Friday, November 27, 2020

Reef Conservation at Waitabu Marine Park

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In September 2003 community members in Waitabu village on Taveuni in the Fiji Islands took part in an exciting project to protect the coral on a Tabu protected reef which has improved fishing and attracted tourism to the village for the past 5 years.

Boat Moorings and Boundary Markers installed at Waitabu Marine Park Marine, Taveuni, Fiji Islands Boundary markers and boat moorings were installed so that that the no-fishing Tabu area is clearly marked, and no more coral ­damaging anchors will be dropped. This was made possible by assistance from the international marine conservation organisation the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), and using "Reef Saver" stainless steel embedded pin technology that are set permanently into place and will not drag or rust out and damage the reef. A total of 6 boat moorings for use during the tourism trips and 6 boundary markers were drilled.

Community members assisted with the drilling and setting, and learned to splice ropes and construct the mooring tackle themselves. The project was carried out by Stuart Gow of Resort Support and Reef Savers, with considerable support from two of the local dive operators Aquaventure Taveuni and Aquatrek Taveuni at Garden Island Resort.

Reef Restoration at Waitabu Marine Park Marine, Taveuni, Fiji Islands At the same time a small Reef restoration project was started by Helen Sykes of Resort Support. Using techniques originally developed by Dr Austin Bowden-Kerby of the FSP – Foundation for the people of the South Pacific (now PCDF Partners in community Development Fiji), five "Fish Houses" were built and installed in a small area of the reef where coral is scarce.

These "Fish Houses" were built using coral rocks found on the beach, beach sand and cement. They are about 60 cm tall and 45 cm across, with windows left in the side. Once cemented onto the sea bed, they were planted with broken corals collected from storm damaged rubble beds.

It is hoped that these "Fish Houses" will provide shelter and breeding places for small fish and octopus, and that the planted coral will thrive and spread in the area. Community members built, placed and planted these houses, and if the expected benefits are seen, intend to build more in their fishing grounds to encourage breeding populations there.

BACKGROUND TO WAITABU MARINE PARK:

Waitabu is a village of 120 people on the North-east Coast of Taveuni, the third-largest island in the Fiji Islands. In 1998 the people of Waitabu embarked on one of the first locally-managed marine protection projects in Fiji, the Waitabu Marine Protected Area (MPA).

The community, with advice from Tourism Resource Consultants of New Zealand and Resort Support of Fiji, and supported by initial funding from NZODA, the New Zealand Overseas Development Agency (now NZAID), put a traditional "Tabu" on all fishing on a 1km stretch of their traditional fishing grounds. The villagers committed to doing no fishing or reef walking in the area for an indefinite period.

After protecting the area for one year, improved fishing catches were noticed over the rest of the reef. After two years, a small tourism trip was developed, again with the assistance of NZAID, TRC and Resort Support. This trip involves a half-day visit no more than once a week to reduce negative impacts on the village culture. The trip involves a ride on traditional "bilibili" bamboo rafts, snorkelling in the Marine Protected Area, and beach time, followed by tea and entertainment in the village. It provides a small but regular cash income for the community, and is allowing the younger people in the village to gain experience working with tourism.

Now, more than 5 years after the protection was started, the fish life in the MPA is back to what is considered a "normal" level for the reef area, and there are breeding populations of Giant Clams (Vasua), Edible Sea Urchins (Cawaki) and Trochus shells. The offspring of these animals can be caught on the fishing grounds bordering the park. Larger fish and more octopus are some of the benefits currently being enjoyed by the villagers.

This project has been successful solely because of the enthusiasm and commitment of the Waitabu villagers and the other communities in the area. Overseas funding dropped off after the coup of 2000, and for 2 years the project survived purely on the determination of the community and their project manager, Sala Apao, and two in-Fiji companies: Helen Sykes of Resort Support who provided biological advice and monitoring; and Tania De Hoon of Aquaventure Taveuni, a dive company who provided business and tourism advice and support.

Organizations involved:

Waitabu Marine Park is one of four community-based conservation related tourism projects in the Bouma Heritage Park of Taveuni. An email address for Bouma Heritage Park is being established [email protected] and should be active in the near future.

Visits to the Marine Park can be arranged through Aquaventure Dive Shop, Taveuni, or by calling Sala Apao the project leader in Waitabu on (679) 888 0451.

Resort Support is a private company based in Fiji, providing services for marine tourism and conservation projects [email protected], and working in partnership with Reef Savers moorings systems ( www.pacificreefsavers.com).

The project wishes to thanks Aquaventure Dive Shop and Aquatrek, Garden Island Resort, Taveuni, for their support and assistance, without which the moorings and markers could not have been put in place.

Waitabu Marine Protected Area is a member of FLMMA, the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Areas network. [email protected]

More information about CORAL can be found at http://www.coral.org

Reef Conservation at  Waitabu Marine Park 3
Cliff Etzel
Cliff is the former Freediving editor of DeeperBlue.com. He is now a freelance journalist and film-maker.

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