Wednesday, 30 July 2008

The future is now for youths in MPAs - Fiji Times Online

The future is now for youths in MPAs - Fiji Times Online

ALUMECI NAKEKE
Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The involvement of youths in village project often indicates their commitment to their future.

It shows their understanding that the project not only concerns them but their future generation.

The youths of Waitabu on the island of Taveuni are no exception.

Since the establishment of their Marine Reserve Park or Marine Protected Area 10 years ago, it has been part of their (youths) daily life, learning and understanding its importance from the elders.

Helen Sykes, a Marine Ecology consultant and ecologist, who initiated the marine park still remembers the day she arrived in the village the youths were then still children or young teenagers.

But today, those children have grown into youths and are now monitoring the park and act as snorkel guides for tourists who visit occasionally.

"One of the big changes that always surprises me is the small children who were here when I first started but now have now become snorkel guides," she said.

"The children in the village of Waitabu have grown up always having a marine protected area.

"I can't wait to see these children now, in another 10 years when they become teenagers and young adults who have always had an MPA provided by their elders."

Another 18 youths underwent a marine tour guide training this year including those from Wai and Vurevure. The training was done by Resort Support and CORAL (Coral Reef Alliance).

They used the Marine Tourism Education course by Ms Sykes which has recently been recognised by the Training and Productivity of Fiji (TPAF).

The Waitabu youths are very passionate when they talk about their involvement in the marine park project.

Akostino Apao, a snorkel guide said, he was prepared to fight if he found someone poaching from their marine protected area. He said the MPA was his and his children's future.

The village recently celebrated the park's 10th anniversary and it was the youths who took part in the traditional yaqona ceremony as a show of appreciation for something they believe in.

Arieta Divialagi, who is now the manager of the marine park, was one of the young people in the village who has grown up with the marine park and seen its benefits.

She is now married with three children and even though her children are young they are already aware of the importance of the marine park.

"Since the setting up of this marine protected area we have seen many changes and we have benefited greatly in terms of it providing us with food. We are so passionate about out marine protected area because we've basically grown up with it," Ms Divialagi said.

The village has never opened its tabu area, which is about 0.27square kilometres.

It was originally an over-fished and severely depleted area but now is unbelievably filled with fish species, normal coral cover and giant clams, trochus shells and invertebrates.

Even after five years of protection the villagers and those doing the biological report of the marine park saw a vast change as the marine life population reached their peak and had stabilised and remained fairly constant in succeeding years despite poaching pressures on some fish species, said Sykes.

In their survey according to Resort Support they found coral bleaching in 2000 reduced coral cover for some years but over the past three years it had improved in the MPA and fishing ground slopes but not the flats.

Algal cover has dropped in the MPA because of grazing by increased numbers of invertebrate animals and fish, particularly the large schools of surgeonfish.

Surgeonfish remove algae and clean substrate for new corals to grow.

But this is not so in the fishing grounds, which people use because of over-fishing.

Coral breakage is not seen in the MPA because people have ceased to walk on them so there is more branching Acropora corals now make up a high percentage of live hard coral in the MPA.

Clams (vasua) was one of the most successful in the MPA because when they started in 1998 there were no clams found but within that year bout eight small clams appeared.

After five years of protection some had reached adult size and the population increased and now there are about 30 to 40 adult size which are the breeding size.

Immature clams were found and it is believed that the clams are now spawning or attracting larval clams into the area.

However, they found a few empty clam shells over the past two years. It is likely to be caused by natural predation or disease rather than poaching because they found two clams of the same size next to the dead one still intact and alive.

While marine life is thriving in the marine reserve the fishing ground is benefiting as villagers now get more fish and sea urchins (cawaki) and octopus.

But poaching is a big issue as nearby villagers are aware of the abundance of fish and invertebrates in the MPA.

The future is now for youths in MPAs - Fiji Times Online

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