Applied Research



Historically, Pacific island communities employed a variety of tools to control marine and coastal resource use. Tabu areas (also called periodically harvested closures) are one of the management tools most commonly used in coastal communities in Fiji within locally-managed marine areas (LMMAs). Tabu areas, which are used like “fish banks” in the water, may be harvested at the discretion of local leaders, which is typically done to support community events. Such pulse harvests benefit fishers in the short term but could also lead to overharvesting, thus compromising long-term ecological and socioeconomic objectives. Most communities express an interest in the long-term sustainability of fisheries, but have raised a number of important questions:

i. Under what harvesting regimes (frequency, intensity, duration) can tabu areas be sustainably fished?

ii. What size do tabu areas need to be relative to the size of the LMMA to achieve both socioeconomic and ecological objectives?

iii. What are the appropriate indicators of when tabu areas can be opened and when they should be closed?

From October 2012 to 2016, WCS led research in Melanesia, including Fiji, to evaluate how tabu areas are used within LMMAs and better understand the conditions needed to make them effective, and to provide guidelines to communities regarding optimum harvesting schemes to achieve ecological and socioeconomic objectives. This work was done in collaboration with scientists at California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, the University of Western Australia, The Nature Conservancy, the French National Center for Scientific Research, and the James Cook University ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.Through this research, we have a better understanding of the range of community motivations for using tabus in practice, which allowed us to model trade-offs that local managers must consider when they have competing objectives. By analyzing data collected in the field that, we found on average, tabus provide short-term protection benefits to targeted fishery species (fish and invertebrates), and that these benefits were greater when tabus were larger, closed for longer periods, well-enforced and had high fishing pressure outside tabu areas in the broader LMMA (which incentivizes management).

A spatially and temporally explicit bioeconomic fisheries model was developed to understand what harvest regimes optimize achievements of multiple objectives under different fishing scenarios and the marginal benefits of increasing the size of tabus relative to the broader LMMA. Results from modeling work indicate that use of tabu areas can be a highly effective and potentially optimal fisheries management strategy in both well-managed and overfished systems, largely because, with tabu areas, fishermen can exploit changes in fish wariness for enhancing harvest efficiency. Tabu effectiveness for achieving multiple goals for conservation and livelihoods depends on its design (size, open-closed schedule, and associated harvest effort) in relation to the spatial and temporal population dynamics of the target fish.


On 20 February 2016, Fiji was hit by Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Winston. It was one of the largest cyclones Fiji had experienced and the government-led Post-Disaster Needs Assessment estimated the total value of the damages and losses for the country at FJ$1.99 billion. In the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston, WCS conducted three major studies to assess the impact of Tropical Cyclone Winston on fishing communities, the mud crab fishery, and coral reefs.


WCS developed a post-disaster socioeconomic questionnaire with inputs from Fiji-based partners, to assess the impact of Cyclone Winston on fisheries-dependent communities in Fiji to inform national recovery and rehabilitation efforts. Surveys were conducted in April and May 2016 across 154 villages, 36 districts and 6 provinces that were directly along the path of the cyclone in Fiji. To complete these, WCS partnered with the Ministry of Fisheries, the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area (FLMMA) Network, the Coral Reef Alliance, Global Vision International (GVI) and the University of the South Pacific (USP).Overall, the damages and losses to boats, engines, fishing and post-harvest gear, and to fish aggregating devices totaled around FJ$3 million. The assessment also documented the impact of the cyclone on fisheries livelihoods and food security. One of the biggest impacts of Tropical Cyclone Winston was the decrease in the amount of fresh fish eaten per week and a heavy reliance on food aid. Coastal villages that ate fresh fish over 6 times a week pre-cyclone were eating fish 2.5 times a week post-cyclone. The report gave twenty-one detailed recommendations to help government help communities recover from the cyclone impacts in a sustainable manner.

