Maraia Somi: “The look of the sea is different from before. And corals, there were many kinds of coral. We see the corals, all dead. And the fishes that we see before, won’t be able to see that much nowadays.”
Food security is especially concerning in Oneata, where the distance from the main Fijian islands limits access to food markets. Traditionally-owned fishing areas called iqoliqoli have been used for generations, but overfishing has dramatically decreased catch sizes and catch amounts. On a recent field visit to Oneata, the community requested the help of the Coral Reef Alliance to address overfishing concerns.
Soko Ledua, the head of the local fishing group, is one of the community members who worries about the future of fishing in Oneata. For decades, fishermen have sought out the highly-prized sea cucumber, which can have a market value upwards of 50 US dollars each. But like the reefs, populations of sea cucumbers are declining.
“Before, just in front here, we just catching (sea cucumbers) here, twenty, forty pieces per day. But here, let’s see, yesterday here we are catching only seven. If we keep on harvesting this one, maybe ten years left…”
Last year, CORAL held a planning session and workshop with communities in Oneata to help identify challenges and successes with the current management efforts of their iqoliqoli. That meeting inspired a number of solutions that are specifically tailored to Oneata’s needs.
For example, CORAL is working with the Ministry of Fisheries in Fiji to train the local fishing group and community on best practices for sustainable fishing. Fishermen will learn how to measure the appropriate catch size for different fish species, and will train to become fish wardens of the iqoliqoli, to better protect it from outside fishing pressure.
CORAL is also establishing partnerships in Oneata to create aquaculture systems in exchange for strong community commitment to avoid overfishing in the marine reserve. One such system is a mollusk and lobster aquaculture pilot program, which will provide a source of food and livelihood for the community while the iqoliqoli recovers.
This is the first time that CORAL is tackling aquaculture, and what we love most about this collaboration with Oneata is that the ideas were generated by members of the community. This project will be an important model for how to finance conservation on remote coral reefs that don’t have access to revenue from tourism, and will be scalable to other remote areas of Fiji.
Learn more at www.coral.org/safeguardingfijisreefs