Nataleira village has a well kept secret, the playful and graceful dolphins in the i qoliqoli. Long being part of their seascape, the villagers delight their visitors by sharing this secret and they have been doing so for a couple of years.
Naturally, the dolphins became the magnet that pulled staff of WWF, the conservation organisation, to take their meeting to ‘Natalei Ecolodge’ in the village.
The ecolodge is owned by Nataleira, one of 11 villages in the tikina Dawasamu and houses local and overseas tourists while generating income for the villagers.
As it were, the WWF team is first to use the beach side meeting room and no doubt, countless others will follow. Set in a row, fifty feet from the black sandy beach, the six thatch bures built with local materials by the villagers are ordinary but quaint, comfortable and clean.
Drifting asleep on and waking to the gentle burst of waves crashing on the beach is soothing and brings memories of hard work and a carefree childhood in my seaside village.
With benefits from managed i qoliqoli’s seen and felt by i qoliqoli stewards, there is renewed commitment and resolve by the Dawasamu community, to improve and maintain the health and bounty of the i qoliqoli “Me kedra sasalu tawa mudu na noda kawa” or ‘everlasting fish for our future generation’.
Fiji and Pacific Islands – guardians of the largest ocean:
The Fiji Government in a bold move, announced in 2005, at the ten year review of the Barbados Plan of Action (BPoA) in Mauritius, its commitment “by 2020, at least 30 per cent of Fiji’s inshore and offshore marine areas (i qoliqoli) will have come under a comprehensive, ecologically, representative networks of MPAs, which are effectively managed and financed.”
Underpinning the confidence to make this call is the extensive work on the ground by the FLM MA network. This did two things. It set Fiji on a course to meet its protected area commitment to the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD).
Secondly, it triggered a chain of events in the Pacific that saw the Micronesia challenge launched at the Conference of Parties (CoP) to the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) in Curitiba, Brazil in 2007 by the leaders of Micronesia, the commitment of the Kiribati government for the Phoenix islands MPA and across the Caribbean in a similar commitment.
Amongst other things, the region boasts 41 per cent of the world’s tropical coral reefs and the world’s richest tuna fisheries. It is home to many vulnerable and endangered marine species including: 6 of the 7 extant species of marine turtle, the last remaining nesting population of Western Pacific Leatherback turtles and 9 of the 11 whale species.
The Fiji Government through the National Trust of Fiji and the Protected Area Committee has started in the past two years the identification of crucial areas for biodiversity, biological and ecological processes towards planning for and putting in place a national network of protected areas across the land, waterways and the seas of Fiji. The FLMMA network is an important building block in this process, bringing in a broad base of community views and inputs.
In the last 10 years, FLMMA has strengthened itself through members gaining new and sharpening existing skills, experience and in leadership qualities. As well as an investment of roughly over 6 million Fijian dollars (through the FLMMA secretariat and to partner organizations) in gathering information on fish and the i qoliqoli, setting up and monitoring local protected areas, social and economic information of households, sharing lessons and best practice at national, regional and international forums and facilitating workshops at LMMA partner sites in Asia Pacific. Many pioneering community stewards and organisation partner officers passed away during this time. Although saddened at their passing, I have wonderful memories of meetings around the country, the tension–filled as well as funny moments with those I worked closely with.
I am greatly encouraged as well, that others equally passionate and committed have come on board to take their place.
The good things resulting from the FLMMA network is their legacy and a celebration of hard work, commitment to future generation and the never say die attitude they have invested in the cause. WWF’s choice of Nataleira for its meeting was guided by the fact the village is part of the FLMMA network. It was logical therefore to invest our ‘costs’ into a i qoliqoli fund raising effort and be confident that this will support the aspirations of the community towards improving the children’s education, members livelihood and the long term care of its ‘natural bank’ –– their i qoliqoli and natural resource.
