Research

Resilient MPA Network Design / Adaptive Management

Efforts to develop management strategies that can reduce the impacts of global environmental and climate change are urgently needed but examples of their application to date are rare. WCS-Fiji is leading efforts to developing indicators of coral reef resilience to climate impacts which can be used to prioritise locations for management. We are currently using data on a variety of reef indicators to design and reconfigure networks of marine protected areas (MPAs) to maximize future resistance to and resilience from climate disturbance while also spreading costs evenly among resource users. The recommendations for MPA placement will be coupled with recommendations for heightened protection across the entire fisheries management area of species such as grazers and top predators that confer higher resilience to reef communities. We have collected data from coral reef habitats within managed (Kubulau District) and unmanaged fishing grounds (Solevu, Nadi, Wainunu, Wailevu districts). We are combining these data with reef habitat classifications and predictions of reef fish assemblage characteristics to identify sites with naturally high resilience and those that can be improved by management. We have used this data in consultations with stakeholders in Kubulau District to discuss options for adapting their existing marine protected area (MPA) to improve reef resilience. We are also in the process of working with the communities from Bua and Cakaudrove provinces to design new resilient MPA networks. These efforts contribute to the WCS Global Conservation Program's Climate Change Challenge by building ecological resilience to climate change.

 

Building Social Resilience to Climate Change

Since 2005, WCS-Fiji and our conservation partners have worked with communities within the Vatu-i-Ra seascape of Fiji to implement ecosystem-based management (EBM) for biodiversity conservation and natural resource management. But ecosystem management alone is not enough to insure reduced vulnerability to climate hazards. In order to maximize adaptation potential, EBM must also be coupled with policies and practices to increase social resilience, including: diversifying food and income sources; mobilizing communications and traditional social networks for knowledge transfer; and improving basic infrastructure. To address these issues, WCS-Fiji is taking a threefold approach when working with communities throughout the Vatu-i-Ra. First, through focal group interviews, WCS-Fiji is engaging local stakeholders in rural communities to identify climate hazards perceived to be the greatest threats to local resources. We are also interviewing elders to identify past management practices which may be useful to resurrect to improve sustainability of resource use and adaptation to climate change. Secondly, as many of the management strategies require designation of protected areas, WCS-Fiji is using a science-based approach to assist communities to design resilient protected area networks. Thirdly, WCS-Fiji and its partners (The Coral Reef Alliance, SeaWeb) are working directly with local resource management committee members to boost their adaptive capacity by: improving their awareness of ecology and threats; strengthening their ability to communicate the rationale for management decisions to men, women and youth within their communities; improving monitoring and enforcement of current management measures; and recognizing when it is appropriate to adapt management strategies to changing environmental or climate conditions. These efforts contribute to the WCS Global Conservation Program's Climate Change Challenge by building social resilience to climate change.

Collaborators:
The Coral Reef Alliance
SeaWeb

 

Integrated Planning at the National Scale

Most marine protected area networks are generally initiated in an ad hoc manner, with reserves that are often located in places that do not contribute to the full representation of biodiversity targets. In Fiji, locally marine managed areas (LMMAs) have grown rapidly in number from 1 site in 1997 to approximately 150 LMMAs in 2009, with at least 216 separate customary closures. While the main objective for establishment of LMMAs is to improve food security, as a large collection of management actions, the network can also support the Fiji Government commitment to effectively protect at least 30% of Fiji's inshore areas. In support of Fiji's Programme of Work on Protected Areas under the Convention on Biological Diversity and to determine how much the Fiji LMMA network contributes to national objectives, WCS-Fiji and collaborators at James Cook University used an innovative approach to gap analysis that considered the size of the managed areas and the potential effectiveness of the management actions, as defined by an expert group. We found that the current FLMMA network effectively protected approximately 10-25% of each target habitat (mangroves, intertidal mudflats, reefs), though the amount of protection varies substantially by province. We are using these results to begin a dialogue with provincial administrators and members of the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area network to identify candidate sites for protection and management to fill the gaps. This work is being complemented by work with researchers at the University of Queensland to: (1) identify options for zoning across the Vatu-i-Ra seascape; and (2) prioritize return on investment across land and sea management actions.

Collaborators:
Fiji National Protected Area Committee
Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area Network
Morena Mills, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
Bob Pressey, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
Carissa Klein, The Ecology Centre, University of Queensland
Azusa Makino, The Ecology Centre, University of Queensland
Maria Beger, The Ecology Centre, University of Queensland
Hugh Possingham, The Ecology Centre, University of Queensland

Connectivity Science

With our partner investigators, WCS-Fiji has shown that more than 98% of fishes found in Fiji's freshwater are highly migratory and make contact with the sea at some phase of their life cycles. Our research has shown that both catchment forest loss and the presence of invasive tilapia are strongly correlated with declines in diversity of these native fish species. In addition, hanging culverts provide strong barriers for migration for non-climbing species. Absences of sensitive species are particularly pronounced in degraded catchments during the wet season as high volumes of sediment enter waterways. We are currently assessing the role of riparian vegetation in mitigating these changes. As many of the sensitive fish species are important sources of food and income for inland villages, this research helps supports the WCS Global Conservation Program Livelihoods Challenge. WCS-Fiji has used these scientific findings as a basis for a Geographical Information System (GIS) study to assess where aquatic migratory pathways between catchments and coasts are best preserved in Fiji. These results are being used to help national planners identify new areas for protection and restoration.

