Fiji Island Declares Part of Reef Sacred, Restricts Fishing For World Oceans Day


Photograph courtesy Keith Ellenbogen

Exploring Fiji is pretty high up on our must-see wish list—the stunning islands, the surf breaks, the marine life, the beach culture. Here's some good news from the Wildlife Conservation Society just in time for World Oceans Day (learn more about the world's seas on our National Geographic Oceans site).

The Wildlife Conservation Society, Pacific Blue Foundation, Wetlands International, and the Waitt Institute announced today that the people of Fiji’s Totoya Island have declared part of their coral reefs sacred in honor of World Oceans Day.

WCS Fiji Director, Dr. Stacy Jupiter and a coalition of partners spent the last eight days exploring Totoya Island. Accompanied by the island’s high chief, Roko Sau, the research team discovered not only a healthy coral reef system teeming with fish species, many of which are not found in other nearby areas, but a rich culture, tradition, and livelihoods generated from these important resources. Dr. Jupiter has been chronicling her expedition online at National Geographic News Watch.

Traditionally, when people noticed declines in their resources, chiefs would impost a ban (or, tabu) on fishing. But Totoya’s previous high chief lifted the ban because of increased commercial value of fish stocks. The people of Totoya declared the reefs sacred today to ensure there are fish and food sources for future generations.

Totoya waters have enough fish to sustain both the vitality of the ecosystem and sustenance for the people, but opening up the reefs allows foreign trade that could in time deplete its resources.

“Because the people have an abundance of fish stocks for food on healthy coral reefs, they are unlikely to impact the unique natural heritage of their reef system when fishing for their own subsistence,” Dr. Jupiter said. “However, the communities should take precaution to avoid the temptation to trade away their resources to outsiders.”

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Because all of the people in Totoya live along the coast, fish of various kinds are valuable food sources and provide an income to local fishers.

“Conservation in this area is extremely important because it not only helps preserve the ecosystem and distinct fish species, but also the livelihoods and culture of those who live here,” said Caleb McClennen, Director of WCS’s Marine Program. “WCS supports the preservation of this reef and marine ecosystems around the world on World Oceans Day and every day.”

World Oceans Day, officially recognized by the United Nations since 2008, is a celebration of ocean conservation. It is an opportunity every year to honor the world’s oceans, celebrate the products it provides, and a time to appreciate the ocean’s own intrinsic value.

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