**Submissions for the 2020 dive tag photo contest are now open! Click here for more info.**
The Namena Marine Reserve (Namena) in Fiji is renowned as of the world’s most incredible scuba diving locations, attracting divers from around the world with its unparalleled coral reef and marine life. When snorkelers or divers visit Namena, they proudly wear a round “poker chip” style tag on their gear, which they later take home with them as a treasured token of their time in Fiji. What many people don’t realize, however, is that this dive tag is much more than just a souvenir – it represents a great success story for community-based conservation.
Namena is Fiji’s largest “no-take” Marine Protected Area (MPA) and forms part of the traditionally-owned fishing grounds (iqoliqoli) of the Kubulau community. The dive tag program was born over 15 years ago when the Kubulau community approached CORAL for assistance in developing a sustainable management system that would protect Namena’s fisheries from overexploitation, while providing tangible benefits to the community.
In 2003, CORAL helped the community launch a dive tag program, modeled off of a system used in Bonaire Marine Park in the Caribbean. The program uses fees from the purchase of dive tags to fund MPA management and community development, thereby increasing community “buy-in” for conservation and alleviating fishing pressure.
CORAL assisted in funding and implementing the first Namena dive tag in 2003. Ever since then, Namena has been holding an annual Dive Tag Photo Competition in which individuals from around the world are invited to submit underwater photos from Namena. The winner of the competition has the unique privilege of having their photo featured on the Namena Dive Tags for the year. This summer, in the fifteenth year of the Photo Competition, photographer Lars Wahlquist won over the judges with his stunning photo of a Cuthona nudibranch.
Today, both coral reefs and the Kubulau community reap the benefits of the voluntary dive tag program, in what is clearly a win-win for both communities and conservation. More than 1000 tags are purchased annually by visitors and Marine Recreation Providers at the price of FJ$30. The funds collected from the sale of the dive tags are used to conduct maintenance on moorings within the reserve, fund patrols for enforcement, and sustain a scholarship fund for students from Kubulau, which has already benefitted well over 200 students.
Namena is now one of the most successful MPAs in Fiji, and its dive tag user fee system is upheld as a model for other community-managed MPAs throughout Fiji and the world. If you ever have the luck of diving in Namena, you can be proud that your dive tag purchase is making a meaningful contribution towards protecting coral reefs and supporting Fijian communities!