Fiji — Coral Restoration
Votua Village, Korolevu-i-wai District, Nadroga, Fiji
Fiji’s Coral Coast – Southwestern Viti Levu
The management of marine resources has increasingly become decentralized across the Indo-Pacific and based around customary tenure systems, as is the case in Fiji where traditional tribal rights to marine resources have legal recognition. As land and marine areas are key components of Melanesian and Polynesian ethnic and national identity and 80 percent or more of these islands lands are under some form of customary tenure, sustainable development and social justice issues are intrinsically linked to resource management and conservation and thus require an integrated, holistic approach to resource management.
In Fiji and other areas of the Indo-Pacific, educational institutions, NGOs and scientists, and government and private organizations are engaging customary resource owners with other stakeholders in a formal participatory marine co-management program that combines traditional knowledge and practices with modern management tools to ensure environmental integrity along with the social and material well-being of the community. By involving key stakeholder in the management process, supporting institutions aim to: 1) facilitate the development of appropriate rules to prevent overexploitation and maintain ecosystem integrity, 2) create and reinforce linkages between co-management institutions, and 3) encourage compliance with management rules due to potential benefits acquired through co-management efforts that help to achieve local community objectives as well as national and international management objectives.
Votua and the other villages in the Korolevu-i-wai district began with resource management and marine conservation efforts in 2002 with the support of the University of the South Pacific’s Institute of Applied Sciences (USP-IAS) and Fiji Locally-Managed Marine Areas (FLMMA) program. Villages created resource management plans that identify threats to their resources and actions to be taken. They began to implement their plans, monitor the results, and adapt management strategies accordingly.
The goal of the management plans is to bolster local incomes and traditions by replenishing and reviving local marine resources — a grassroots approach to rural development and conservation of natural resources. Management plans are developed via participatory techniques and include the establishment of community-based No-take Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), enterprise development, addressing pollution threats, and biological and socioeconomic monitoring for use in adaptive management of the community's conservation and development activities. Coral restoration efforts by Votua Village began in 2004 and have evolved to become an integral and growing part of Votua Village’s management plan activities.
Coral restoration efforts started in Votua Village in 2004 with the assistance of OISCA, Japan. A couple of the villagers involved with the enforcement of the MPAs learned basic skills for propagating coral fragments and established two 4’ x 8’ propagation racks in the MPA with the materials and training provided by OISCA.
In 2006, Votua Village began working with Reef Explorer Fiji Ltd. to integrate their coral restoration efforts with eco-tourism, research, and educational opportunities. A large part of this effort has involved working to create a marked snorkeling trail and operating guided eco-tours through the MPA giving paying snorkelers a chance to see the coral propagation efforts and help plant a coral while also providing economic support for conservation efforts, a truly unique and memorable experience. This effort involves setting up a marked trail to confine potential damage to the reef from snorkelers, propagating and planting corals along this trail to increase the abundance and diversity of fauna snorkelers experience along the trail and for restoration purposes, and improving local capacity and resources to operate eco-tours along the trails. The activities of the village-initiated program will assist Votua in realizing their ecotourism plan, providing a model for other communities, and result in materials, tools, and improved capacity that are readably transferable to assist other communities interested in similar projects. These efforts have brought thousands of dollars into the hands of Votua villagers and supported the continuation and expansion of coral planting efforts and training of snorkeling guides.
Reef Explorer has assisted Votua Village and the Korolevu-i-wai district to develope a partnership with Georgia Institute of Technology (GT). Georgia Tech are conducting an ecological research program in the MPAs and surrounding fishing areas of the district which provides information of relevance to the community’s reef management efforts. Part of the ecological research is conducted using propagated coral fragments, thus providing further opportunity for income generation and educational opportunities as villagers assist with coral propagation and set-up for the experiments. Involvement with GT and Reef Explorer in research activities has helped villagers understand important ecological relationships, such as the link between coral growth and survivorship and herbivory.
