Fiji: Making the Great Sea Reef ‘greater’ for marine life and communities

Posted on 12 July 2017

In the Macuata province, fishermen, wholesalers, local chefs and sugarcane farmers are coming together to protect the Great Sea Reef for themselves and future generations.
Stretching along 200 kilometres of Fiji’s northern region is Cakaulevu, or the Great Sea Reef. With its vibrant hues and pristine beaches, it is often called ‘Fiji’s hidden gem,’ and the communities living here are determined to ensure it remains a treasure for generations to come.

The third longest reef in the Southern Hemisphere, Cakaulevu is home to 40 per cent of all known marine flora in Fiji and a variety of species including the endangered spinner dolphin and five of the seven marine turtle species.

The Great Sea Reef has sustained marine life and communities for centuries. Unfortunately, recent years have seen the reef reel under the impacts of unsustainable fishing practices, soil erosion and pollution from farm run-off and industrial waste- and local communities have taken it upon themselves to ensure the reef can withstand these threats and become more resilient.

The task -- to effectively manage 200 km of reef across four provinces where everyone is quietly managing their own qoliqoli (traditional fishing ground) in their own way – is challenging. However, a shared commitment and passion for the reef has helped turn the tide.

Together for the reef
In the Qoliqoli Cokovata, comprising of 40 villages in the Macuata province, the entire community – fishermen, wholesalers, local chefs and sugarcane farmers – has come together to protect the Great Sea Reef for themselves and future generations.

The youth have signed up to become turtle monitors and fishermen, who have been going out to sea for years, if not decades, are learning to fish more sustainably in designated areas and as per stipulated quotas. As they improve the quality and value of their catch, on land, wholesalers, hotels and local chefs are doing their bit to opt for (and promote) more locally sourced and sustainable seafood.

WWF is also working to ensure women are part of the change by providing financial and business development training to help establish small businesses in fish and seafood retailing.

Vilimaina Nakete, one of the members of the project who has set up a fish retail business, has taken a strong stand against unsustainable fishing and trade practices:
“I have decided not to buy undersized fish as it will continue to encourage (such) practices. It’s not good for business and we have to think about our grandchildren as well; I want them to enjoy fish to eat and still be able to sell fish for income.”

Conserving resources for future generations
Like Nakete, many families in the region have traditionally been almost completely reliant on fisheries for their livelihoods and income. As education, medical and transport costs rise and fish stocks come under increasing pressure, alternative revenue-generating initiatives are the need of the hour.

To help communities build sustainable livelihoods, WWF has established a microfinance scheme to provide funds for small businesses in chicken farming, piggery, bee-keeping, pineapple farming, and canteen sales of small goods. The fund works on a loan system and, to date, 80 per cent of recipients have repaid their loan on time.

Slowly but surely, the community is helping preserve the ocean generations before them have depended upon, with perseverance and pride.

As, Ratu Aisea Katonivere, the late Paramount Chief of Macuata Province who invited WWF, the University of the South Pacific (USP) and the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Areas network (FLMMA) to work in the area, has said, “the challenge is to ensure that we conserve some resources for our children and their children. We should take action now, and I am proud that we have been given the challenge to manage the third longest reef in the world.”

Read more about WWF’s work with coastal communities in Fiji as well as Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands and other Coral Triangle countries here
The Great Sea Reef supports a high marine biota including sea turtles that nest along the 200 kilometer stretch of the reef.
© Jurgen Freund
Fishermen doing the 'fish driving'. Tikina Wai, Fiji. There are two boats hitting the water to drive the fish into the net. This is a Marine Protected Area (MPA) area that is now open for fishing. Before the MPAs were set up the villagers didn't have enough fish so they had to buy meat from outside for food. Now villagers find more fish in the same area, within 2 hours they can catch 8 baskets and don't even have to buy any other meat. The fish from the MPAs, sold to generate income, is enough to make a living and meet obligations to Vanua, Church and family. This was a WWF Project that started together with mangrove protection areas in the same area. The MPAs have been in place since 2000.
© Brent Stirton / Getty Images
Greening sugar production will protect the Great Sea Reef and the livelihoods of thousands of people
© WWF Pacific/Jurgen Freund
The late Turaga na Tui Macuata Ratu Aisea Cavunailoa Katonivere, this pictures taken a couple of weeks before his death
© Jurgen Freund