Community-based coral adaptation approaches in Fiji

Submitted by admin on 27. May 2023 - 16:23

Community-based coral adaptation approaches in Fiji

News from Austin Bowden-Kerby
IEF member in Fiji
27 May 2023

The Fiji government is committed to working with communities to close 30% of all Fiji waters to fishing. Three board members of our Bahá'í-inspired organisation, Corals for Conservation (C4C), were on the ground back in 2000 when Cuvu community chiefs and elders established the first community based tabu areas in several generations on Fiji's coral reefs. The workshops were carried out before C4C's time, by FSP-Fiji, an organisation which was headed by present C4C board chair Verona Lucas, with a team facilitated by present C4C board member Simi Koto, and supported by C4C's marine scientist Austin Bowden-Kerby. It was an amazing spiritual experience and many tears of joy were shed as the first five Tabu areas in 2-3+ generations were set. Those community-based efforts were encouraged by the government, and spread throughout Fiji, causing an amazing transformation and resulting in over 300 tabu areas by 2020. The board of C4C believes that the time has come to take this to the next level, as explained below.

We are now working again with communities in Moturiki, (Uluibau and Daku villages), through the Lomaiviti Provincial Office, and also with Naidiri village in Malomalo, and Nanuya and other villages in Malolo, through the Nadroga Provincial office. Each of the mentioned communities have reset and marked their tabus, thanks to the groundwork of Simi Koto. The Malolo elders have expressed interest in wanting to go further and permanently set aside their customary sacred reefs at Mamanuca i Cake (pronounced Mamanutha i Thake), a huge 400 km2+ area. The Moturiki elders also want to permanently set aside the Daveta levu/ Nasautabu sacred reef area into permanent no-take status, if they can get the area returned to them as the proper owners. Reestablishing these former permanent culturally-based tabu areas, would be the next big step for Fiji, if it can happen. However, this may require new legislation, as the present gazetting legislation might be seen as violating the spirit of these sacred reefs, being the very heart of the Vanua.

I will turn 70 next year, and with not so many years left, I have launched our new coral focused model in December, via a scientific publication, which has brought UNEP International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) recognition, as the first formal coral focused and community-appropriate climate change adaptation model. I have now been appointed to two UNEP ICRI committees: the Global Fund for Coral Reefs (GFCR) advisory board and a new committee drafting the "Coral Reefs Breakthrough", which will be launched at COP 28. We will ask for at least ten billion dollars to be earmarked to save coral reefs from extinction due to climate change. In perspective, the Webb telescope cost ten billion dollars, and our thinking is that the survival of coral reefs in the face of climate change is at least as important!

Here is the link to the scientific article, plus a new film on our "Reefs of Hope" strategies. Proof of concept experiments are ongoing, funded this past year by UNEP, to verify the science. The specifics of the strategy explained in the film, were developed at Malolo, a double barrier reef system which has a very strong thermal gradient and with mostly unidirectional currents: a cool outer barrier reef, warm middle barrier reef, and very hot fringing reefs. We will need to modify the strategies and adapt them somewhat based on the ecological and physical realities of specific reef sites, as our reefs are not all the same. The Coral Coast may for example be quite different, with much more sharing of coral larvae between hot reef areas and cooler reef areas, so flexibility must become part of any coral focused program. This is clear in the film more than in the paper. However, the basic principles remain the same everywhere: to locate, protect, and work with bleaching-resistant corals and to propagate them within Locally-Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs).

We now have nurseries filled with bleaching resistant corals to at least 31-33°C, (some to 36-37°C) in Malolo, Malomalo, and Moturiki. The recent bleaching enabled us to include the Moturiki community to identify and collect the unbleached Acropora corals. So we have re-established a former community nursery which is now filled with heat resistant corals. As mentioned in the film, we have also been trialing a coral growing method on A-frames within Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Ten Fisheries Officers attending our "Coral restoration for climate change adaptation" course last year were taught this method at the Plantation Island Resort site. We have learned since then that we can accelerate the change by planting them with more dense coral 'thatch', so as to make them convert quickly into "bure ni ika". In Naidiri village, which is easily accessible, you can view these structures created before COVIID, and the numbers of fish sheltering inside them is truly amazing! The community got so excited that they went out and bought their own mesh and made some more! We now have to do more work on which fish species are most impacted, and whether carnivores might become overabundant and thus impact the MPA negatively. We will need nighttime vs daytime data and also to trial some modifications, to see if we can influence which species of fish shelter in them as bedrooms. But not to forget that the most important factor is to increase the cover of bleaching resistant corals within the tabu areas, to reboot coral reproduction for declining species, and to help the reefs adapt to climate change on their own, as explained in the links.

The youth and resort work have both shown us that with guidance and training, the tabu areas all over Fiji might now be enhanced with fish habitat and with corals, not only to increase their functionality, but at the same time to facilitate adaptation to warming seas by propagating heat-adapted corals. So we finally have a way to involve communities in the fight to respond to climate change!

The next step will involve a unified vision and strategy: that we make a joint statement that the time has arrived to add coral reef adaptation work into community based coral reef tabu areas, as an a coral-focused climate change adaptation measure, and to write this up as a Decadal Action for endorsement and UN approval. C4C will be writing this up for others to review and/or endorse, as we should do this as a joint process. Following this UN process will open the doors to funding via several potential sources.

This new support system puts fishing communities at the forefront of action to combat climate change impacts on coral reefs. With unity of vision and coordinated action, we will then be able to achieve amazing things. This new way of involving communities in adapting to climate change, while increasing the functionality of LMMAs, might just end up planting several million heat-adapted corals over a decade of action, if hundreds of communities with tabu areas had training and funding for this program. This would be a very exciting development.

Last updated 28 May 2023