The Wildlife Conservation Society, Fiji Program office in collaboration with the Ministry of Fisheries and Forests hosted the second workshop on “Marine Spatial Planning for the Vatu-I-Ra Seascape” at the Tanoa Plaza Hotel on Suva on 8th -9th December, 2015. The Acting Permanent Secretary for Fisheries and Forest, Sanaila Tuiqali was the chief guest.

The meeting is a follow up from the workshop earlier held in July, 2015 where representatives from government, industries and civil society organisations re-looked at important areas and uses in offshore or deeper water areas of the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape that had been mapped out. The stakeholders had identified potential marine protected or marine managed areas within the Seascape. The second workshop, stakeholders gained consensus on the placement, size and location of marine managed areas, and developed specific zoning for each.

Marine spatial planning is a tool and a practical way to create and establish a more rational use of marine space and the interactions among its uses, to balance demands for development with the need to protect the environment, and to deliver social and economic outcomes in an open and planned way. Given that the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape, is one of the most diverse and productive areas in Fiji, with the tourism and fisheries sector alone contributing at least FJ $71 million annually to the national economy, marine planning for the area will ensure that this economic amongst the cultural, social and biological values, which in most cases, are not costed are protected and sustainably managed.

The workshop is a consultative process following a bottom-up approach to engage, collaborate and coordinate with key stakeholders and users from the four provinces of Tailevu, Bua, Ra and Lomaiviti encompassed within the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape. This process will also better inform and guide decision making that affects the stakeholder’s economic, environmental, security, social and cultural interests.
The successful establishment of potential marine managed areas/zones in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape will positively contribute to the government of Fiji’s commitment to protect 30% of its seas, including deep water offshore areas by 2020. This process is expected to pave a way for other important Seascapes, in particular offshore marine areas in Fiji to go through a similar planning process.

Words by Dwain Qalovaki and images by Harri Davis