Ono-i-Lau Community work towards preserving Fiji’s southern most natural jewel

Posted on 07 February 2008
Suva: Conservation has reached one of the most isolated islands of Fiji -Ono-i-Lau, Fiji's southern most territory. Recently, a group of environmental workers together with government and community partners visited Ono-i-Lau for its first extensive environmental survey.

WWF Fiji in partnership with UNDP GEF Small Grants Programme, Lau Provincial Office, Department of Land Use and Planning and the Ono-i-Lau Tikina Development Committee conducted its first community biodiversity status survey of Ono-i-Lau.

"The islands four village communities are heavily dependent on fisheries and agriculture for their subsistence needs and to an increasing extent income generation. This makes natural resource management and overall community commitment to protect their natural resources on the island extremely important," said Kesaia Tabunakawai, WWF Fiji Programme Manager

"This will help villagers safeguard themselves against unsustainable exploitation and harvesting practices; natural disasters and the negative and devastating impacts brought about by Climate Change."

The target of this community initiative will be to build and enhance the Ono-i-Lau community's capacity for self management and long term sustainability of their natural resources within the context of an integrated ecosystem, community development and sustainable livelihood approach.

"A number of activities undertaken with the islands community included biodiversity inventories and more importantly community awareness on the protection of biodiversity and the need for an integrated approach to sustainable development in consultations with the resource owners were done during our visit," said Ms Tabunakawai.

"This island is rich in marine and terrestrial resources and WWF's aim is to work with its partners such as the Ono Development Committee to include natural resource management into its development plans to safeguard the islands unique biodiversity and community livelihoods," she said.

She added that the Ono-I-Lau community in Suva have received the findings of the initial trips and found it to be very informative. "They have expressed a keen interest and commitment in supporting the initiative to protect and sustainable manage their natural resources, especially their qoliqoli."

Similar sentiments were voiced by Mr Anare Jale, the Ono Development Committee's Secretary who was part of the team that visited the island. He stated that the initiative on the island was timely as it was vital for the future of the islands resource owners and the next generation of Ono.

"The initiative comes at a time after the people of Ono-i-Lau have witnessed exploitation and over harvesting of their natural resources through financial enticement by buyers whose main interest is to maximize profit. Including biodiversity conservation with sustainable livelihoods is the best way to manage natural resources for a small island economy such as Ono-i-Lau", he said.

"The involvement of the resource owners (including women and youth during this visit) in identifying threats and coming up with solutions is most encouraging. Their contribution to the development of the community development plan, places its ownership in them and their commitment to it will surely enhance its implementation and management", he added.

"It is essentially our goal to ensure that our community is environmentally aware, educating people though training, workshops, and meetings are important to bring about attitude change. An environmentally conscious community is better equipped to plan, manage and decide about resources. In our case this will ensure there is plentiful of sea and land resources to sustain our community now and into the future and reverse the current trend from island to urban drift", he concluded.

Other activities undertaken on the island during the visit included; the development of their marine protected areas management plans, community action plan targeted at addressing land degradation, enhancing food security and sustainable livelihoods, and Climate Change awareness and the development of the their community adaptation plans. Youth were also engaged to develop their training programme, as part of long term motoring activities on the island.

In addition to other unique factors the area is considered important because it is frequented as a foraging site by three turtle species due to the areas lush and pristine sea grass meadows. The green turtle (Cheldonia mydas) is recorded to nest on the beaches of the surrounding islands of Mana, Udui and Tuvana and the island group is frequently visited by migratory whales. The Ono-i-Lau waters also support a multitude of unique coral, invertebrate and fish species, including one of Fiji's largest natural occurring colonies of giant clam. Due to its isolation in the extreme south, a more thorough biological survey of the areas reefs would be needed to be undertaken to ascertain the extent of this uniqueness, in terms of endemism and rarity.

The terrestrial environment is also similarly unique, as much of the islands still support intact littoral and island native forests. The area supports a number of sea bird species and undisturbed sizeable sea bird colonies, such as those of the red footed booby.

For further information contact:
Ashwini Prabha or Francis Areki, Phone: (+675) 3315533 / 9268 016
Anare Jale, Ono Development Committee Secretary, Phone: +675 9991865/3397677