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FIJI MARINE

Project Goal 

Assessing and monitoring marine ecosystems around Beqa island, to investigate the effects of human 
activities on the health of the most sensitive habitats and wildlife. Building the capacity of local island
communities to monitor the status of their natural resources and to manage them effectively, with particular
focus on establishing sustainable fishing practices. 

Project location

Ucunivatu Point, western coast of Gau Island, approx 90km east of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu.

Activities

Surveys of ecosystem health and the effect of human activities, covering all marine and intertidal habitats,
   including coral reefs, seagrass and mangroves; 

Mapping important marine habitats and ‘locally managed marine areas’ (LMMAs);
Species inventories across all marine and inter-tidal habitats;
Socio-economic surveys, assessing livelihood priorities, fishing practices and patterns of resource use;
Environmental education in local communities, building capacity to monitor the status of natural resources 
   and to develop sustainable fisheries.

Background
 

Fiji is a classic South Pacific archipelago, comprising more than 800 islands, cays and inlets spread over
approximately 18,000km2 and home to fewer than a million people. It is classified as a ‘small island 
developing state’, which means that its population is intrinsically linked (physically, historically and 
economically) to the coastal zone and its ecosystems. Development in Fiji has been accompanied by a shift 
from traditional subsistence activities, such as artisanal fisheries, to more commercial scale operations.

As part of the ‘Coral Triangle’, Fiji is recognised as supporting a significant level of marine biodiversity.
However, as is the case in most of the developing world, the management of Fiji’s natural resources is 
generally ineffective and rates of resource extraction are unsustainable. Fiji’s biodiversity and ecosystem services are therefore under threat and in need of better protection.

SEE has been working in Fiji since 2005, and has been based on Gau Island throughout. Gau is 
approximately 90km due east of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu. It is the 5th largest island in the archipelago 
and is characterised by dense rainforest, highlands, grasslands, mangroves and coral reefs. Gau has little 
in the way of coastal or tourist developments and its inhabitants reside on the coast in 18 villages divided 
into three districts or takinas, each with its own chief. Artisanal fishing provides the local communities with 
their main source of food and income, thus marine resources are crucial for local livelihoods. Non-residents
of the island are not permitted to fish in Gau’s waters following concerns over the sustainability of marine
resources and the potential for fish stock collapse.

Since 2001, the villagers of Gau have been collaborating with the University of the South Pacific in an 
attempt to improve management of the island’s natural resources. In 2005 all of the island’s villages 
elected to form a committee to oversee the general welfare of their marine resources. This committee, 
named Lomani Gau or ‘Guardians of the Island’, established no-take zones (known as locally managed 
marine areas (LMMAs)) directly in front of each village. These areas have been protected for periods 
ranging from a few months to six years but their exact delimitations are not well established and in many 
cases their associated management plans are no longer adhered to. The only other form of marine 
protection on Gau is the protection of sea turtles during certain seasons, but this too is ignored by 
most communities.

In 2005, the University of the South Pacific and the International Ocean Institute asked SEE to establish a
research and conservation project on Gau Island, with the overall aims of (i) assisting resource 
management initiatives established through the Lomani Gau committee; (ii) improving the environmental awareness of local people, and (iii) working towards improving the sustainability of local fisheries.

Past Projects in Fiji

‘Raising Awareness of Turtle Conservation through Environmental Education’, funded by PADI Aware (2007).
This project worked to promote the importance of turtle conservation on Gau Island by providing 
environmental education to school children and local stakeholders. The aim was to reduce hunting of green 
and hawksbill turtles. Seasonally protected areas were set up in order to reduce egg collection and were
policed by volunteers from the local community. In addition, the hatchling success in mixed species 
hatcheries was investigated.


Project partners & staff 

SEE’s partners in Fiji include:

The University of the South Pacific (USP)
The International Ocean Institute (IOI)
The local communities of Gau Island, including the Lomani Gau Committee
WWF South Pacific Programme

SEE’s Fiji field team is comprised of a Principal Investigator, a Project Coordinator, a Dive Officer, several
Research Officers and a team of voluntary Research Assistants.