Recommendations included:

i. Prioritizing government aid and assistance towards those communities most impacted by Tropical Cyclone Winston;

ii. Providing communities with low-impact fishing gear to minimise further stress to damaged habitats;

iii. Coordinating recovery efforts between sectors and among stakeholders to avoid duplication of recovery efforts and ensure that all voices are represented;

iv. Taking gender into account when executing recovery efforts to ensure both men and women have equitable access to recovery resources provided; and

v. Filling in knowledge gaps with further surveys and data collection in order to accurately advice communities on proper management strategies.


WCS undertook socioeconomic surveys in April to May, 2016 to assess the impact of Tropical Cyclone Winston on the mud crab fishery in Bua Province 2 to 3 months after the cyclone, and provide recommendations for government and development partners on where recovery and rehabilitation efforts should be directed. The fishery is dominated by women fishers and is an important source of food and livelihoods.The study found that nearly 50 percent of mud crab fishers stopped harvesting crabs due to difficulties accessing their collection sites, damages and losses sustained to fishing gear and boats, and because many were focused on repairing their homes. The most damaged infrastructure reported was boats, and the majority of fishers planned to use income from alternative sources to repair or replace damaged equipment.

This study recommended that:

i. government support to fishing communities should be gender sensitive and take into consideration the losses and damages incurred by women fishers; up to date information be provided to women fishers to ensure they get a fair price for their mud crabs;

ii. villages and districts establish regulations or guidelines for the mud crab fishery which promote recovery and sustainable harvest practices;

iii. districts with damaged mangrove tabu areas remain closed to help promote recovery; and

iv. continuing monitoring the recovery of the mud crab fishery and the impact to subsistence and livelihoods in Bua Province.


WCS conducted a rapid assessment of coral reefs in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape from 6‒15 March 2016 in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston.

The objectives of these surveys were to assess:

a) impact of Cyclone Winston on coral reefs in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape; 

b) extent and intensity of coral bleaching on corals; and 

c) health and diversity of areas being considered for inclusion in deeper water marine managed areas.

Data were collected on benthic cover and coral bleaching, and observations of damage to coral reefs were recorded. The surveys found that Tropical Cyclone Winston not only altered landscapes and communities along its main pathway, but caused significant damage to coral reefs up to 20-30 m below the surface in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape. Damage to coral reefs was highest in the north where the eye of the cyclone passed, and lowest in the south. There was extensive coral breakage, coral abrasion, dislodgement of large coral colonies and structural damage to the reef framework. A reduction in corals and the reef structure will reduce the available habitat, which may make some species more vulnerable to predators. Recovery from these types of disturbances, especially cyclones, can take decades, depending on frequency of these events, the scale and intensity of structural damage caused, and compounding anthropogenic stresses (e.g. pollution, overfishing) on coral reefs, that might hinder or slow recovery. However, in addition to mechanical and structural damage, Fiji’s reefs have the additional stress of coral bleaching. At the time of the surveys, the bleaching was mild and quickly dissipated after the cyclone. The ability of Fiji’s coral reefs to persist and recover from Cyclone Winston and bleaching stress is dependent on a number of factors including the intensity, severity and frequency of the disturbance, successful reproduction, availability of viable larvae, oceanic current dynamics influencing larval dispersal, and settlement and recruitment processes.


Since 2014, WCS has participated in the Ridges to Reef SNAPP (Science for Nature and People Partnership) working group with partner researchers to develop methods to assess land-based impacts on coral reef fisheries. A technique was developed to use freely available satellite data to assess the connection between land-uses in catchments and water clarity in coastal waters. The model was applied to estimate the influence of land-use change on water clarity in lagoonal waters of western Vanua Levu. The model's predictions were tested against underwater surveys of benthic cover collected by WCS staff between 2010 and 2012 and found that predictions of poor water quality were consistent with observations of high siltation and low cover of sediment-sensitive coral genera. The model thus provided a means to link land-use change to declines in coastal water quality. The outputs of this model were used to investigate how land-based runoff affects variability in coral reef fish populations. The analysis showed strong associations between fishing pressure and reductions in large fish, as well as an effect of turbidity on most fish functional groups via the mediating effects of habitat. Thus, our results suggest that simultaneous management of catchments and fisheries is important for the conservation of Fiji’s reef fish populations. WCS, along with our collaborators from University of Queensland and Griffith University, presented outputs of our integrated land-sea fisheries model to stakeholders in Bua Province, Fiji. The presentation was part of a workshop to develop the building blocks of a province-wide integrated coastal management plan, where there are high levels of threats to native forests from logging, mining and road building activities, all of which increase sedimentation to nearshore marine ecosystems. Outputs from research under this project were used to help identify locations for new protected areas and advise on forestry practices that will minimise sedimentation on reefs. Results were used to inform the Bua Province Integrated Coastal Management Plan.



