Vatu-i-Ra Seascape, Fiji
- Kubulau Seascape, Fiji Photo
- ©Caleb McClennen
Fiji’s spectacular coral reefs are known around the world for their vibrant colors and thriving populations of fish, sharks, and turtles. Unlike many other coral reef sites that have become degraded, the reefs of Fiji’s Vatu-i-Ra Seascape remain vibrant and diverse, making them a high priority for marine conservation in the Pacific Ocean. WCS is working with a team of dedicated young Fijians and ten villages to conserve the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape by bringing together top-notch marine science with traditional management approaches. A history of conservation commitment and action by local communities, coupled with the national government’s pledge to increase Fiji’s marine protected area system, offer great promise for the future of this magnificent seascape.
- The Vatu-i-Ra Seascape is home to more than 300 coral and 1,000 fish species. It also provides shelter for migratory cetaceans, four species of sea turtles, reef sharks, and the critically endangered bumphead Parrotfish and Napolean wrasse.
- The Namena Island is a major nesting ground for seabirds, including approximately 600 pairs of protected red-footed boobies.
- Ten villages of the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape recently created Fiji’s first science-based network of marine protected areas, including the nation’s largest "no-take" reserve (where fishing is prohibited), which surrounds Namena Island.
For millennia, the people of Fiji have used traditional methods to regulate fishing and promote conservation, including designating “tabu” areas—places that are temporarily closed to fishing. But with growing coastal populations and the introduction of modern fishing gear that is often more destructive, threats to coral reefs are increasing. As a result, tabu areas are no longer enough to safeguard local fisheries and protect habitats, marine wildlife, and Vatu-i-Ra’s coral reef ecosystem.
While overfishing poses the most direct threat to the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape, a rise in logging, road building, and forest clearing for coastal development and agriculture generates pollution and other threats to marine habitats.
WCS and its partners WWF and Wetlands International are working with 10 villages in the local Kubulau district to combine the tabu tradition with modern conservation approaches. Together we have created Fiji’s first marine protected areas network. Under Fijian custom, the villages own both the land and sea in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape, so local communities are integral to shaping and securing long-term conservation success.
WCS is deeply committed to building local leadership to conserve the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape. We have trained a team of Fijian conservationists to conduct underwater field surveys. Our team also conducts basic socioeconomic surveys to understand the needs of the neighboring people of Kubulau. This research has helped guide our work with local partners to develop the marine protected area network. The network comprises 20 individual zones, including 3 large areas where fishing is banned, and 17 areas that permit occasional fishing. As a result of the new protected areas, wrasses, groupers, and other depleted fish stocks are beginning to recover.
Our conservationists are also working further inland. As upland forests are cleared for agriculture, runoff can travel down the rivers and into the sea, smothering reefs with sediment. WCS will help villages guide sustainable development to ensure an integrated approach to conserving both terrestrial and marine habitats.
From the Newsroom
Namena Reserve is Fiji’s largest marine protected area, located on the southern coast of Vanua Levu Island. Fishing is banned here, and the reserve is home to abundant populations of sharks and rays, octopi, seahorses, and schooling fish—all on view in this underwater tour of its stunning coral reefs.
Marine researchers find that many more sharks swim in a Fijian marine reserve in which fishing is prohibited compared to adjacent areas that permit fishing.
When local fishers in Kia Island opened a protected coral reef to fishing for a short-term community fundraising effort, the effects of the harvest bore long-term consequences for the reef's health.
Scientists, conservation practitioners, decision and policymakers meet in Suva, Fiji to address environmental challenges brought on by climate change.
WCS marine scientists provide a color code for coral conservation by mapping out the stress loads of the world's reefs.