Last night we stayed up late sharing a bowl of yaqona (also known as kava) and talked about some of the findings of the tabu surveys with village leaders, and what the results mean for their community. There is great enthusiasm to expand the tabu area further north, south and out to sea to provide a larger area for fish recovery. Inoke who is a passionate conservationist from the village and quite the visionary, suggested we do a trip to look at the areas he is proposing and to do a quick assessment of how healthy the reefs were on the outer reefs that are connected to deeper oceanic waters.

Outer Reef near the lighthouse. Image by Sangeeta Mangubhai

Outer Reef near the lighthouse. Image by Sangeeta Mangubhai

So we navigated our way around patch reefs in the lagoon out to a lighthouse that marks the northern most point of the reef surrounding Ovalau Island. As we dropped into the water we were delighted to see a healthy thriving coral community along the top of the outer reef and dropping down the slope to at last 20m. The top of the reef generally has more sturdy varieties of coral, as it has to withstand ocean swell and crashing waves throughout the different seasons. Corals often do better in these locations as cooler water comes off the ocean and mixes in the water column keep corals cool and free of heat stress.

Thriving corals in on the outer reefs of Ovalau. Image by Sangeeta Mangubhai

Thriving corals in on the outer reefs of Ovalau. Image by Sangeeta Mangubhai

Unfortunately the fish populations were not thriving as well and we saw clear signs of overfishing – very few predatory fish like groupers (known locally as kawakawa and donu) and few large herbivorous fish. Samu Baravilala, who is also assisting us from Nauouo village, demonstrated a popular fishing method used on these reefs and talks about how hard it is to sometimes catch fish.

Sangeeta's favourite part of her job, diving. Image by Waisea Nasilisili

Sangeeta’s favourite part of her job, diving. Image by Waisea Nasilisili

As we travel back, we talk more about the importance of placing tabu areas in the right places. How important it is to protect a full range of habitats, especially if we want to ensure fish recovery is maximised. Our time in Nauouo highlighted the importance of the work we are doing. Communities urgently need better guidelines on managing tabu areas to ensure their efforts are resulting in better fisheries management. Better fisheries management means there will be enough fish for the next generation to enjoy!

Healthy coral communities in Ovalau. Image by Sangeeta Mangubhai

Healthy coral communities in Ovalau. Image by Sangeeta Mangubhai