In 2015, WCS conducted a value chain analysis (VCA) of both the sea cucumber and mud crab fisheries. VCA was selected because it examines the fisheries in detail, across all the market players, and assessed their investments along the supply chain. The objective was to understand the relationships and linkages between buyers, processors, sellers, and other service providers, and to identify opportunities and constraints to industry growth and competitiveness in Fiji through the value chain lens. WCS and the Ministry of Fisheries worked together to conduct the wild-caught sea cucumber industry’s VCA on Fiji’s two largest islands: Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. This work was timely, contributing to the drafting a national management plan for sea cucumbers and regional efforts to address the overexploitation of this fishery. The VCA found that 22 species of sea cucumbers are collected and exported on the two islands, primarily to mainland China and Hong Kong. The four main market players in the fishery were found to be fishers, processors, middlemen, and exporters, with fishers mainly harvesting sea cucumbers through free-diving and hand collecting within traditional fishing grounds (qoliqolis). The most widely-used management tools implemented by local communities for their sea cucumber fisheries were tabu areas (periodically harvested closures) and size limits. Nearly half the fishers believed the stocks to be depleted. WCS also conducted the first-ever VCA of the wild caught mud crab fishery focusing on Bua Province. The VCA established that mud crab harvesting is largely done by women in iTaukei communities within mangrove forests and adjacent mud and sandflats within their customary fishing grounds. The VCA also documented catch, size preferences, prices and markets targeted by fishers and the contribution of the fishery to household income. The VCA is contributing to the drafting of a national management plan for mud crabs.


 WCS and our partners have taken two primary approaches to investigate how transmission of benign and pathogenic bacteria in humans may be related to environmental conditions. In the first study, we identified the major routes by which bacteria are transferred in order to better understand pathways for how pathogenic diseases like typhoid might spread across districts in Fiji. In the second study, we identified potential environmental associations with typhoid incidence and recurrence in Fiji.

The main findings included: 

i. The Fijian microbiome contains many uncharacterized species and genes.

ii. Transmission can be seen within households, rather than families.

iii.There was a surprising absence of endemic pathogens.

iv.Genes transferred amongst bacteria represent local pools of functional and antibiotic resistance genes. 

The second study found several landscape-level environmental factors associated with typhoid incidence and recurrence, including: 

i.Type of soil, possibly because typhoid bacteria can potentially adhere to and grow on sediment.

ii.Fragmented riparian forests, where there is less sediment trapping by trees and grasses. In addition, less shade from reduced canopy cover means higher water temperatures that can facilitate bacterial growth.

iii.High density of roads crossing creeks, leading to more opportunites for sediment to get into waterways. 

Our partners at Edith Cowan University have now developed a screening tool that can be used by rural health inspectors in Fiji to rapidly assess typhoid risks in Fijian villages.



Tabu Areas:

Jupiter S, Epstein G, Ban NC, Mangubhai S, Fox M, Cox M (2017) A social-ecological approach to assessing conservation and fisheries outcomes from Fijian locally managed marine areas. Society and Natural Resources.

