Focus on the Great Sea Reef
The largest reef system in Fiji, the Great Sea Reef (GSR) is the inspiration behind a series of consultations being held in the four provinces – Bua, Macuata, Ba and Ra targeted at developing a strategy for its sustainable management.
Planned over eight months, the consultations that commenced in October 2013 are spearheaded by the Commissioner Northern’s and Western’s office and supported by WWF South Pacific.
The Great Sea Reef is the longest and most complex reef system in Fiji and considered by experts to be the third longest barrier reef in the Southern Hemisphere. It runs over 200 kilometers from the north eastern tip of Udu Point in Vanua Levu, hugging the Macuata coastline to Bua, veering seaward across the Vatu-i-ra Passage to meet and connect to the Yasawas, curving back towards land to hug the south west coastline of Viti Levu around the Nadi/Nadroga area.
A national resource, the GSR is believed to directly support the foundations of the commercial fisheries and tourism sectors, major economiccontributors to the Fijian economy.
However, there is little appreciation and scientificdataabout the GSR that may explain the lack of a management plan to preserve its viability.
Due to the increasing number of threats and pressure placed on the GSR system from direct (overharvesting, destructive fisheries etc) and indirect sources (sedimentation, chemical pollution etc) there is an urgent need to consolidate efforts to devise a national management strategy for the system.
Anecdotal data estimates 80 percent of fish supplies in Fijifor the million dollar commercial inshorefisheries industry comes from the GSR.
Dozens of tourism operators use the recreational aspect of the reef, such as surfing and scuba diving, as a unique selling point when marketing Fiji as an ideal tropical destination.
Thousands more who live in coastal communities adjacent to the 200 kilometer stretch, derive their food directly from the GSR and are protected from the onslaught of large ocean waves, being a natural barrier.
The strategy therefore acts as a guiding document providing strategic prescriptions that will help its sustainable management and to maintain its viability.
GSR Consultant Francis Areki said a complex mix of stakeholders includes the direct beneficiaries of the GSR, namely communities and qoliqoli owners, commercial entities like fisheries and tourism operators and others like mining participants who also bear some influence on the health of the reef system.
“The consultation considers what the strategy needs to address when looking at the GSR and discussions fall under several thematic areas,” he said.
“A thematic area is biodiversity and this is a crucially important one because the viability of the reef as a driver of economic activities and a source of food security is in jeopardy if the survival of marine lifeand associated ecosystems is not ensured.
“And if need be, a network of marine protected areas along the 200 kilometer stretch of the GSR will be considered.
“Another thematic area is sustainable financing for if Government decides to take on the management of this reef system it may need to consider implementing a user pay fee system, and green taxes as incentives for supporting reef protection.
“Discussions have also highlighted the need for more awareness about the GSR to improve national appreciation for it. We find that many Fijians don’t know what the GSR is or even where it is located albeit the significant role and service it provides us.
“Data management to accurately indicate the value of the GSR and its contributions to the national economy is also identified as a priority.
“So the diversity of the groups being consulted includes beneficiaries of the reef and industriesthat have animpact in on the GSRand derive appropriate recommendations in each of the provinces, to ensure a holistic consultation.”
Strategy designers are also keeping in mind that it must be aligned to national policies, Fiji’s international commitments such as to the Convention of Biodiversity (CBD)and support the intent of Pillar 5 of the Peoples Charter of Achieving Economic Growth while Ensuring Environment sustainability.
“Arriving at the right decision requires juggling competing interests of protecting biodiversity and allowing economic growth to occur. Finding the middle ground is always a challenge,but the strategy derived from the consultations must be innovative, practical and sensitive enough to encourage current and future economic growth within the sustainable confines of biodiversity protection and natural resource management” Areki said.
The 20 year strategy is constructed to be a dynamic one; flexible enough to absorb environmental, geopolitical and socio-economic projectedchanges over a 20 year timeframe and will be implementable with a two year action plan cycle.
Once developed, the GSR strategy will be the platform to lobby legal and financial commitment for the national management of this significant reef system.