For centuries Fiji’s traditional approach to fishing has included “tabu” areas – sites temporarily closed to fishing. Throughout the Fijian islands, village chiefs still use the idea of tabu areas through locally managed marine areas (LMMAs), which are restricted areas within the qoliqoli, the traditional, community-owned fishing grounds. Unlike most countries, in Fiji, the qoliqoli have property rights to the marine waters off of their villages, and the new tabu areas often encompass up to15 percent of the village’s fishing waters.
In the early 1990s residents of Ucunivanua village, on the eastern coast of Fiji’s largest island Viti Levu, realized that vital marine resources were becoming scarce such as the kaikoso, a clam found in the shallow mudflats and seagrass beds. A staple food and valuable source of income, this clam was also considered the clan totem of this village. In the past, a woman could go out and collect several bags of large kaikoso in a few hours. Now, however, a woman can spend all day on the mudflats and end up with only half a bag of small clams.
Concerned about the scarcity of this precious resource, villagers engaged in a collaborative effort with the University of the South Pacific, located in Fiji’s capital, Suva, to find ways to recover the clam populations. After two years of workshops and trainings focused on environmental education and community planning, the villagers were ready to set up their tabu. They selected a 24-hectare tabu, rich with mudflats and seagrass beds.
The village chose a group of 20 men and women to be on the management team for the tabu area that staked out the boundaries of the area and collaborated with chiefs and elders on a ceremony to reaffirm the tabu every 3 years. Experts from the university also taught the team how to monitor the area using snorkel surveys.
In 1997, the team gathered data to establish a baseline for clam populations in both the tabu and adjacent sites down current from the area, allowing them to compare results between protected and unprotected waters. The difference in both clam numbers and size between the 1997 and 2004 highlight the success of the tabu.
During this time period, the number of clams found in the tabu and surrounding areas increased dramatically. In 1997, only 38 clams were found in the sampled area. In 2004, over 7,000 clams were found. In addition, not only were there considerably more clams, but the size of the clams increased significantly. When they first started monitoring, the team rarely found a clam that was bigger than 5 cm in diameter. However, in 2004, community members commonly found clams measuring over 8 cm in diameter. Because of the success of this tabu, the area is now currently closed to fishing and collection indefinitely.
The case of Ucunivanua shows how locally managed marine protected areas can be effective in protecting marine resources. If a community has the drive to conserve their resources, they have the ability to positively impact the marine life and habitats that are most important to them.
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