Waitabu Village in Taveuni is one of the pioneers of marine conservation in Fiji, and this year celebrates the 10-year anniversary of their community-managed
“Tabu” marine protected area, the Waitabu Marine Park, a founder member of the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Areas network (FLMMA). In April 1998, the community, assisted by the New Zealand Overseas Development Agency (NZODA, now known as NZAID), declared an area of their Qoliqoli to be “Tabu” (completely protected from all fishing), and began a decade of commitment to protecting their reef and fish for the future generations.
Waitabu Marine Park falls within the traditional ownership area of the Wainikeli and Bouma Qoliqoli on the north-east coast of Taveuni Island, and is part of the Bouma Heritage Park, winner of the British Airways “Tourism for Tomorrow’ Award in 2002, which features four leading examples of community-based conservation-oriented tourism, namely; Lavena Coastal Walk; Tavoro (Bouma) Falls; Vidawa Rainforest Hike; and Waitabu Marine Park. More information on these can be obtained at the Bouma Heritage Park Website www.boumafiji.com
Before the Tabu, this piece of reef was a typical Fijian reef flat, heavily fished for subsistence, with small fish and other animals, many broken and dead corals, and heavy algal (seaweed) overgrowth.In the 10 years or protection, fish and invertebrate animals such as Giant Clams (Vasua), Trochus Shell (Vivili) and Sea Cucumbers (Beche de Mer or Dri) have all increased in number and also grown to breeding size. Large schools of fish have eaten the seaweeds away and created clean rocks for new corals to grow, providing more places for small fish and other animals to live.
As well as there being more fish in the Tabu area, the fish are larger, and not afraid of people. This means that they are more likely to breed, and improve fishing stocks in the fishing grounds on either side of the Tabu area, and also creates a tourist attraction, as visitors can snorkel with schools of fish that are tame and unafraid.
Large Giant Clams (Vasua) and Trochus shells (Vivili), are now of breeding size in the Tabu and so will provide babies to restock the fishing grounds, where they are very useful to the local people. Visitors also love to be taken to visit the Giant Clams.
Giant clams are not full breeding adults until they are over 30cm long. Many of the Waitabu clams are now 40 – 50cm.
Because of these attractions, the village has been able to operate a small tourist snorkelling tip within the park, which provides cash income for guides, boat captains, entertainers and tea ladies, and for the project fund.
Visitors from overseas experience the rich marine life and the village culture The communities of Waitabu village and Wai and Vurevure settlements have created a unique example of how a small community can make a positive difference to the environment by active and committed conservation of their own natural resources. As well as providing cash income for the community through tourism, the Tabu area will be a sanctuary for fish and animals that will serve the future generations of Bouma and Wainikeli.
Waitabu is planning to celebrate their 10 year anniversary in May 2008 with an open day for local resort and tourism operators on 24 May, and a week of special visitor promotions from 26 – 30 May.
For more details, contact the Waitabu Marine Park project manager, Arieta Divialagi on 828 3003, or the Bouma Heritage Park project manager Sipriano Qeteqete on 972 1226 or 820 4373
Milestones along the way:
April 1998 Tabu declared
March 2001 Snorkel guide training for village youths, start of Marine Park Tourism
2002 Became one of the founder members of the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Areas (FLMMA) network
Sept 2003 Permanent Tabu markers and boat moorings installed by Resort Support, Aquatrek Taveuni, and the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL)
Sept 2003 Microreef coral restoration programme started by Resort SupportWaitabu village celebrates 10 year anniversary of community-managed Marine Park
Jan 2004 First training for community team in “Reef Check” surveys (repeated every year since)
Jan 2004 Roadside sign erected by Resort Support and the Rotary Clubs of Lancaster, (UK) and Taveuni
March 2005 Boat donated by Reef Check, Quiksilver and Fiji Water
Aug 2006 Office built and opened by NZAID and the Fiji National Trust
2006 First Visit by Spirit of Oceanus Cruise Ship, repeated in 2007 and 2008
Feb 2008 Marine Tour Guide training for 18 youths from Waitabu, Wai and Vurevure, by Resort Support, assisted by CORAL
Feb 2008 Annual biological surveys assisted by:
- Resort Support / Marine Ecology Consulting,
- Fiji Locally Managed Marine Areas (FLMMA) network,
- Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS),
- Conservation International (CI),
- Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL),
- Beqa Adventure Divers (BAD),
- Matagi Island Resort
- Institute of Applied Sciences (IAS), University of the South Pacific (USP).
Feb 2008 Tourism and handicrafts marketing and stocktaking workshop for ladies
10 year anniversary celebrations to come in 2008:
24 May: Waitabu Day: Open day for local resort and tourism operators
26 – 30 May: Waitabu Week: Tourism activities & discounts for park visitors