World Environment Day
WWF-Pacific’s Great Sea Reef Programme manager Alfred Ralifo highlights that with the recent bush fires in Australia, Brazil, the United States to locust infestations in East Africa and to the global COVID-19 pandemic, nature has once again demonstrated the interdependence between people and bio-diversity.
“Our biodiversity provides us with all the food that we eat, the clean water that we drink, the clean air that we breathe, and all the necessary materials we need for food production in the agriculture and fisheries sector.”
“It is the foundation of a sustainable and growing economy supporting our largest industry the tourism sector. Nature and all of its biodiversity also provides us with the medicines we need, fights climate change, eliminates poverty and ensure health and well–being, therefore it is important for us to protect our bio-diversity because otherwise, we will not exist” Ralifo added.
Much of WWF’s work in Fiji is focused on protecting the Great Sea Reef, the third longest reef system in the world stretching over 200km longs and is an area of global significant biodiversity. This reef system provides about 70% of seafood consumed in major urban centres and is an important traditional fishing ground and food source for about 40% of Fiji’s population.
The GSR supports a spectacular diversity of marine life representing 74% of coral species and a predicted 80% of reef fishes found in Fiji. A number of threatened species reside in the GSR including the green turtle, spinner dolphin, bumphead parrotfish, and the manta ray.
“Creating awareness on the importance of Fiji's Great Sea Reef as an important cultural, economic and ecological icon for Fiji is vital,” Ralifo said.
In 2018, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama launched the International Year of the Reef, on the enchanting Great Sea Reef island of Nukubati, where he took the opportunity to announce Governments approval for the designation of a section known as Qoliqoli Cokovata which includes the districts of Dreketi, Macuata, Sasa and Mali of the GSR as a Ramsar site under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.
Ralifo added that while this is Fiji’s second Ramsar site, it is Fiji’s first marine area designated as a wetland of international importance with a total marine area of 134,900 hectares, regulating the use of:
- 18 marine protected areas/tabu areas (total area of 16,586 hectares)
- 4 mangrove reserves /tabu areas (total area of 740 hectares)
- 1 fresh water managed area (total area of 8.564 hectares) and
- 5 turtle nesting sites (total area of 0.675 hectares)
This is done through Fish stock assessment that provides communities with vital information on their traditional fishing grounds or marine protected areas (MPAs) through assessments of fish stock through the Length Based Spawning Potential technique. Through these surveys project community sites such as Qoliqoli Cokovata and the fishing communities in Tavua had placed temporary bans on fish species such as Kasala (camouflage grouper) in Macuata for 12 months in 2017 and Kabatia (thumbprint emperor) for five months in Tavua in 2017.
With conservation efforts geared towards safeguarding Fiji’s Seafood basket, Ralifo adds that sustaining and restoring wetland ecosystems like Fiji’s second Ramsar site Qoliqoli Cokovata, and upscaling this to all other marine areas in Fiji is a necessity in ensuring biodiversity protection and sustainability, as it is an effective climate change response in both mitigation and adaptation.
“We must as a nation, work together through strategic partnership, using science, innovation, traditional knowledge and the political will to sustainably manage our ecosystems and all of its biodiversity for the betterment of all Fijian people,” Ralifo said.