Dives and surveys to determine reef health
Leading the survey team Alfred Ralifo, WWF-South Pacific’s policy officer said vibrant reefs would serve as an indicator of the effectiveness of marine protected areas.
The marine biological monitoring survey commenced with dives into qoliqoli waters of the people of Mali district, which makes up a portion of the 1344 km2 fishing grounds collectively owned by four districts – Mali, Dreketi, Sasa and Macuata.
Since 2005, WWF-South Pacific on the invitation of the late Tui Macuata Ratu Aisea Katonivere has engaged the four districts by assisting and guiding the setup of marine protected areas that make up about 11% (150kmsq2) of the entire fishing grounds.
Marine protected areas in this province were setup to support the protection of the Great Sea Reef, an important barrier reef system that is bedrock for Fijis fishing industry, tourism activities and an important biodiversity focus area for WWF.
The question being asked – have these MPAs been effective at least within the survey area.
The scope of this survey didn’t cover the entire expanse but rather focused on four fringing reefs, Vuata, Sese, Deladravu and Bulewa Vula, near Mali Island. It is the first time such a survey has being held and similar ones are planned for other reef systems within the Qoliqoli Cokovata of Macuata.
The survey is a component of a project attempting to pilot qoliqoli (traditional fishing ground) management at the district level as opposed to the previous four-district level.
The project, titled “Building Effective Community Driven Governance Systems in Mali District to Enhance Community Access to Food, Income Generating Opportunities and Livelihoods,” is funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs of Australia through its Fiji Community Development Programme.
Other funders of the project include WWF-United Kingdom, WWF-Austria and the Packard Foundation.
The survey team observed reef health indicators for example coral reef abundance, coral cover, fish and invertebrates’ diversity and abundance including other marine creatures and fish sizes as well.
Ralifo said data collected this time would be measured against statistics from 2006 to provide a comparative analysis of reef health then and now.
“We need to monitor the effectiveness of the MPA and the impact of fishing activities for the last few years and to get a status of the qoliqoli and the biodiversity to inform improved district management,” he said.
“Good reef health would indicate that the marine protected area is working.
“We can use this data to decide if we need to review the current management plan and make a new one or strengthen implementation,” Ralifo said.
This may involve the review of management rules related to the MPA for instance the prohibition of night diving, the use of gillnets, catching of undersized fish and enforcement of no-take zones.
To build local capacity, eight community members participated in the diving excursion, learning all pertinent information about their reef systems and marine resources that they can then share within their communities to advocate for the protection of their qoliqoli.
The survey lasted two weeks.