By Sangeeta Mangubhai and Akanisi Caginitoba

On 24 August 2016, the villages of Vuya, Navave and neighbouring settlements with traditional ties and rights to the Qoliqoli Daviko in the Vuya district launched their five year ecosystem based management plan.

Vuya is unique in that is has two distinct fishing grounds within its district boundary overseen by the Vuya Yaubula Management Committee under the leadership of Tui Vuya and Raviravi Resource Management Committee under the leadership of Buli Raviravi.

Vuya district is dominated by lowland rainforests covering a land area of 26 km2 and with extensive customary fishing grounds covering 2743.7 km2. At least 26 km 2 portion of forest falls within one of Fiji’s Key Biodiversity Areas and is therefore of national significance. Similar to Nadi and Solevu districts, their management plan specifically focuses on targets defined by the local communities – good quality drinking water, indigenous trees and freshwater fish and invertebrates.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has been working in with all the villages and settlements to help them develop a vision and strategies for their entire district from the mountains down to the sea. Because of the traditional governance structures in place, there are two management plans for the district, that address a number of key threats including mangrove clearance, poor waste management, over-exploitation of freshwater and marine fisheries, and poor land-use practices.

The plan also includes a large tabu area over the upper Wairiki and Bekava creek and adjacent forests, which includes a network of tributaries. This tabu area will protect the catchment and prevent sedimentation into the waterways and onto coral reefs. Further downstream a network of tabu (or marine protected areas) has been declared to protect coral reefs and their associated fisheries.

Akanisi Cagintoba, WCS’s Community Engagement Coordinator said “having two management plans is not a problem, and makes sense given the traditional structures that are in place. We are happy to see that the two management plans sit adjacent and are complementary to each other, so that the connectivity between ecosystems is being maintained. This is a core element of ecosystem-based management planning.”

Vuya district chief, the Turaga Tui Vuya Ratu Amenatave Ravoka reflected on the process they went to put together the management plan. It was challenging he explained as his people were in the beginning not comfortable with closing off some of their fishing grounds. He said, as a leader he too was undecided between how to balance development and conservation.

“The signing today is like an agreement for us and we thank the resource committee and WCS for your respect and confidence in the Vanua Vuya to managed its resources for our future generations,” said Ratu Ravoka. He said the Vuya Resource Committee has his support in implementing the management plan and he hopes the Ministry of Fisheries can clarify the details of the new fishing licensing arrangement to ensure areas protected areas declared by Vuya district are respected by outside fishers.

The adjacent Qoliqoli Raviravi is expected to launch their management plan within the next month.