Stretching across the channel that links Fiji’s two main islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu is a blue-green jewel of forest and reef. Called Vatu-i-Ra, the 27,000 km2 Seascape’s vibrant waters are laced with coral reefs, including over 300 reef-building coral species, more than 1,000 fish species, sharks and endangered sea turtles. The Seascape is nourished by the deep Vatu-i-Ra and Lomaiviti Passages, which generate currents that support an astounding diversity of life, including coastal and offshore fisheries. It is a place where humpback whales come to bear calves, black noddy sea birds congregate to nest and dolphins rest in the lee of reefs after their nights chasing pelagic fish, squid and shrimp into the deep. The adjoining landscape of coastal forests is also highly diverse, including at least 120 plant species unique to the area, crested iguanas and tree frogs.
Vatu-i-Ra is important not just to local wildlife, but to the people who call it home. The Seascape provides food and livelihoods to over 116,000 people. Local communities have strong historical and cultural connections to their natural resources, and have maintained their traditional management practices such as tabu (temporal fisheries closures) within their fishing grounds.
Today, the natural resources on which so many people depend are under threat. Poor land-based practices and increased demands for cash income and materials goods, coupled with growing populations and access to markets, have led to substantial increased pressure on those resources. Uncontrolled extraction, poor compliance and enforcement of national laws means forest and fisheries resources are, or close to being, fully exploited.
Fortunately, if carefully supported and empowered, local communities can become strong stewards of their natural environment. A growing understanding of the importance of taking a holistic ecosystem-based management approach to protecting this important Seascape is resulting in strong, unprecedented partnerships between national government, provincial offices, communities, private sector, non-government organisations and research institutions