The Conservation Park
The Vatu-i-Ra Conservation Park encompasses Vatu-i-Ra Island and over 100 km2 of reefs, lagoons, terraces and pinnacles off the northern coast of Viti Levu. Vatu-i-Ra Island supports a multitude of breeding seabirds, earning it the nickname “Bird Island” and classification as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area. The nine species of seabirds that call the island home include black noddies (Anous tenuirostris), red-footed and brown boobies (Sula sula and Sula leucogaster), lesser frigatebirds (Fregata ariel) and several species of tern. Dolphins, whales, sea turtles and over 100 species of fish populate the diverse marine ecosystems surrounding the island. Some coral reefs in the Conservation Park were damaged by Tropical Cyclone Winston in 2016, making the continued protection of both unharmed and damaged reefs all the more important.
The Conservation Park was established to protect the remarkable biodiversity of both its marine and terrestrial ecosystems, and to preserve its cultural history. The “spillover” effect from high fish populations within the park will also benefit the traditional fishing ground (qoliqoli) of Cokovata Nakorotubu. Nearly 80% of Vatu-i-Ra Conservation Park is a “no-take” zone, including all of Vatu-i-Ra Island. The remainder of the park is a “catch-and-release” zone open to sustainable, recreational fishing.
Vatu-i-Ra Island is traditionally owned by the Nagilogilo clan, while the surrounding waters fall within the qoliqoli Cokovata Nakorotubu. The island is highly culturally important, and has been monitored and managed for invasive species since 2007 by the Nagilogilo clan with the support of BirdLife International. Villages in the region are dependent on their environment, relying on fish and sea cucumbers for income and sustenance. Qoliqoli Cokovata Nakorotubu is involved in the management of the park, and benefits from the spillover effect the park has on its fisheries.
Invasive species like rats, mongoose, and cats are the biggest threat to the birdlife on Vatu-i-Ra Island. If introduced, such predators can have devastating consequences.
Illegal fishing threatens the marine environment. Since the Conservation Park is 15 km from the mainland, it can be difficult to monitor the area for poachers from neighboring districts and provinces.
Climate change will pose an increasing threat to coral reef ecosystems due to coral bleaching and an increase in the severity and frequency of tropical cyclones.
WCS is working with the local communities, tourism operators, the Ra Provincial Office and interested stakeholders in Ra Province to establish the Vatu-i-Ra Conservation Park and a voluntary contribution to conservation scheme, to protect both the island and its surrounding coral reefs. All voluntary contributions by visitors will go towards supporting the management of the Park and providing education grants to children from Nakorotubu District. The reduced fishing pressure is expected to preserve healthy fish stocks, thus maintaining the dive experience for tourists, support fish stocks in adjacent areas for the benefit of local fishers.