September 21, 2023
A key component of the United Nations Endorsed Project Science Without Borders®: Conserving the Tropics is outreach and community engagement. During the joint outreach and fieldwork campaign with the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation (KSLOF) and Pacific Blue Foundation (PBF), four villages were visited in the Beqa-Yanuca Seascape. Community engagement and outreach are both important cultural practices for the Chief’s blessing and permission to work on the reef surrounding the villages, but they are also important for visiting scientists to gain valuable local knowledge about the nearshore ecosystem. The final component of the outreach program was to teach several local community members the survey methods for collecting coral reef transect data.
The lagoon is surrounded by several villages, each with its own unique character and traditions. The KSLOF and PBF team worked with four of these communities: Naisomo, Raviravi, Rukua, and Yunuca. The most important first step for community engagement in the Fijian islands is meeting with the head Chief and other community elders to receive permission to work in the waters near to their village. The meeting is called a sevu sevu. The sevu sevu must be done before any work in the water or on shore is started. It is considered extremely disrespectful if this cultural practice is not followed by outside visitors.
During the meeting with the Chief and his advisors, it is customary to partake in a ceremonial drink called kava. It is traditionally prepared by pounding sun-dried kava root into a fine powder, straining it, and mixing it with cold water in a large bowl called a tanoa. Tanoas are carved out of a native hardwood and often have designs to reflect the history of the village. The kava mixture is then poured and drunk out of a bilo, which are small cups carved from coconuts. As the kava is shared amongst the villagers and visitors, the Chief asks what the purpose of the visit is and how it will benefit the community.
September 19, 2023
The reefs surrounding the Beqa Lagoon in Fiji have endured many events that threaten their ability to survive, including bleaching events, crown-of-thorns outbreaks, and cyclone damage. These reefs are incredibly important to the people of the region, and to save them, the surrounding villages and communities want to have a pulse on the health of their marine resources. To help manage these threats and monitor locally managed marine areas, or tabu,the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation is working with Mila Matairakula, a master’s student and Pacific Blue Foundation’s Environmental Officer. Her project, Small Scale Assessment of Changes in Coral Genus Using the Machine Learning Tool, CoralNet: A Case Study in Rukua Village, Beqa, will focus on streamlining in-water survey protocols to develop a more accurate and cost-effective method for coral reef monitoring.
One of the first test sites in Beqa Lagoon is Rukua Village, which has several traditional protection areas (tabu) and designated fishing grounds (qoliqoli). These areas have historically been managed locally by community members to help keep fishing pressure and coral reef damage to a minimum. However, there have not been sufficient monitoring protocols to evaluate how these managed areas are faring. If the coral reef ecosystem is stressed and overfished, it greatly affects the lives and food security of the village…
July 6, 2023
The Lau Seascape Initiative (LSI) is a program that focuses on the conservation and protection of marine ecosystem resources in the Lau region of Fiji. With multiple stresses such as climate change and overharvesting of coastal fisheries, the Indigenous peoples of Lau, in conjunction with the NGO Conservation International, have joined together to create a roadmap for protecting Lau’s biodiversity and ecosystems while in tandem with promoting sustainable development solutions for the local stakeholders.
One of the goals of this program was to bring together scientists, traditional leaders, government officials, and the people of Lau for the LSI Planning Retreat. The retreat took place in early March of this year in Suva, Fiji’s capital city. I was asked by Conservation International to speak to the LSI group about past work conducted in Lau by The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation (KSLOF) as well our future work with our in-country conservation partner the Pacific Blue Foundation. The title of my presentation Reefs of Lau Province: Past, Present, and Future, explains local, regional, and global context for status of the Lau reefs and what new technologies and methods KSLOF is helping refine for sustainable coral reef management…