The concept of blending coral restoration with ecotourism to bolster participation in and financial support of resource management efforts became the backbone of Sasalu Tawmudu’s Adopt-a-Coral program which began in 2008. The Adopt-a-Coral program was conceived and founded with the support of GT, USP-IAS, and Reef Explorer aiming to solicit support for community-based co-management initiatives in Fiji at national and local levels. Because of their current involvement and leadership role in co-management efforts, Votua became the Fiji pilot site. As it gets off the ground, Adopt-a-Coral aims to generate and provide valuable financing to support the establishment of tourism-supported coral conservation and restoration efforts.
As the snorkeling trail and coral restoration work has progressed, Votua Village has hosted a variety of international guests taking snorkeling tours and assisting with coral transplanting efforts, including:
- the Governor of Tokyo
- Locally-Managed Marine Area (LMMA) representatives from all member countries
- American and Australian Travel agents, whose visits were featured on Fiji business news
- Study abroad programs from over 10 U.S. universities
- Numerous international conservation practitioners and marine educators from around the Caribbean and Pacific
Coral Restoration as an Educational and Conservation Tool
The coral restoration project aims to enhance community-based resource management efforts on the Coral Coast, and is part of a larger effort to generate financial support for marine conservation efforts in Fiji through the FLMMA and the Adopt-a-Coral program. While supporting resource management and restoration efforts along with village initiatives to develop community-owned and operated ecotourism attractions in their MPAs, this project enhances local marine conservation efforts by:
- providing economic incentives for conservation
- improving local knowledge of coral reef fauna and ecology
- bolstering local participation in marine conservation and ecotourism
- further integrating community-based resource management efforts with Fiji’s growing tourism industry
Coral Propagation Methods
Asexual propagation methods are used to generate the coral colonies that are transplanted back to the reef. The process involves collecting coral fragments (< 10cm in size, generally single branches) and attaching them to concrete “cone” bases made by the villagers. Corals have generally been attached using Emerkit marine epoxy, but other methods are being trialed as epoxy is a major expense to the process. Generally, corals of the genus Acropora have been used as they are fast growing, contribute greatly to habitat complexity and overall coral species diversity, and are corals which are highly susceptible to mortality by coral bleaching events and chronic Crown-of-thorn starfish infestations that have impacted Coral Coast reefs in recent years.
The fragments are propagated and grown out on racks in the MPA until they are larger (generally > 10cm diameter) and have a higher probability of survivorship upon transplantation (generally 6-8+ months). Corals are then transplanted by the villagers or snorkeling guests by placing the “cone” with the coral attached into hole in the substrate around the MPA along the path being developed for the guided snorkeling tours or in MPA areas with extremely low coral cover.
Apart from restoring the area where they are transplanted, the asexual propagation of corals likely increases the reproductive output of the genotypes used, perhaps increasing the reproductive output of these species from the MPA.
- Over 6000 corals consisting of over 25 species have been propagated and transplanted in Votua’s MPA since 2006.
- Educational materials have been developed to support the coral propagation and guided snorkeling.
- Over 20 villagers have received some training in coral propagation, basic reef ecology and common fauna, and leading snorkeling tours.
- Adopt-a-Coral program is currently trying to establish donation centers in local tourist accommodations and activity centers.
- Funding is required to support complete training and begin marketing and operation of the snorkeling trail and guided tour which funds the coral restoration efforts.
- Simple asexual coral propagation methods can be quickly learned and implemented by community members for coral restoration efforts.
- Restoration efforts are much more effective and successful in well-established no-take areas, areas with good water quality conditions, and/or reef areas with healthy herbivore populations.
- Strong local governance and community support and participation is critical to the success of coral reef management and restoration efforts.
- Economic incentives foster greater community support for and participation in coral reef management.
- Combining coral restoration with income-generating activities such as snorkeling tours can improve community interest in restoration activities and provide financial support for the effort.
Reef Explorer Fiji Ltd.
Adopt-a-coral.org – Sasalu Tawamudu
Director, Reef Explorer Fiji
Fiji Coral Planting Process (pdf, 4.3M)