Revitalising Marine Ecosystems and Rediscovering Traditional Practices in Nadogo

Posted on 30 April 2023
Katawaqa Island, Fiji's Turtle Index Island off the coast of Kavewa Island, Nadogo district, Macuata.
© WWF Pacific
By Tui Marseu, Communications Officer, WWF Pacific

The paramount chief of the Nadogo District, Na Gone Turaga na Tui Nadogo, Ratu Ilisaniti Malodali, takes his role as the Turaga ni Yavusa (clan leader) very seriously.

Since assuming this role in 2008, he has spearheaded several key community development initiatives and understands the value of partnerships from government, the private and public sector to leverage support in furthering the development aspirations of people in the 10 villages under his purview. A priority among this, is to safeguard their primary sources of sustenance and income – their marine ecosystem.

The district of Nadogo in the Macuata Province, is located in Fiji’s second largest island of Vanua Levu and is home to the third largest continuous coral reef ecosystem in the southern hemisphere – the Great Sea Reef (GSR).

A study undertaken in 2018 undertaken by a team of researchers also confirmed the GSR as being one of seven main countries (Fiji, Solomon Islands, Indonesia, Philippines, Madagascar, Tanzania and Cuba) globally with the most resilient coral reef ecosystems in the world. These priority reefs were identified in a global study of 50 reef ecosystems. These reefs will stand a better chance of helping other reef systems to regenerate.

Ratu Malodali is not surprised by this scientific finding. In fact, it has only reinforced what he has always believed, that when you respect the marine environment, it will look after you.

This is a principle that he now brings to the fore.

Harsh Realities
For decades, the GSR has been a shared resource among communities located along the length of the barrier reef system, including the Nadogo District. However, in 2021, community members were forced to confront a harsh reality: their fishery resources were rapidly declining, and traditional explanations such as seasonal changes could no longer account for the severity of the situation.

This decline in the GSR's health is a cause for concern not only for the communities that rely on it for their livelihoods, but also for the wider ecosystem. Realising the urgency, the Tui Nadogo conferred with neighbouring clan leaders and reached out to government representatives and the WWF office in Fiji to find a solution. 

Urgent Action
Several immediate actions were undertaken, and the first among this was to ensure the collective buy-in from communities, who are not only primary users but also main stewards of their marine resources. This was done through several practical conservation information sessions organised by WWF, working closely with stakeholders within the traditional and formal community governance structures.

These sessions proved to be an important opportunity for inter-generational dialogue between community elders and the growing youth population as they delved into identification of totemic marine species and unpacking how to improve community livelihoods and mapping marine habitats along their rivers and surrounding coastal areas. 

Drawing from the success stories of other locally managed marine area (LMMA) sites in Fiji as well as the age-old practice of instituting tabu (taboo) areas for certain traditional fishing grounds, the communities and their leaders agreed to demarcate specific areas for protection.

Also borne out of these discussions was the establishment of the Nadogo Development Committee, comprising representatives of men, women and youth groups, with the chair selected on a rotational basis. 

Increasing Community confidence
Feeling as if a huge weight has been lifted off his shoulder, Ratu Malodali said “I agree to the setting up of the Nadogo Development Committee and the MPA sites and we will discuss this at our Bose ni Vanua (District Chiefs meeting) for their endorsement.”

“The support provided has enabled us to identify options, it has built community confidence by enabling our villagers to talk with decision makers and also help us rediscover our traditional practices.”

“I believe it is our duty as custodians to nurture, protect and pass this invaluable knowledge to our children for sustainability,” he said.

He added, “I also place my confidence and trust in the Turaga ni koro (government elected village headman) in supporting the initiative because the sustainable development of Nadogo is also in their hands.”

Walking the Talk
The culmination of community workshops, inter-generational dialogues and partnership building has now seen the official demarcation of two islands; Katawaqa and Nukuvadra as MPAs. Also in recognition, that the way of life of the Nadogo communities (and many other traditional communities in Fiji) extends to include resources from the reef to ridges.

These two islands are located within Nadogo’s iqoliqoli (traditional fishing grounds) and also hosts one of Fiji’s index turtle nesting sites – one of the key information shared during the community consultations.

Establishment of MPAs are not new to Fiji. Since the 1990s, the country has seen the establishment of more 400 community based MPA sites. Generally, well-managed and enforced MPAs has been proven to increase or maintain the diversity and function of the enclosed coral reef, with some of the benefits extending to adjacent non-protected reefs.

“It’s actually a first for me and my team to map our rivers and streams and learn from our women, the different species and fishes that are found in these areas,” said the District Representative for Nadogo, Uate Saviri.  

A community member from Vunivutu village, 61-year-old Radiniceva Raluna called on all members of the 10 villages to support the Tui Nadogo’s vision.

“The development and success of our villages and district will only be fruitful if we work together, align ourselves to the sound advice and listen to what is expected of us starting from the protection of our natural resources,” said Raluna.

She added, “The benefits are not only the sustainable management of our marine ecosystem but also a means to generate income.”

For now, the Tui Nadogo is confident and remains positive about the future prospects of his beloved district.

The interventions of WWF Pacific in Fiji to support the communities along the GSR is enabled through three complementary projects;
  1. The Climate Resilient by Nature – Nature Positive Business for Climate Critical Ecosystems funded through the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)
  2. The Sustainable Fisheries Management in Fiji’s Domestic Fisheries Supply Chain and Markets through the New Zealand Government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and
  3. The Biodiversity Protection and Marine Resource Recovery in Fiji funded by the WWF Netherlands office
Katawaqa Island, Fiji's Turtle Index Island off the coast of Kavewa Island, Nadogo district, Macuata.
© WWF Pacific Enlarge
Nadogo and Macuata district community representatives at a Marine Conservation conservation workshop held at the Friendly North Inn, Labasa.
© Unaisi Malani/WWF Pacific Enlarge
WWF Turtle Volunteers inspecting a turtle nesting site on Katawaqa.
© WWF Pacific Enlarge
Ms Radiniceva Raluna leads the discussions with community representatives of Nadogo District.
© Unaisi Malani/WWF Pacific Enlarge
District Representative for Nadogqo,Uate Saviri (in orange) discusses with two other community representatives of the relevance of Katawaqa Island as a Marine Protected Area (MPA).
© Tui Marseu Enlarge