From Watersheds to Coral Reefs: Working to Manage Coastal Ecosystems in Fiji in an Integrated Way

The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

In the Western Pacific, the archipelagic nation of Fiji includes more than 800 high islands, cays, and islets. Holding roughly 4% of all coral reefs in the world, Fiji includes the third-longest barrier reef on Earth - the Great Sea Reef, or Cakau Levu. Most of the country's population of 945,000 people live along the coast, and many rely on the sea's resources for food and income. Fijian lifestyles, history, and customs - including the traditional use of tabu areas in Fijian resource management - all reflect the islanders' relationship with the sea.

Despite the importance of Fijian seascapes, they are under threat, partly from direct overuse (i.e., overfishing of reefs) and partly from the downstream effects of various land-use practices, including rapid land conversion from forestry and agricultural activities. "These threats are compounded by a weak national legislative framework and enforcement capacity, and the lack of alternative livelihoods," says Stacy Jupiter, director of the South Pacific program for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Her organization is partnering with other NGOs, academics, government, and villages to address the threats in an integrated way.

Four-pronged approach

The program aims to promote an EBM-based plan for Fiji's watersheds, coral reefs, and fisheries. It is doing this through a four-pronged approach:

  1. Establishing community-managed protected areas linking ridge to reef;
  2. Assisting communities to diversify fishing- and forest-based incomes;
  3. Providing recommendations to national and local managers to strengthen policies for natural resource management and biodiversity conservation; and
  4. Applying scientific tools to understand the nature of ecosystem linkages and community capacity to adapt to changing environmental conditions. The scientific tools include analyses of long-term coral records to assess impacts of runoff from nearby mining operations; underwater video surveys of fish responses to fishing pressure; and high-resolution habitat maps to create spatial models of fish assemblages.

Aaron Jenkins of Wetlands International-Oceania (WIO), an institutional partner on the EBM project, says a threat to Fijian seascapes is the "myopic partitioning" of habitat types and sectors in conservation and development. "Actual ecological and social processes interplay across habitats and sectors," says Jenkins. "At a broad level we are trying to address unsustainable fishing practices and land-use practices at the scale at which ecological and social processes are operating. While we have a lot of resources and effort dedicated to marine protected area network design and monitoring, we are also trying to get beyond an MPA approach."

So in addition to MPA network development, the program is involved in establishing and encouraging adjacent locally managed forest protected areas in strategic areas of rivers (such as critical headwaters that provide for recharge of water), as well as setting up community-based re-planting of river buffer zones. "With local participatory consultation and science, we have developed the first ecosystem-scale management plan for one of our project sites," says Jenkins. "We are striving continually to be more holistic in our approach to management and see where crucial intersections for management intervention are within the 'ecoscape'" - a term he uses to describe the combination of landscape, seascape, and human well-being.

Institutional partnering

To manage these integrated factors requires the partnering of institutions, each with its own strengths. Responsibilities have been divided accordingly. The main NGO partners on the Fiji EBM program are WCS (responsible for marine surveys and intervention), WIO (freshwater/estuarine surveys and intervention), and WWF (socioeconomic studies and community engagement). The NGOs are also members of the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area network (FLMMA), and collaborate closely with the University of the South Pacific, the Fiji Department of the Environment, and the Fiji Ministry of Forests and Fisheries.

"Communication is the key to successful partnerships," says Jupiter of WCS. "From the start, it was important to agree on a common vision and objectives. The Fiji EBM partners meet regularly to keep each other informed on project progress. Having multiple organizations speaking with a common voice has made government departments and other conservation partners more receptive to EBM principles and science."

Jenkins says a major positive move has been the hiring of a full-time project coordinator who is answerable to the project and not to any one organization. The project coordinator is Sunil Prasad, a local Indo-Fijian with a master's degree in conservation biology. He organizes regular meetings and exchanges, and keeps the partners on track for project deliverables. Says Jenkins, "Between all of our organizations, we have dozens of projects going on simultaneously that are not necessarily related to the EBM project. With the coordinator answerable to the EBM project only, this allows him to remain focused and unbiased."

Land-based industry has been relatively slow to partner on the project to this point. "We are still having difficulties in meaningfully engaging with some of the more land-based extractive sectors such as logging, mining, and large-scale agriculture," says Jenkins.

Management indicators

The vision for the project is "Healthy people, processes, and systems", which is reflected in its study of indicators. The project is measuring factors from the effect of protection on river and reef fish species, for example, to the effect of that same protection on fishers' incomes (the findings of which have been used in Marxan-based analyses of potential closed areas).

"Thus far, our results from coral reef areas show that the positive benefits of no-take closures - i.e., significant increases in fisheries biomass and abundance - can be wiped out by a single, intensive fishing event or too-frequent, less-intensive harvests," says Jupiter. "In freshwater systems, we have found that catchment land clearing and the presence of introduced tilapia have strong negative effects on native fish diversity. However, community controls on activities within riparian zones and freshwater streams may reduce these threats."

Eventually the project will assess an even broader array of indicators. "We are hoping to expand the measurement of ecosystem health to incorporate a set of waterborne disease indicators for adjacent populations of people," says Jenkins. "This will hopefully provide some guidance on the intersection of ecosystem-scale management and human health, and is part of our future plans."

For more information:

Aaron Jenkins, Wetlands International-Oceania, c/o Marine Studies Program, University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji. E-mail: jenkins_a [at] usp.ac.fj

Stacy Jupiter, WCS South Pacific Program, Suva, Fiji. E-mail: sjupiter [at] wcs.org

Sanivalati Navuku, WWF, Suva, Fiji. E-mail: snavuku [at] wwfpacific.org.fj

EBM Kubulau Bulletin (2008, Wildlife Conservation Society-Fiji):www.reefbase.org/pacific/pub_A0000004575.aspx

Ecosystem-Based Implementation of Management in Marine Capture Fisheries: Case Studies from WWF's Marine Ecoregions (2007, WWF). Includes case study on WWF's marine ecoregion work in Fiji: http://assets.panda.org/downloads/wwf_ebm_toolkit_2007.pdf


BOX: On communicating EBM in Fiji

"When communicating with local communities, the media, and non-scientific audiences, we tend to use the term 'ridge to reef management'. The term is readily understood by Fijians who have traditionally governed their natural resources from terrestrial forests out to the reef's edge. However, when we speak to government and organizations in the conservation sector, we use the terms 'ecosystem management' or 'ecosystem-based management' as a way to incorporate human dynamics, cross-sectoral engagement, and ecosystem linkages into national-scale planning." - Stacy Jupiter, Wildlife Conservation Society

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