- Date: May 04, 2021
- Author: Emma Barnes
The South Pacific nation of Fiji is made up of over 300 islands that are home to a people who hold strong traditions and a culture highly attuned to nature and the ocean.
With all those islands, Fiji has over 700 miles of coastline and abundant coral reefs, including the third-largest barrier reef in the world, the Great Sea Reef, which borders the northwest coasts of Fiji’s two central islands. Not only is this natural wonder incredibly biodiverse and supports a host of marine life (over two thousand species!), but it also supports the Fijians who depend on it for food and for their livelihoods.
WWF supports the Fijian government and local communities to help keep this ecosystem strong and healthy with monitoring and sustainable use of the Great Sea Reef by assisting with marine surveys and providing recommendations that fit alongside traditional management practices.
Being an archipelago nation with such rich underwater resources, fishing is a major part of traditional Fijian life. Many communities, under the authority of customary chiefs, self-manage their fisheries based on traditional management practices such as qoliqoli and tabu.
Qoliqoli are large community-controlled fishing areas, a centuries-old Fijian cultural practice that a community fishes within and carefully monitors. Fisheries areas are rotated within a qoliqoli to keep fish populations and food security high. There are 33 qoliqoli across Fiji’s Great Sea Reef ranging in size from about 28 square miles to 1,300 square miles and their borders run from the coastline across the breadth of the reef.
Cokovata, a large area made of several communities’ qoliqoli
off the north coast of Fiji’s second-largest island, encompasses incredible wildlife even by Fiji’s rich biodiversity measure. The shoreline is fringed with mangrove forests and waters with endangered humphead wrasse, bumphead parrotfish, grouper, and sharks. It was declared a Ramsar Site—a wetland of international importance—by the Ramsar Convention in 2018 because of the astounding nature that it holds.
Tabu are pockets of fully protected areas within a qoliqoli, where community leaders decree that all fishing and other extractive practices be avoided. These areas vary in size but are around 3.5 square miles on average.
WWF has worked with Fijian communities to increase the number of tabu areas within qoliqoli along the Great Sea Reef to give fish, corals, and turtles more sheltered space to grow and thrive out of harm’s way. There are now 18 tabu reserves and protected areas have expanded onto the coast to include four mangrove reserves and five turtle nesting spots.
The combination of qoliqoli and tabu areas means that Fiji’s reef is closely monitored by the community. The government of Fiji recognizes traditional fishing ground rights and the communities strictly manage access to outsiders.
But in spite of this care, over the last 20 years increases in industrial overfishing, climate change, and land-use change has hurt the health of the reefs. A Great Sea Reef survey was recently undertaken by WWF, Fijian scientists, and partner organizations that will evaluate the impact these stressors have had and outline improved management measures.
Thanks to the traditions and close connection to nature of communities across the country, Fijians embrace and implement conservation measures and the government is open to legislation that will protect their ocean rights. WWF and sustainability partners in Fiji will continue to collaborate across stakeholders and work to ensure that the Great Sea Reef will supply communities with the livelihoods they depend on long into the future.