WWF-Pacific launches Great Sea Reef report
“The system is significant to Fiji not only for its biodiversity but also due to its contribution to coastal community food security; income derived from the domestic fisheries sector and ecosystem services such as coastal protection. To put things into perspective, it is estimated that close to 80% of fish feeding the greater Suva’s urban population is currently sourced from the Great Sea Reef. We that live in Suva might never actually see or visit the Great Sea Reef however this dependence on it for food emphasizes its importance,” he said.
The Great Sea Reef was highlighted as one of four priority seascapes commitment by the Fijian government in 2017 at the United Nations Oceans Conference. In December of 2019, Fiji further committed to develop and adopt an Oceans Policy to sustainably manage 100% of its EEZ, and meet its 30% MPA commitment by 2030.
“At the global level, scientists have also highlighted the significance of the Great Sea Reef in the context of Climate Change. Research has shown that some reefs are less exposed and vulnerable to climate change impacts. Almost 70% of climate-resilient coral reefs are found in just seven countries and one of them being Fiji, located on the northern section of the Great Sea Reef. Linked by ocean currents which transport coral larvae and fish, scientists suggest that these refuges of resilience could act as source reefs from which the world’s corals can regenerate in the future,” Mr Baleinabuli said.
He added that in line with Fiji’s Target by 2030 and as part of the Ministries Strategic Development Plan 2019-2029, The Ministry of Fisheries is strategically working towards becoming the best sustainably managed fisheries in the Pacific region.
“Under our indicators for critical success, “research and development” is key where applying science, data management and research, my Ministry believes will help us make the most informed decisions regarding management of our fisheries.” he said.
WWF’s Pacific Director, Dr Mark Drew, said, “This recent analysis adds considerable weight to the case for ocean conservation to be an even higher priority for GSR communities. We have seen good commitments in the past but the objective analysis shows that we are running out of time and need action at a much greater scale and urgency if the GSR is to have a healthy and prosperous future.”
Notes to Editors:
- The report highlights that across the GSR hard coral cover was found to be high at 34%, with the highest found in the northern GSR. For example, Bua province had exceptionally high coral cover at 45%, followed by 36% in Macuata province. Reefs in the south of the GSR had lower coral cover; 26% in Ba province and 23% in Nadroga-Navosa province – though this is still high relative to many reefs in the global context. Analysis of the survey results suggest it was very unlikely that hard coral cover changed since the early 2000s across much of the reef, which past surveys indicating historic GSR regional coral cover of 31%.
- Algae cover was low across the GSR, though it was extremely likely there was a small increase – from 4% in historic surveys to 5% in 2019. However, there was evidence of recent disturbance to some reefs, with it virtually certain that rubble increased on reefs across the GSR (from 5% to 17%). These results suggest that while coral reef benthic communities remain generally healthy, there have been some recent disturbance to reefs.
- Benthic habitat results are encouraging in the context of global trends in coral reef cover, where many reefs are declining globally. GSR benthic communities in 2019 compare favorably with other remote and protected reef systems in the Indo-Pacific region. Reef fish abundance and biomass were declining and low compared to global reference values for reef fish abundance and biomass required to maintain key ecological functions.
- Serranidae (grouper) abundance and biomass were 28 ind/ha and 9 kg/ha in 2019, with it virtually certain Serranidae abundance increased since the early 2000s at the coral reef sites with historical data. However, while an increase in grouper abundance was detected, grouper populations in 2019 remained very low across all sites, and some sites experienced declines in grouper abundance. This overall trend also hides variation between different grouper species, and also that very few large-bodied grouper were observed in the survey.
- Results suggest an urgent need to increase fisheries management and sustainability in the region to reverse these declines. Previous work has indicated that locally managed marine area networks set up within qoliqoli can increase fish abundance and biomass while being equitable for local communities. It is suggested these approaches be replicated across the GSR region.
Tui Marseu, WWF-Pacific’s Communications Officer