Tui Ratu Wili and the Cakaulevu

Man underwater with fish
Man, behind him the sea and a fisherboat

Corals Great Sea Reef Fiji, Picture: © Jürgen Freund Great Sea Reef Fiji, Picture: © Jürgen Freund Diver at Great Sea Reef, Picture: © Jürgen Freund Tui Ratu Wili, Picture: GIZ

Ratu Wiliame Katonivere is worried. After his brother passed away last year, Ratu Wili (short for Ratu Wiliame steped up as his successor to become the Tui or Paramount chief of the Province of Macuata. Ratu Wili is now Tui and, at the same time, serves as the state-appointed Chairman of the Provincial Council of Macuata, a province in the north of the Fiji Islands. Since taking office, his responsibilities have also included allocating the rights to use the marine resources of the Great Sea Reef, a 200-km long coral reef which is the world’s third longest continuous barrier reef system. For many years, preserving the reef in Macuata has been an important issue for the local inhabitants, an initiative launched by his brother around 10 years ago. But this is not an easy task: in spite of remarkable success over the years resentment is growing among some in Ratu Wili‘s clans.

Great Sea Reef - a biodiversity hotspot

A look back: Cakaulevu, which is the Fijian name for the Great Sea Reef, is a biodiversity hotspot. In a 2004 field study spearheaded by WWF, international and Fijian scientists discovered that the northern coast of Fiji’s second largest island, Vanua Levu, has a particularly high level of biodiversity. On the inner and outer reef slopes, on the fringing reefs around the mangrove islands within the barrier reef, and in the shallows and seagrass beds, they found a number of new and endemic varieties of algae, fish and invertebrate species previously undocumented in Fiji. Furthermore, in addition to the green sea turtle and the spinner dolphin, 10 fish species were found that appear on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species.

Great Sea Reef Fiji, Picture: © Jürgen Freund

Biodiversity at risk

Based on the survey results, a comprehensive WWF study was conducted on the diversity of and the threats to this important ecosystem in the Fiji islands. Extensive and illegal fishing, unsustainable fishing practices as well as marine pollution from near-shore sugar cane production and logging pose a threat to reef biodiversity. In addition logging and farming on steep slopes in the island’s interior is washing the soil into the ocean, further damaging and changing the reef. When it became known about ten years ago to what extent the Great Sea Reef is threatened, Ratu Wili's brother was still the Paramount Chief of the clan. He immediately understood that protecting the reef was not only important from an international perspective. The local inhabitants had already complained about the diminishing fish stocks of the reef which simultaneously represented a threat to their livelihoods. For this reason, the chiefs in Macuata never called into question the need to undertake efforts of their own to preserve biodiversity on and around the Cakaulevu.

Diver at Great Sea Reef, Picture: © Jürgen FreundManagement plan and network provide relief

As a result, 37 coastal villages in the province opted to implement a sustainable management plan for the affected marine and coastal zones. After extensive consultation, a concept was produced that contained protected zones of 50 square kilometres as well as specific protection periods for the area. It defined fishing quotas and banned fishing practices detrimental to the environment. The Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area network (FLMMA), WWF, the University of the South Pacific and the Fiji Department of Fisheries joined forces to facilitate the development of new usage regulations. Village inhabitants were trained as volunteer fish wardens so they could assist in monitoring compliance with these regulations and monitor catches. Ratu Wili’s late brother, Ratu Aisea, was awarded the ‘Global Ocean Conservation’ environmental prize in 2006 for his exemplary management plan and well-functioning ‘Macuata Marine Protected Area Network’. This prize is awarded every June 8, on World Oceans Day, by six globally operating environmental organisations.

A difficult legacy from his brother

As the newly elected Tui Macuata, Ratu Wili did not inherit an easy task. He is aware of the challenges related to the management plan from his first-hand experience helping to set up and support the first protected area in the Great Sea Reef about ten years ago. Although implementation of the plan worked well for a number of years, several village communities have now begun complaining to their new chief that they were not adequately compensated at the time for the areas placed under protection. Other villages are now again questioning the borders of the protected zones established in 2004. Ratu Wili knows that as the fish catches continue to diminish, it is imperative to support alternative sources of income. As the leader, it is up to him to foster greater tolerance among the population for preserving marine resources. But there are ways to address and hopefully solve his problems: the current chief learned from his late brother that there are a range of international partners in the Pacific region ready to support communities committed to use their resources sustainably and thereby preserving biodiversity.

An IKI project to preserve biodiversity in the Pacific

The Marine and Coastal Biodiversity Management in Pacific Island Countries and Atolls (MACBIO) project funded by the International Climate Initiative (IKI) is supporting five South Pacific countries (Fiji, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu) in achieving their 2020 targets under the Strategic Plan for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) is providing around EUR 8 million for the MACBIO project through the IKI from 2013 to 2018. The implementing organisation is the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), in cooperation with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).

The project includes a component on economic valuation of marine and coastal ecosystems, involving a calculation of the monetary value of the services these ecosystems provide. In this process, the costs of the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services are compared to the costs for conservation and sustainable use. The results will then be widely disseminated with the objective of being incorporated in national development policies and plans and national accounting processes. The project aims to support governments to use this information for national marine planning efforts and to assist small island states in expanding their marine managed and protected areas while aligning their protection with the requirements of sustainable livelihoods and ecosystem conservation.

Tui Ratu Wili, Picture: GIZRatu Wili and MACBIO

Tui Ratu Wili learned about the MACBIO project from the Fijian Ministry for Environment. He hopes that continued participation by the province of Macuata in national marine planning and conservation efforts may offer a great opportunity to protect the Great Sea Reef more effectively in the future. The reason is that long-term income security in his district has become a central theme of his administration. It is also important to him to continue his brother’s efforts to preserve the Cakaulevu in all of its diversity. MACBIO will work with the Department of Environment and other national stakeholders to support him in addressing both of these challenges. The ‘Macuatu Marine Protected Area Network’ created by Ratu Wili’s brother has now even been identified as a positive example for other countries participating in the project. It will be used as a case study and model for the management of locally managed marine areas including new concepts for payments for environmental services and the resulting benefits.

Nothing but advantages from sustainable management

The small island states in the South Pacific, volcanic islands and atolls are suffering most from the effects of climate change. The sustainable use and protection of marine and coastal biodiversity has an equally positive impact on adaptation to climate change, carbon storage and income security for the population. The island inhabitants mainly make their living from small-scale inshore fisheries, agriculture and tourism. The sugar cane industry, which was formerly a primary source of income in Fiji, has been devastated by the drop in sugar prices. Sustainable management of the diverse marine resources in the South Pacific has a strong potential to stabilise the income security of the local population because people are also increasingly relying on nature-dependent tourism. Supporting local communities to effectively manage their coastal areas and resources will allow threatened species in the managed and closed zones to regenerate and populations to recover and spread beyond the boundaries of the refuge. This is particularly true for the protection of endangered and endemic species in the western South Pacific. Thus due to the efforts and the vision of the Tui Macuata and the coastal communities in Macuata province there is a good chance that the 200-km long Cakaulevu coral reef with the rare green sea turtle and its many endemic fish species will remain a unique biodiversity hotspot.