Friday, 12 September 2008

Fighting the coral fight - Fiji Times Online

Fiji Times
Sunday, July 27, 2008

Every year, the use of anchors for mooring commercial and recreational boats causes millions of dollars worth of damage to coral reefs around the world.

Anchoring on or even near a coral reef can cause immediate, visible damage which impacts the health of the reef and the important fisheries that coral reefs support and also its appeal to tourists.

Using mooring buoys instead of anchors is a simple solution which protects coral reefs and the businesses that depend on them.

The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) non-governmental organisation is working towards effective marine conservation in Fiji by installing a series of permanent moorings within and around the Namena Marine Reserve in Kubulau in Bua together with assistance from the community.

Funds raised through the Moore & Packard Foundation, Mar Viva Foundation and the sales of entrance fees to the Reserve are supporting this initiative.

"There is a two-pronged approach to this mooring buoy project. One is to ensure the Namena Marine Reserve is recognized as an anchor free zone, helping to secure the health and appeal of the reef for years to come. The other is to build direct relationships between the Kubulau community and the dive operators to encourage small scale tourism initiatives," volunteer field representative for CORAL, Heidi Williams said.

"The Kubulau community has a long established qoliqoli management committee, and we are working closely with them to develop a sustainable business plan for the Namena Marine Reserve, including the deployment of permanent moorings; an essential part of any marine park management plan.

"Currently anyone wishing to dive within the reserve must pre-purchase a special ├ŽNamena' dive tag for $F25 which goes into a community managed management fund. 50 per cent is specifically allocated to providing scholarships for tertiary education for the young people of Kubulau.

"The other 50 per cent of proceeds is allocated for the management of the reserve and includes covering the cost for fuel to better enforce the marine protected area. It is planned that the money from the management fund will be reinvested and used for providing waged jobs and capital to start up small micro-enterprises for community projects which will enable alternative livelihoods".

Kubulau community member, and a Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) employee, Sirilo Dulunaqio believes the initiative is a positive approach to maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem.

Originally a dive instructor on Namenalala Island, Mr Dulunaqio said that conservation and preservation was something that needed immediate attention. He said these issues should be discussed openly and communities and NGO's should work together as partners to make this happen.

In Kubulau this is certainly the case, the Kubulau Resource Management Committee initiate quarterly stakeholder meetings for all NGO partners and dive operators to meet to discuss the conservation and management of their resources.

It was during one of these meetings that the subject of anchor damage was raised, the community requested assistance to help mitigate this threat to their reef. Now, with CORAL's help, the Namena Marine Reserve will continue to be not only one of the worlds top dive destinations, but a pristine habitat to encourage healthy fish stocks for the future generations for Kubulau.

The Kubulau community will be responsible for the maintenance of the near shore moorings and will be assisted by the dive operators for the maintenance of the offshore moorings. This will be supported financially through the management fund and dive training provided by partner NGO's and diver operators.

Indeed, after the installation of the mooring buoys, Greenforce, a UK based organization that hosts gap year students in Kubulau, plan to conduct coral reef recovery surveys with trained community members to demonstrate the benefit of mooring use.

Building on the dive training provided by Greenforce and WCS, Cousteau dive shop manager Ezra Lanyon has offered a Dive Master internship for any community members certified as a PADI Rescue Diver.

Paula Veileqe of Navatu Village, who has recently completed his Rescue Diver Certificate will be the first to do this and said, "This is a really good opportunity for me and other people in the community, not only are we given the opportunity to contribute to the scientific surveying of our reefs, but we are given the chance to gain valuable professional diving qualifications".

WCS Program Director, Martin Callow said coral recovery surveys could identify the level of coral or benthic cover at the sites where moorings are to be installed and changes in cover could be monitored over time.

He said these surveys are likely to indicate a move towards additional and more diverse benthic organisms, due to the installation of the moorings. This is similar in other parts of the world where moorings have been installed.

Mr Callow said it is important for people to utilize their resources wisely; everyone in Fiji depends on the coastal and marine resources, for food, cultural value, heritage, tourism and livelihoods.

Future generations need these resources as much as we do presently, and their sustainable management is therefore a crucial factor.

"It is very important that communities are ultimately responsible for their own resources now and into the future," Mr Callow said.

"We aim to support management plan development through the science we are conducting, and the mooring initiative in itself will help to protect the marine resources within the Namena reserve and within the wider Kubulau qoliqoli."

Kubulau Resource Management Committee chairman Paulo Kolikata of Namalata Village said that the community realized over 10 years ago that their reefs were in need of protection.

"We initially just wanted to protect our fish stocks for future generations and back then didn't realize how much help or attention we would eventually get for our efforts."

Over the years, with the help of partner NGO's and dive operators, the Namena Marine Reserve and greater Kubulau qoliqoli has become a recognized world class dive destination.

"With the installation of these moorings, people will see that we take the protection of our resources seriously."

Speaking about the potential for tourism within Kubulau, Mr Kolikata said that by bringing tourists to the community, not only gave them a valuable income generating opportunity to further support community projects, but also helped everyone understand the importance of conserving their resources.

He said that the people of Kubulau were excited to meet the divers and hear stories of the beautiful coral reefs they have pledged to protect.

Fighting the coral fight - Fiji Times Online


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