Gau Island, Fiji

Taking the first step: Baseline assessments

Marine biological baseline assessment of Gau's largest district Tikina Sawaieke's marine resources is the first attempt to map habitat health. It is an initial step towards providing information for the establishment and monitoring of protected or tabu areas.
WWF project sites in 2 villages
Tikina Sawaieke makes up the largest district or tikina in Gau, an island with land area of approximately 190 square kilometers. 2 out of the 8 villages are WWF project sites in which communities are assisted in developing and implementing their locally managed marine protected areas (LMMAs).

Limited qoliqoli coverage warrants baseline assessment
Prior to any management, it is essential to have an understanding of how much resources and types of resources exist. Although 2 communities of the district are covered, the overall habitat health and diversity is not bound by qoliqoli (traditional fishing grounds) boundaries. Therefore, a baseline assessment provided a broader scale with enough precision on detailed surveys to define existing habitats.

Community survey training
Earlier in February 2005, a team of divers traveled to the island and conducted a week-long community survey training and its baseline biological assessment of Tikina Sawaieke's I qoliqoli. Since the initiation of the project, a project officer was based at the community site, Sawaieke.

The 4-member marine training team included :
  • a Fisheries official
  • a seagrass watch volunteer,
  • a marine science technical person, and
  • a dive master volunteer
The last two from LäjeRotuma Initiative (a community partner in conservation with WWF Fiji Country Program). The team conducted a 2-day basic coral reef survey training for 3 selected community members certified in SCUBA diving previously acquired for beche-de-mer collection.
Gau Island, Fiji. 
	© ReefBase
Gau Island, Fiji.
© ReefBase
Community surveying training on Gau island, Fiji. 
	© WWFSPP / Monifa Fiu
Community surveying training on Gau island, Fiji.
© WWFSPP / Monifa Fiu

Survey results and findings

Diverse habitats
An extensive 20km barrier reef located 7km from shore protects the deep lagoon which characterizes the entire coastline of Tikina Sawaieke. Scoping revealed a diverse array of habitats ranging from
  • extensive seagrass meadows
  • muddy shores, and
  • mangroves which line the shoreline
Highest coral cover at inner patch reefs
The extensive barrier reef is cut by only a few channels, one of which is a known aggregation and popular diving site, called Naigali Channel. The deep lagoon hosts a patch work of inner patch reefs. Survey results indicate that highest coral cover was found at inner patch reefs.

No significant difference in coral cover and fish abundance
The tabu no fishing areas selected by the communities covered from headland to headland near the main village, making for easy surveillance by community. However, habitats and sites surveyed indicated no significant difference in coral cover and fish abundance when compared with areas under protection.
Community surveying training on Gau island, Fiji. 
	© WWFSPP / Monifa Fiu
Community surveying training on Gau island, Fiji.
© WWFSPP / Monifa Fiu

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