From Fiji Times Online (19 March 2013)
Limit for more life
by Monifa Fiu
This is a people story with a twist to manage the unavoidable from a changing climate, amid growing demands of a tourism-based island economy in conjunction to unsafe resource-use practices. These sentiments maybe echoed across shores of many yet, still two maritime islands some 300 miles apart, have forged a learning association to share experiences on how its community is adjusting to climatic change via an integrated resource management framework in order to safeguard island way of life.
For this chapter of the story, imagine people from Rotuma and Naviti island in the Yasawa Group, sharing experiences mixed with a blend of western science in survey techniques, observation skills based on resource use knowledge and practice. Naviti is the largest island in the remote chain of islands in the Yasawas, off the coast of western Viti Levu and Rotuma is situated further northwest about two days' sail away.
Two weeks ago, a group from the LäjeRotuma Initiative (LRI) travelled to Naviti for a week from March 3-9, intent on facilitating a basic survey skills training and directing a marine baseline ecological survey of surrounding reefs and marine notable areas. The community on Naviti island with resort operators of Botaira, Manta Ray and Barefoot is in partnership with a tikina (district) level conservation initiative which represents the seven villages on the island.
This group under the umbrella initiative Tikina Naviti Conservation Initiative (TNCI) established a tabu system with its surrounding reefs crucial to sustaining environmental and local food security. In this Fijian context, the term tabu encapsulates the protection and nurturing values of the reef thus insuring a life-support system for a community, whilst adding value to the Yasawa corridor brand of tourism.
This partnership between the two island communities began five years ago when LRI, a community-based environmental Initiative was invited by TNCI to conduct environmental and climate change education awareness outreach with the villagers of Kese and Soso. Content was based on the nexus of a changing climate and how better to adapt to these changes by protective management of island resources as an integral part of culture that is inseparable from ethical and aesthetic values or from one's socio-economic reality.
The four-day island program was supported by an ongoing TNCI — Global Environment Facility Small Grants Program in collaboration with resorts Botaira, Barefoot and Manta Ray, ensured that 11 villagers were trained in basic reef and seagrass survey skills.
The crux of observing the fish, the type of reef surface and the kind of organisms found living on the reef were to determine how the reefs looked like and functioned, as baseline to sanctioned marine areas measure for protection. This baseline report allows for a "before" idea of management describing the status of these key marine habitat types based on health indicator species of fish, benthic life forms for the varied reef zones and seagrass areas. There are listed sanctioned tabu areas of mainly fringing or submerged patch reefs situated adjacent to villages, except for the "house reefs" fringing Botaira, Manta Ray and Barefoot resorts which were permanently protected from fishing except for snorkeling by its guests.
A take-home message for the community trained group inspired by the guiding principles of tabu management was to think about "to limit your catch, not catching your limit" and promoting the assessment, monitoring and protection of seagrass areas though its "local eyes global wise" volunteers network. Reef areas surveyed in the vicinity of Naviti island are in varying states, however, messages of the tabu may design the level of protection and access to such hot spots of fish galore and species of commercial abundance.
In consideration of the existing resource use challenges in such a dynamic tourism region within a setting of climatic change, such innovatory of partnerships with tourism operators and resource custodians is inspiring.
What is lasting with this partnership is that ten of the trainees will have the opportunity to be certified in the use of SCUBA (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) ensuring dive safety in an area where diving accidents become prevalent because of the lack of awareness.
This chapter ends here yet brings the next step closer for the tikina Naviti community in its quest for an intgerated resources management framework.
A fish wardens' training supported by the Department of Fisheries is scheduled for April, TNCI's next steps to recognising the listed sanctioned tabu reef areas for compliance and surveillance.
* Monifa Fiu is an environmental consultant and climate adaptation planner. She is also the co-ordinator for LajeRotuma Initiative. Email: email@example.com.