Collaborators:
Aaron Jenkins, Consultant

Marine Protected Area Effectiveness

The total biomass of coral reef fish at near-pristine and well-managed sites in Fiji rivals the highest values recorded anywhere in the Pacific. This is partially due to the success of community-based natural resource management initiatives, however not all types of management are created equal. Our research has shown that community-based management has successfully sustained extraordinary reef fish biomass within the Namena Marine Reserve (Kubulau District, Bua) and Daveta Tabu (Totoya Island, Lau). We attribute this success to the physical inaccessibility, large distance from commercial centres, steep reef slopes, high currents, large area under management and strong, and long-term respect for taboos placed on fishing at these sites. However, community-management is not always successful. Our work from Cakaulevu Tabu (Kia Island, Macuata) indicates that traditional management practices might not be robust in the face of new economic opportunities, for example when direct links are made to markets and middlemen operating for seafood export companies. An intensive harvest of this community-managed protected area, initiated as a fundraiser, resulted in a 45% removal of total reef fish biomass after 4 weeks, with only 83% of original biomass remaining one year later. WCS Fiji is continuing to educate communities and management partners about best practices for marine management to strengthen MPA effectiveness across Fiji and the Pacific. As MPAs provide food security for a high proportion of coastal residents in the regions, this work is in direct support of the WCS Global Conservation Program Livelihoods Challenge.

Collaborators:
WWF South Pacific Programme
Greg Mitchell, Pacific Blue Foundation


Health and Ecosystem Linkages

In the Fiji Islands, flooding events following tropical cyclones and prolonged rainfall have been linked to outbreaks of waterborne bacterial disease (e.g. typhoid, leptospirosis, shigellosis), resulting in costly disaster response measures implemented by government and non-government agencies. To date, there has been little attention focused on preventative measures and no attempt to evaluate consequent downstream impacts on ecosystem services on which Fijian people depend for their livelihoods and well-being. We hypothesize that both waterborne bacterial disease burden and loss of in-stream and downstream biodiversity and ecosystem services in Fiji are affected by the same proximate sources, namely alterations to catchment land cover that result in increased flooding, sedimentation and associated pollution to waterways and the nearshore environment. WCS-Fiji is currently working with researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a pilot project to understand pathways of bacterial transmission among human populations. We are hoping to soon begin a broader study that addresses the common causal mechanisms of bacterial disease burden and downstream ecosystem decline that are related to flooding. This will enable us to respond to the WCS Global Conservation Program Health Challenge

Collaborators:
Ilana Brito,Earth Institute, Columbia University
Aaron Jenkins, Consultant
Fiji Ministry of Health

Fish Assemblage Structure Assessed from sBRUVs

The effects of protection and depth on assemblages of reef fish in the Kubulau District of Vanua Levu Island, Fiji were studied using novel stereo Baited Remote Underwater Video (sBRUV) systems. In contrast to conventional underwater visual census (UVC) on SCUBA, the sBRUV system is stationary and records fish assemblages near the sea bed for 1 hour periods, with bait placed in front of the video cameras to attract additional predatory fish. The study found a significant difference between protected and fished areas for the targeted fish species by food fish grade, with greater abundance in the protected areas than for both shallow and deep sites in the oldest MPA in Kubulau (the Namena Marine Reserve). A generally more pronounced difference in the shallow areas indicate that the fishing impact in shallower depths of open areas is more pronounced.Collaborators:
Jordan Goetze, University of Western Australia

Spatial Predictions of Fish Assemblages from Satellite Maps of Coral Reefs

In collaboration with researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia and Simon Fraser University in Canada, WCS-Fiji created detailed maps of coral reef habitats within in the traditional fishing grounds of Kubulau District, Vanua Levu . Using spatial modeling techniques, we developed relationships between satellite-derived habitat characteristics and field data on reef fish assemblages. The output predictive maps of relative differences in fish biodiversity and biomass represent a new innovation in remote sensing science that has never been used for direct management applications to try to identify optimum areas to add new marine protected areas (MPAs) to the Kubulau network.
Collaborators:
Anders Knudby, Simon Fraser University
Chris Roelfsema, University of Queensland
Mitchell Lyons, University of Queensland
Stuart Phinn, University of Queensland

Spreading Management Costs

WCS-Fiji collaborated with researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University to model opportunity costs to fishers based on current spatial distribution of catch. We modelled the highest value fishing grounds, both now, and into the future assuming the introduction of new kinds of fishing gear. We then investigated how we could reposition the fishing closures to reduce conflict and ensure that fishermen would not lose too much income in the process. WCS-Fiji plans to presented recommendations for reconfiguring the Kubulau MPA network to district chiefs and the local resource management committee members in July 2011. The final decision to make any adjustments to the MPA boundaries or management rules regulating gear use rests with the high council of chiefs.

Collaborators:
Vanessa Adams, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
Morena Mills, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
Bob Pressey, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University

Copyright 2009-2017 by Wildlife Conservation Society

WCS, the "W" logo, WE STAND FOR WILDLIFE, I STAND FOR WILDLIFE, and STAND FOR WILDLIFE are service marks of Wildlife Conservation Society.

Contact Information
Address: 2300 Southern Boulevard Bronx, New York 10460 Phone Number: (718) 220-5100