The shared dream of sustaining into the future the ‘benefits’ of a well managed i qoliqoli through free or affordable fish for our children and the enjoyment by the next generation of global citizens, vibrant coral reef systems filled with varied colourful and amazing attendant life forms, and other unseen benefits this brings, has been the reason and driver for much investment of money, time, emotion, energy and unwavering commitment over many years by many people, communities and organisations.
To keep tabs of changes and benefits and keep the people informed, regular measurement of catches, enforcing compliance to i qoliqoli rules, continuing education, meetings of committees and fish wardens, communicating decisions to i qoliqoli households, regular monitoring surveys, presentation at tikina and provincial meetings, and attending annual network meetings are must actions for i qoliqoli managers into the future.
I qoliqoli management structure set up, fund raising for long term management, skills and capacity building of i qoliqoli committees, fish wardens and site managers are on going to then completely take on management as funding, capacity and skills provided by partner organisations are fazed out from site at the end of project funding.
Not just in terms of fish for local people, vitally important of course but also in providing and maintaining the sturdy offshore reef system, protecting our villages against the worst excesses of climate change, and in the special but not unique case of Nataleira, marine wildlife which will like us draw tourists to come and spend their dollars directly in the community.
A step at a time: A believer in taking small steps at a time, FLMMA has a little over FJ$100,000 to start the ball rolling immediately, earned over the years from various sources.
Firstly an award won through the global Equator Initiative competition in 2002; financial contribution from Conservation International (CI) for FLMMA support on its global marine managed area (MMA) research and from financial contribution through ‘adopt a mangrove, adopt a coral reef, and or adopt a coral’ at the www.sasalutawamudu.org website, a collaboration between the University of the South Pacific’s Institute of Applied Science, a FLMMA member and its US based partner, University of Georgia Tech.
Qoliqoli Committees in many FLMMA sites, are fundraising towards their own financial needs for the management of their own i qoliqolis in the long term. For example, WWF with it’s partners, the districts of Dreketi, Macuata, Sasa & Mali have in the past 2 years organised the Great Sea Reef Rugby Sevens (GSR 7) tournaments to raise funds for the i qoliqoli management into the future.
Similar initiatives are in process and in place at Korolevu-i-wai in Nadroga, Navukavu in Rewa and Kubulau in Bua.
Living off the i qoliqoli - the way of life for many : At sunrise on the second day, I indulged in a childhood pastime of walking the beach where the sea rolls back over the sand, watching my footprint disappear and pretending no one would know with no print to tell. I looked up at the stretch of curved beach ahead, the black sand dotted white with broken bleached coral and shells strewn across it like a swathe of stars on a cloudless night sky.
I watched little fishes moving effortlessly in a waterway without a telltale ripple on the surface, marvelling at the still and clear water under the large ivi and mangrove trees lining the sides of the waterway. Across it, a water pipe hangs mid air anchored to trees on either side.
From afar, the pipe looked like the top part of a net and I thought to myself that the baby fishes would be trapped when the tide flow out. Of course the villagers are part of FLMMA and know about not trapping or killing baby fishes, the future catch.
The noise from a group of WWF staff playing rugby on the beach caused me to turn back. I thought to myself, it is possible for our great grandchildren to have walks on litter free beaches like this one anywhere in Fiji. I paused in front of my bure to pick from the damp grass the freshly fallen bunch of pale yellow flowers (sei) of the pandanus or vadra tree, with its sweet smelling powdery dust scenting the morning air still.
After a week in Nataleira, I returned with excitement, a bit of nostalgia and a certainty that with like minded corporations and groups committed to protecting and making the nature of Fiji (her birds, her trees, her waterways, her seas, her fishes, her coral reefs, her turtles & whales, her people, her cultures and her way of life) work for her –– then the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area thirty year financing plan has to be realised.
My grandchildren now know the local secret and are not content on just knowing. ‘I want to see them jump out of the water and hear their voices’, Ana Maria my grand daughter declares, holding me to my promise to return to Nataleira and to the ‘Natalei Ecolodge’ with her, her sister Talei Qativi, cousin Kilagi Amanda and older brother, Livai Peter Sausauvou.