By Ruci Lumelume

The Wildlife Conservation Society has been working with communities from district of Nakorotubu in the province of Ra, the Ra Provincial office, key tourism operators, traditional/customary owners of Vatu-i-Ra Island since 2015 to develop a management plan for the Vatu-i-Ra Conservation Park, and to establish a voluntary contribution to conservation scheme.

The resource owners would also like to see these areas including the surrounding reefs protected because of their cultural, historical and biological significance. These areas have been found to be increasingly under threat from human activities including burning, littering and illegal fishing. The designation of the area as a conservation park and its management plan will guide what activities can or cannot occur, and help conserve this national biodiversity treasure.

On 8 February 2016, WCS facilitated a workshop with community representatives from the Nakorotubu districts, tourism operators, Ra Provincial Office and NGOs like Birdlife International and Nature Fiji-Mareqeti Viti, to finalize the management plan. There was great consensus on the rules that would apply to terrestrial and marine parts of the Conservaton Park. Participants hope to finalise and have the management plan endorsed at one of the district meetings later this year.

The completion of the management plan for the Vatu-i-Ra Conservation Park will serve as the foundation for setting up a voluntary contribution to conservation scheme, similar and modelled off the Namena Marine Park Reserve in Kubulau. It is hoped that the fund, if managed in an open and transparent way, will contribute to the conservation of this highly diverse area, protect the cultural and historical values that are important to local communities, while supporting education and community development that improves the quality of life and living standards resource owners and communities in the Nakorotubu district.