Saturday, June 2, 2007

Underwater Coral Farms in Fiji

Tuwawa News Readers, what is your view about this initiative? Will this help our coastal villagers? This story is adapted from the Fiji Times News Sat June 02, 2007.

TOURISTS arriving in Suva on Monday are expected to be among the first people to buy Fijis latest eco-friendly product farmed coral.

As part of a special partnership between a local NGO and rural coastal communities, a pilot sale of farmed corals would be held at the Suva Harbour seawall (opposite the handicraft centre) throughout the day.

The corals, grown by villagers of Motoriki in the Lomaiviti Group, are the product of an ongoing corals for conservation initiative co-ordinated by Partners in Community Development Fiji (PCDF).

An official launch of the sale will be held at the Suva Civic Centre at 10am with Minister for the Environment Bernadette Ganilau as chief guest.

Each coral on sale bears a special seal of approval from the Environment ministry approving sale of the coral and allowing the coral to be taken out of the country.

Austin Bowden-Kerby, chief scientist with Counterpart International, has been working with PCDF on the coral initiative since 1999.

Mr Bowden-Kerby said it was important to understand the sale of farmed corals did not mean people could chip bits off the reef and sell it to tourists on the roadside.

These corals are all specially farmed and have been grown by communities who have extensive marine management plans, said Mr Bowden-Kerby.

Every community that has approval to grow farmed corals for sale is carrying out best practices in coral reef conservation.

This includes setting aside about 25 per cent of all reefs in protected areas and stopping destructive fishing and boating practices.

Mr Bowden-Kerby said it would be easy for people to identify which of the corals had been farmed because farmed coral was grown on small button-shaped concrete discs.

The sales will be used by PCDF as a market scoping exercise to determine the demand for farmed coral and which corals attracted the most interest.

Potential buyers will be asked to buy a coral to help save a reef.

The sale is timed to coincide with the arrival in port of the cruise liner Pacific Princess. It is anticipated that tourists onboard would give a good indication of what visitors were prepared to pay for the new eco-friendly products.

The launch would also coincide with the beginning of Environment Week 2007 (June 4-9).
Mr Bowden-Kerby said Mondays sales were part of a pilot sale which would give an idea of the cost-benefit ratio in growing farmed coral.

We will be looking at the costs involved in growing, transporting and selling farmed coral and compare it with the proceeds made through sales.

He said if things went well, the project would be expanded to other areas around the country to provide a new sustainable livelihood for coastal communities.

PCDF executive director Alisi Daurewa said the launching was an important milestone in marine conservation and the development of new sustainable livelihood in Fiji.

A lot of work had gone to developing the coral program in past years, said Mrs Daurewa.
The sale of these corals could be the beginning of a wonderful eco-tourism initiative that will provide many benefit for years to come.

PCDF Natural Resource Management co-ordinator Fulori Nainoca said the project was aimed primarily at addressing the damaging impact of wild coral harvesting by providing an alternative method of coral farming.

All the corals we will be selling have been grown with no damage to the coral reefs, she said.
It is a completely sustainable process, she said.

The process of sustainable coral farming started with mother corals which were grown on undersea tables for several years.

Small finger-sized branches are trimmed from the mother corals regularly for planting on button-shaped concrete discs, each with two small holes.
The discs are woven into a wire mesh tray with fishing line, so the corals are held to the disc.
The coral trays are tied to undersea tables.

Ms Nainoca said it was important to understand that the Corals for Conservation initiative is linked to other marine conservation work being carried out by PCDF.

PCDFs natural resource management team works with coastal communities around the country, assisting local villagers to create and implement their own marine management plans.
The approach allows villagers to be effective custodians of their own marine resources resources which are often vital to the continuing well-being of the community through fishing and tourism-related projects.

A common approach to marine management in these communities is the introduction of tabu (ban) in fishing areas known as Marine Protected Areas.

The MPAs act as a bank for local communities where the reef and fish stock can be replenished and in turn increase the health of surrounding coral reefs. Many MPAs are being specially monitored and enforced by fish wardens or reef police.

The wardens are the people of seaside villages who have been trained.

Under Fijis Fisheries Act, licensed fish wardens trained by PCDF and the Department of Fisheries have the power to confiscate the catch, boats and fishing equipment of anyone caught fishing in MPAs and can report them to the police.

Ms Nainoca said communities that had already implemented marine management plans such as the villagers of Motoriki, were the communities which would be selected as potential coral farm sites.

Villagers at Motoriki have set aside 30 per cent of their fishing area as Marine Protected Areas and local fish wardens were monitoring them.

Proceeds from the sale of farmed corals on Monday would go to the communities where the corals were grown and to the implementation of more marine management projects.

The Corals for Conservation initiative received funding from USAID, the German Church Development Service (EED) and AusAID. Initial funding was received from the UK-funded Darwin Initiative for Survival of Species.

Wesley Morgan is an Australian youth ambassador for development and media and communications officer for PCDF.