Sharks are sacred in Fijian culture and are forbidden to be eaten by these indigenous cultures. However, the increasing demand for shark products, particularly fins, has led to exploitation of sharks in the waters of Fiji.
In Fiji, marine reserves can be an important tool to conserve the culturally and economically important reef shark. In the early 1980’s and 90’s, an increase in commercial fishing posed a serious threat to the reefs in Fiji and the people of the Kubulau District, located on the southwestern side of Vanua Levu (Fiji’s second largest island), recognized that the reefs needed protection. Thus, the Namena Reserve was established in 1997. Fijians have a long history with community managed protected areas and the management of Namena Reserve follows this tradition; compliance in the reserve is enforced by the surrounding communities.
Scientists have recently proven the effectiveness of the Namena Reserve, Fiji’s largest MPA. In 2009, researchers set up underwater cameras at sites both within Namena Reserve and outside of it in order to survey reef shark populations of protected versus unprotected areas, discovering that in the no-take area of the reserve, there are up to 4 times as many reef sharks inside the reserve than outside of it.
The researchers concluded that sharks may prefer the reserve because of the larger prey populations available there. These results suggest that a large, well-managed MPA can benefit reef sharks and other large fish and marine mammals.
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