New Network of Protected Areas Identified by Sawaieke District
Children of Sawaieke district on Gau Island, the fifth largest in Fiji, will benefit with food and water security and abundance of natural resources with an expanded network of protected areas
Villagers of Sawaieke District on Gau Island have identified an expanded network of protected areas, re-affirming their commitment towards the conservation and sustainable management of their natural resources.
Facilitated by WWF South Pacific, representatives from the eight villages within the Sawaieke district gathered at Vadradra village daily, for a protected area reconfiguration workshop over two days, from 24 - 26 September.
The workshop served as a stage for participants ranging from village headmen, women and youth representatives, clan leaders, fish wardens, land care reps, Government and non-government organisation officials to discuss and determine new marine areas for protection, which is an upscale from the permanent marine protected area established in 2005.
In making their decision, villagers were guided by both their traditional knowledge of priority areas and the results and recommendations of baseline surveys (Marine Biological survey, Mangroves, Sea Grass and Beach profiling, Freshwater surveys, Land use and Capability surveys) conducted by WWF South Pacific, Department of Landuse and Planning and Frontier International in 2011.
The newly proposed network consists of not just Marine Protected Areas but Forest Protected Areas and Freshwater Streams Protected Areas as well, exemplifying the principles of Ecosystem Based Management (EBM).
The Sawaieke Project is a strand of the larger EBM work, also carried out with the Qoliqoli Cokovata of Macuata district on Vanua Levu – enforcing the importance of an approach towards conservation that takes into account the linkages between the land and sea.
WWF Austria finances the EBM work on Gau Island which was committed to with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the Sawaieke Yaubula Management Committee and WWF South Pacific in 2011.
The MOU is aimed at safeguarding the district’s natural resources, enhancing rural development, ensuring food and water security and building islanders’ resilience to climate change through an effective link of protected areas.
WWF South Pacific Sustainable Coastal Resource Use and Management Programme Co-ordinator, Akisi Bolabola, said the network should effectively address resource management because it addresses the protection and restoration of three ecosystems.
“When identifying areas of protection and restoration, it is important to take into account socio-economic factors that affect communities' dependence on their natural resources, which includes the qoliqoli, freshwater ecosystems and terrestrial habitats. ,” Bolabola said.
WWF South Pacific Policy Officer, Alfred Ralifo, said the new areas identified by islanders will be mapped out and presented again to each of the eight villages within Sawaieke District.
“Only when villagers reach consensus on areas identified will we map out finalised areas for adoption,” Ralifo said.
“It’s a transparent, representative process and an important one as well because the whole community needs to work together if the purpose of protected areas is to be realised.”
Mata ni Tikina Sawaieke, Kalivati Sotia, said over the years islanders have witnessed the degradation of their natural environment.
“Before we started working with WWF there had been no proper management of our resources,” Sotia said.
“We used natural resources ruthlessly but I feel the situation has reversed and now there is greater appreciation about how critically dependent we are on our natural resources and the need to use it sustainably.”
Ratu Semisi Siga, a clan leader at Vadravadra village, said it gave him renewed hope to see the district unite in making decisions that affects not just their immediate future but that of Gau generations to come.
Sawaieke District Villages – Somosomo, Sawaieke, Nawaikama, Levuka-i-Gau, Nukuloa, Vadravadra, Yadua
Population - 1800