By Ruci Lumelume

The Wildlife Conservation Society has been working with the local communities, tourism operators and the Ra Provincial Office to support the establishment of the Vatu-i-Ra Conservation Area Park and a voluntary contribution to conservation scheme (or marine conservation agreement).1

A Marine Conservation Agreement (or MCA) is any formal or informal contractual arrangement that aims to achieve ocean or coastal conservation goals in which one or more parties (usually right-holders) voluntarily commit to taking certain actions, refraining from certain actions, or transferring certain rights and responsibilities in exchange for one or more other parties (usually conservation-oriented entities) voluntarily committing to deliver explicit (direct or indirect) economic incentives (www.mcatools.org).

The Conservation Park was set up to protect the unique biodiversity of the island and the surrounding reefs and critical breeding grounds for fish, as well as the unique cultural history of the area. In October/November 2016, in partnership scientists from James Cook University and Conservation International, WCS led surveys to establish baseline socioeconomic data to assess the impact of the proposed MCA, using a Before-After-Control-Impact (BACI) design, and following a monitoring and evaluation framework2,3 developed for MCAs in Fiji. Six villages were surveyed in Nakorotubu District which is establishing the MCA, and four neighbouring ‘control’ villages in Rakiraki District, all within Ra Province. Preliminary results from the surveys suggested there was reasonable knowledge within communities of the existing tabu area and proposed Conservation Park, but limited knowledge about the MCA, and specifically the financial instrument being proposed.

To address this gap, in December, 2016 and January 2017, the WCS and the Ra Provincial Office led a roadshow across nine sub-districts within Nakorotubu District. The officials presented information on the Conservation Park and also the management rules that applies to the Park. The roadshow was part of the socialization and awareness program to all communities with access rights to the Nakorotubu District customary fishing grounds. Moreover, the roadshow provided an opportunity to raise concerns and get clarification on issues they may have.

Following the completion of the roadshow an update was provided to traditional leaders at the Bose Vanua for the Nakorotubu District, in February, 2017. The meeting was held at Namarai village, and was attended by 100 head of clans and representatives from the nine districts within Nakorotubu and government representatives. Traditional leaders and representatives provided their overwhelming support for the initiative and have endorsed the establishment of the Conservation Park.

This work is part of the RESCCUE project (www.spc.int/resccue) being funded by the French Development Agency (AFD) and the French Global Environment facility (FFEM) and implemented by the Pacific Community (SPC).

1 Mangubhai S, Billé R (2017) Marine conservation agreements as innovative financial mechanisms for biodiversity conservation and sustainable fisheries in the Pacific: The Vatu-i-Ra Conservation Park in Fiji. SPC Fisheries Bulletin 151: 12-14

2 Teneva L, Mangubhai S (2016) Monitoring and Evaluation Framework for Marine Conservation Agreements in Fiji. Wildlife Conservation Society. Report No. 06/16. Suva, Fiji. 17 pp.

3 Teneva L, Mangubhai S (2016) Principles for conservation agreements in terrestrial and marine settings in Fiji. Wildlife Conservation Society. Report No. 5/16. Suva, Fiji. 26 pp.

Reports can be downloaded at: https://fiji.wcs.org/Resources/Reports.aspx