Goetze JS, Januchowski-Hartley FA, Claudet J, Langlois TJ, Wilson SK, Jupiter SD (2017) Fish wariness is a more sensitive indicator to changes in fishing pressure than abundance, length or biomass. Ecological Applications DOI:10.1002/eap.1511

Goetze J, Langlois T, Claudet J, Januchowski-Hartley F, Jupiter SD (2016) Periodically harvested closures require full protection of vulnerable species and longer closure periods. Biological Conservation. 203:67-74

Goetze JS, Jupiter SD, Langlois TJ, Wilson SK, Harvey ES, Bond T, Naisilisili W (2015) Diver operated video most accurately detects the impacts of fishing within periodically harvested closures. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 462:74-82

Jupiter SD, Weeks R, Jenkins AP, Egli DP, Cakacaka A (2012) Effects of a single intensive harvest on fish populations inside a customary marine closure. Coral Reefs 31:321-334

Jupiter SD, Cohen PJ, Weeks R, Tawake A, Govan H (2014) Locally-managed marine areas: multiple objectives and diverse strategies. Pacific Conservation Biology 20:165-179

Cyclone Winston: 

Vandervord C, Fox M, Yashika Nand, Unaisi Nalasi, Tarusila Veibi, Mangubhai S (2016) Impact of Cyclone Winston on Mud Crab Fishers in Fiji. Wildlife Conservation Society. Report No. 04/16. Suva Fiji. 23 pp.

Chaston Radway K, Manley M, Mangubhai S, Sokowaqanilotu E, Lalavanua W, Bogiva A, Caginitoba A, Delai T, Draniatu M, Dulunaqio S, Fox M, Koroiwaqa I, Naisilisili W, Rabukawaqa A, Ravonoloa K, Veibi T (2016) Impact of Tropical Cyclone Winston on Fisheries-Dependent Communities in Fiji. Report No. 03/16. Wildlife Conservation Society, Suva, Fiji. 79 pp.

Mangubhai S (2016) Impact of Tropical Cyclone Winston on Coral Reefs in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape. Report No. 01/16. Wildlife Conservation Society, Suva, Fiji. 27 pp.

 Ridge to Reef:

Jupiter SD, Wenger A, Klein CJ, Albert S, Mangubhai S, Nelson J, Teneva L, Tulloch VJ, White AT, Watson JEM (2017) Opportunities and constraints for implementing integrated land-sea management on islands. Environmental Conservation. 1-13 doi:10.1017/S0376892917000091

Brown CJ, Jupiter SD, Simon A, Klein CJ, Mangubhai S, Mbui M, Mumby PJ, Olley J, Stewart-Koster B, Tulloch V, Wenger A (2017) Tracing the influence of land-use change on water quality and coral reefs using a Bayesian model. bioRXiv

Fredston-Hermann A, Brown CJ, Albert S, Klein CJ, Mangubhai S, Nelson JL, Teneva L, Wenger A, Gaines SD, Halpern BS (2016) Where does river runoff matter for coastal marine conservation? Frontiers in Marine Science. Doi:10.3389/fmars.2016.00273

Value Chain Analysis:

Mangubhai S, Nand Y, Ram R, Fox M, Tabunakawai-Vakalalabure M, Vodivodi T (2016) Value chain analysis of the wild caught sea cucumber fishery in Fiji. Wildlife Conservation Society and Fiji Department of Fisheries. Report No. 02/16. Suva, Fiji, 66 pp.


Jenkins AP, Jupiter SD, Mueller U, Jenney A, Vosaki G, Rosa V, Naucukidi A, Mulholland K, Strugnell R, Kama M, Horwitz P (2016) Health at the sub-catchment scale: typhoid and its environmental determinants in Central Division, Fiji. EcoHealth DOI 10.1007/s10393-10016-11152-10396

Brito IL, Yilmaz S, Huang K, Jupiter SD, Jenkins A.P, Naisilisili W, Tamminem M, Smillie CS, Wortman JR, Birren BW, Xavier RJ, Blainey PC, Singh AK, Gevers D, Alm EJ (2016) Mobile geners in the human microbiome are structured from global to individual scales. Doi:10.1038/nature18927