“Areas of importance to us has been passed down traditionally from our forefathers. However being in the same room as all our stakeholders has provided an opportunity to link traditional, economic and biodiversity values in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape”, said Tui Wailevu Ratu Saiasi Rogoyawa.

Over the course of a day and a half, thirty-two stakeholders from the Vanua, government, tourism and conservation sectors gathered to identify potential spaces that could be set aside as marine managed areas within the Vatu-i-Ra seascape provinces of Bua, Lomaiviti, Ra and Tailevu.

Opening this first of its kind event, the Fijian Ministry of Fisheries and Forests Permanent Secretary Inoke Wainiqolo said, “An economic valuation of tourism and fisheries in 2014 estimated the annual value of fisheries and tourism in Vatu-i-Ra Seascape at 72M FJD.

Considering the economic contribution of the area to Fijian livelihoods, Mr Wainiqolo added that the workshop was timely and is the first step to moving forward with strategies to protect the ecosystems and biodiversity in the seascape.

Facilitating the workshop, Dr. Sangeeta Mangubhai of the Wildlife Conservation Society said that “it was a means of bringing together stakeholders that call the seascape home and to identify areas that are highly important to each group as well as to explore opportunities to set aside spaces that can be included in marine managed areas”.

“We are looking at this amazing space that is a source of wealth not only economically but also traditionally; we need to understand how do people use it; what activities can overlap and co-exist, and what activities cannot overlap. For example, you wouldn’t have a major transport route that sits over an area where divers go because that becomes unsafe,” Mangubhai continued.

A recent focus of the Fijian Government has been the formulation of the Green Growth Framework in 2014 that seeks to balance socio-economic growth with environmental stewardship. More specifically, the establishment of deeper water marine managed areas targeting 30% of offshore areas by 2020 is an immediate national priority for the next 5 years.

Central to the workshop was an activity that required stakeholders to map out areas of importance to each sector and justify its values. At the conclusion of the workshop, participants from the Vanua, government, tourism and conservation sectors were eager to progress strategies and robust policies that protectthe seascape and its values, while allowing different sectors to use the area.

Words by Dwain Qalovaki.