This trip has been primarily one of outreach and education (for all of us), though we have managed to get into the water now and then. It would be a crime to come to one of the world’s most beautiful reef systems and not spend some time appreciating the splendor.
One of the most stunning places I have ever dove is an area called Namena in Fiji. I remember first diving it 5 years ago and being absolutely blown away. Sadly, it isn’t often when you revisit a dive site that you dove years ago and it is as pristine and plentiful as you remember. Namena certainly didn’t disappoint! Gorgeous, flowing, soft corals, healthy, huge coral heads, brightly colored reef fish, and large schools of silvery predators filled every corner of my mask.
You see, Namena is a locally run marine reserve. Fiji has long has a tradition of tabu – which has proved to be an incredibly insightful way to manage fish stocks. Community established and patrolled, these no-take marine reserves are supported through FLMMA (Fiji Locally Managed Marine Areas.) More than 390 areas in Fiji exist, representing 7,000 square kilometers. Considering less than 1% of the ocean is protected, it is quite impressive that 20% of Fiji’s coastline is.
In addition to diving the marine reserve, we had another reason to go into Ravi Ravi… To meet the villagers who are protecting the reef and learn more about how the area was established and how it continues to be one of the oldest and most successful protected marine areas in Fiji.
And most importantly, we wanted to visit Seru’s village. Seru, one of the Fijian crewmembers aboard the Bardot, had joined us in the Solomon Islands and was proving to be an amazing asset to the team. He was not only a great seaman, but he was able to carry the story of Namena throughout Vanuatu, where the Bardot is currently located.
We were met by two village protectors and generously welcomed into Ravi Ravi. The entire community had cooked for us, and was awaiting us in the town hall. They were eager for news of Seru whom they hadn’t seen in years – and I even saw a proud tear in his mother’s eye when we told her he was busy meeting with the government of Vanuatu, to encourage them to protect their marine resources- as he did, from a very early age.
We danced, drank kava and shared stories for hours. And although they were clearly very well educated, they encouraged us to do a presentation on sharks. While the children of the village played in the corner with the shark puppets, I will never forget the horror in the adults’ eyes when I showed them images of the vast amount of fins in China and the piles of sharks in markets throughout the world. Shark finning was something they fought against on a small scale – but the realization of its reach and vastness was haunting to them.
The chief told us that Namena was established 10 years ago and is locally patrolled. Their small vessel is not able to cover a large area, but they do their best to keep poachers out. Sadly, he told me stories of long liners moving in at night – and they knew they could only do so much. But, the local fee charged to divers was helping a good deal – and they could self-fund fuel for patrols. Everyone in the village knew how important their area was – to their village, the country, and the oceans in general – and it was incredibly inspiring to see the passion in their eyes when they spoke of it.
A locally established and run marine area is an incredibly great model and one that fits well within the traditional Fijian culture. Ownership and commitment to the area is paramount to its success, and studying the model of Namena has been a great asset to our outreach efforts. We’ve already begun spreading and celebrating its positive message throughout the South Pacific.