By: Sangeeta Mangubhai

While the rest of the country celebrated Fiji’s gold medal win at the Rio Olympics, Akanisi Caginitoba (Community Engagement Coordinator), Isoa Koroi (Community Engagement Officer) and I headed to Nasavu village to support the launch of a five year ecosystem-based management plan for Nadi District in Bua Province.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has been working with the four villages of Sawani, Nasawana, Nasavu and Nasolo since 2013 to help them develop a vision and management plan for their entire district, from the mountains down to the sea. Covering 83 km2 of land and 120.2 km2 of water, their management plan focuses on key targets determined by local communities – good quality drinking water, indigenous trees, healthy mangroves forests, and healthy freshwater and marine fish and invertebrates. (For non-scientists, invertebrates are animals without a backbone like prawns, crabs, lobsters, etc.).

Inspired by the efforts of Kubulau, Wainunu and Wailevu districts, the communities wanted to have a management plan to address their growing concerns about unsustainable practices that was impacting their natural environment, poor planning when it came to farming, fishing, use of trees and waste disposal, lack of understanding and enforcement of rules and regulations and their over-reliance on farming as a source of income.

The four coastal villages have extensive forests and catchment areas, a large portion of which falls within one of Fiji’s Key Biodiversity Areas and is therefore of national significance. Sixty-nine percent of forests in Nadi District are still considered primary forest, hosting a range of endemic trees unique to Fiji, and some endemic to the island of Vanua Levu.

To protect these valuable resources and the freshwater systems they are reliant on for water and food, the communities have declared a freshwater protected area, incorporating a river and its tributaries, and two forest protected areas. In the sea, the community have declared an impressive 10 tabu areas, a seasonal fishing closure used traditionally in Fiji and the wider Pacific. Within the tabu areas different forms of fishing (including for their totem species the sea cucumber known locally as dairo) are prohibited for periods of 5 or 10 years. Together these tabu areas form an inter-connected network of protected areas, that will help protect and sustain community fisheries.

As we entered the village for the official launch Akanisi told me that “the management plan brought the four villages together in way that had not been done before, and help resolve internal conflicts around poaching.”

The launch brought together all the traditional leaders and village representatives to bless and then sign the management plan. Within minutes of signing they began a lengthy discussion on the most important steps they would take to start implementing the plan. One of these steps included presenting the plan to the Department of Fisheries to ensure any future commercial fishing licenses included a map of areas where fishing was not allowed.

As the mata ni tikina of Nadi district, Mr. Ilaisa Naleba so eloquently said “Today is a celebration of all the work we have been doing for the last couple of years in tikina (district) Nadi. While Fiji is celebrating the Rio Gold today the people of Nadi signed their management plan to protect our own gold, our natural resources.”