By: Sangeeta Mangubhai

Lagoons have always fascinated me. The size, shape and length of a lagoon, and the number of channels that connect inner lagoonal waters with the open ocean influence the types of coral communities that form within. Because of the amount of sand in the lagoon that sits between the two islands of Kaibu and Yacata in northern Lau Group, I had fairly minimal expectations about what I might see.

But nature has a way of surprising us, even the more seasoned coral ecologists!

Diving in shallow water not more than 2 metres deep on a rising tide, I turned a corner to find a intricately layered wall of bright yellow Turbinaria coral (cabbage corals) sitting on a sandy bottom and almost reaching the surface. Turn another corner, and we found ourselves swimming through massive huge domes of Porites coral. Further into the lagoon we found thickets of branching Porites with blue chromis and juvenile parrotfish hiding within. The high numbers of juvenile parrotfish recorded suggests it is an important nursery area for these fish.

We learned from Katy Miller, the Director of the Vatuvara Foundation that the area had been a tabu between 2011 to 2015. Tabus are traditional temporary closures made by communities for periods of 6 months to 5 years for cultural reasons or for maintaining their fish stocks. The decision to close their reefs happened after an education and awareness visit by staff from the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area Network and the University of the South Pacific.

There are many times when we survey tabu areas that are poorly selected unproductive coral reefs that are unlikely to do much to increase local fish populations. But on this occasion it looks like the tabu area is in the right spot! Before we leave northern Lau, we will present our results back to the local community and encourage them to reconsider declaring the area tabu again.

Over the coming years the Vatuvara Foundation would like to work closely with the Yacata village to help set up a network of tabu areas that can serve as “fish banks” in the water. These fish banks, if well designed can also support the tourism industry, creating “win-win” situations for all. There are now growing examples of partnerships like these forming between the tourism and local communities all over Fiji.