“Sacred Water”; 10 years of community managed marine protection supported by ecotourism-based income generation at Waitabu Marine Park, Fiji
Helen Sykes and Chinnamma Reddy
Marine Ecology Consulting, Fiji
In April 1998, a small indigenous community began one of the earliest Community-managed Marine Protected Areas (MPA) in Fiji, beginning a decade of commitment to protecting reef life for future generations. The project was a founder member of the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Areas (FLMMA) network, and one of the few FLMMA projects to include an income-generating community-managed tourism operation.
Annual biological monitoring since the project’s inception, undertaken by a team of scientists and community members, utilised in-water survey methods, including Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE) for key invertebrate species, Manta Tows for broad-scale habitat and invertebrate assessment, Point Intercept Transects for coral cover, and Fish Underwater Visual Census (UVC). These surveys demonstrated increased fish populations within the MPA after 3 years, and increased invertebrate populations after 5 years. Fish and invertebrates important to local subsistence and commerce are harvested in the spill-over area near the MPA. Some poaching occurs inside the MPA, so far not significantly impacting overall populations, suggesting the ecosystem is now adequately robust to withstand some harvesting.
Coral growth was retarded by a bleaching event in 2000, but herbivory has reduced macroalgal cover within the MPA, creating better coral-growth substrate, accelerating coral settlement and recovery in comparison with heavily fished areas where macroalgae covers most available substrate, preventing new coral settlement. A small coral restoration project is thriving inside the MPA.
Socio-economic surveys have shown the MPA to have economic and social importance to the local inhabitants, and the value of the MPA as a reserve for conservation and future fish stocks has been reinforced by the income-generating potential of eco-tourism activities.
Keywords: Community Managed Marine Areas, Ecotourism, Sustainable development, Long-term biological monitoring, Coral bleaching, Habitat phase shift.