed by all traditional fishers in the area.

These sites are called Locally Managed Marine Areas, and more details can be found at the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Areas (FLMMA) network site: https://www.fijilmma.org/

Tabu area boundary at Totoya Island, Lau. Photo: Keith Ellenbogan

As well as these traditionally managed areas, there are other ways that marine protected areas have been created in Fiji.

Many of these have been supported in partnerships created between Tourism operators and their local communities, known as “Marine Conservation Agreements”

Locations of Marine Conservation Agreements in Fiji

Tourism/community partnerships

A report brought out by the Wildlife Conservation Society in 2018 documented 56 places in Fiji where marine protected areas have been created by such partnerships with resorts and dive operators.

The entire report, including 10 case studies of specific agreements with resorts and other tourism operators, can be downloaded on this website here .

Everyone benefits

The idea of Marine Conservation Agreements is that there should be some benefit received by the resource owners for their agreement not to fish an area. In some cases, such as the Namena Marine Park and the more recently formed Vatu-i-Ra Conservation Park, voluntary contributions made by divers contribute to scholarships to assist with education of local children. To date the Namena Marine Park has provided over 200 scholarships.

Snorkel guides at Waitabu Marine Park. Photo: Helen Sykes

In other cases there may not be a direct financial payment, but community members may gain job or business opportunities related to the protection of the marine environment. At Waitabu Marine Park on Taveuni Island,the community operate their own snorkelling day trip into the park for visiting tourists. The income generated reinforces the value of the Tabu area in
the minds of the community, and provides much- valued cash for local projects and traditional committments.

Even where there is no money involved, the fishing rights owners still benefit from improved marine ecosystems and sustainable fishing provided by the protected breeding grounds, and also gain a sense of pride and achievement in the management of their own natural resources.

The tourism operators who instigate and support these initiatives report that as well as the obvious benefits of better snorkelling and diving opportunities for their guests, the formation of these conservation agreements strengthens their relationships with the village communities as they work together for their mutual advantage.

Five main types of agreement used to create marine protected areas in Fiji

Informal Agreements

Subsistence fishing is primarily done by the local land owning unit, such as a village or larger community. Some, particularly those with interests in the tourism development of an area, are willing to stop fishing to enhance sustainability of employment.

Verbal or Documented Tabu

Traditional fishing rights means that individual communities can enter into conservation agreement without extensive formal processes. This can be done by a traditional leader or by a consortium of the heads of the fishing right owning clans (mataqali), declaring an area,”no-take” or tabu. This may be recognised by the traditional council (eg.Bose ni Tikina). and observed by fishing right owners in the vicinity.

Exclusion from Commercial Fishing

Traditional tabu areas may become part of the FLMMA network to aid in community-based management. it is a. possible to register a tabu area with the Ministry of Fisheries to exclude the area from commercial fishing licences.

Foreshore Lease or Licence

The ownership of the physical foreshore is vested in government,and may be leased or licensed (usually for development or aquaculture use) through the Min., of Lands and Mineral Resources

This has been investigated as a mechanism to strengthen the legal status of MPAs. It may affect fishing rights for the duration of the lease or licence, and involve an annual payment to government.

Statutory “Gazetted” Reserve

Under Section 9 of the Regulations of the Fisheries Act 1942,the Minister of Fisheries may declare areas as statutory protected reserves for the purpose of “prescribing areas and seasons within which the taking of fish is prohibited or restricted, either entirely or with reference to a named species”.

This has been used to create statutory reserves with fishing restrictions, fully recognised in the government gazette. The regulations apply to the traditional fishing resource custodians as well as any other party, including commercial fishers.

Currently, 63% of tourism operators have informal or verbal Tabu agreements, with another 28% having documented Tabu agreements with
local community leaders, based on traditional fishing rights ownership. Only 9% have legally- recognised agreements such as licences, leases
or statutory reserves. Many are happy with these traditional agreements, with only 37% wishing to progress to more formal protection.

However, all would welcome some increase in recognition of the protected areas, such as exclusion from commerical fishing licences.

As we progress rapidly towards 2020 and government commitments to strengthen marine protection come due for action, there is hope that the Ministry of Fisheries will be able to increase recognition of these cooperative efforts and increase partnerships between everyone who is
committed to the sustainable use of the coastal reef areas.

By supporting operations with such partnerships, visitors to Fiji can actively contribute to the conservation of the wonderful aquatic world that brought so many of them here in the first place, and help to ensure that it will still be here when their children start to explore the planet.

Waitabu Marine Park

Located in Bouma Heritage Park, Taveuni Island, visit a traditional Fijian village in the forefront of tourism supported marine conservation. Experience unique
20 year protected Waitabu reefs. Your visit directly supports future reef life, managed by & benefitting the local communities. LOVE IT? Homestays can be arranged.

YACHT ANCHORAGE ALSO AVAILABLE

Call 930 4588
www.waitabu.org

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This report was only made possible with the support of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and the tourism operators of Fiji who were so generous with their time and information. We are privileged in Fiji to have a tourism industry that is environmentally aware, and a system of traditional custodianship that allows local communities to manage their own natural resources.

This article was originally published in A Mariners Guide to FIJI Shores and Marinas 2019, pages 120 – 214

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