Marine conservation in Fiji: Be 'a good ancestor to future generations'
For Senimili, a 27-year old scientist from Fiji, her family ancestry has always been intricately connected to the marine environment.
“My elders taught me to always think of others and not only about me. They taught me to take care of the marine environment for the sake of those who depend on it.”
Saqani village is located on Natewa Bay in Cakaudrove Province, on Fiji’s second-largest island of Vanua Levu. The effects of climate change and rising sea levels on Saqani village and coastal communities across Fiji are wide-ranging; many of whom depend on the ocean and its ecosystem as a key source of their livelihood. Taking care of Fiji's marine environment, including its coral reefs and wildlife has become an increasingly urgent priority for the islands.
As the lead scientist of the Fiji Shark Conservation project, researching one of the ocean’s most feared and misunderstood predators, Senimili is playing an important part in these efforts to protect marine wildlife across the islands. Sharks are the top predators in the marine food chain and play a vital role in maintaining the fragile ecosystem. Their extinction would have devastating consequences for the marine and human environment, leading to an increase in algae which would be fatal to the islands' coral reefs.
Based in Pacific Harbour, the Fiji Shark Conservation Project works in partnership with an international volunteering organization called ‘Projects Abroad’ which addresses the needs of the local community through protecting marine ecosystems and livelihoods. For the last five years, Senimili has worked for the project as part of a broader series of ‘Blue Investment’ initiatives.
In early 2021, UN agencies (UNDP, UNCDF and UNEP) came together with the Government of Fiji, Matanataki, Blue Finance, and a range of other local actors to launch the Investing in Coral Reefs and the Blue Economy (ICRBE) programme. The joint programme, which is funded by the Global Fund for Coral Reefs (GFCR) and the Joint SDG Fund, leverages philanthropic and development finance to mobilize commercial investments, promote the financial sustainability of coral reef conservation, and accelerate reef-positive livelihoods.
Investing with heart
The ICRBE programme works in collaboration with implementing partner Beqa Adventure Divers (BAD) and Projects Abroad to mobilize the whole community, including young people in marine conservation efforts. One such initiatives, 'The 'Wedge-, Guitar- and Sawfish Project' adopts a citizen science approach to cataloguing local and traditional ecological knowledge.
The programme also works to establish a coral farm within the Shark Reef Marine Reserve off the southern coast of Fiji’s Viti Levu island, building and installing coral farm racks, which will be populated via collection and planting of healthy coral stocks adapted to local conditions.
This project is complemented by the re-establishment of a mangrove nursery, which has raised thousands of seedlings that will eventually be planted to help prevent coastal zone erosion.
Fighting for serenity
Senimili is proud to bring her training, experience, and cultural knowledge to this collaborative project.
“Elders would caution children about sharks in the sea. That curiosity and the willingness to explore what is out there in the ocean made me take up marine science.”
For Senimili, the future depends on a clean and healthy ocean, where protection and sustainable use go hand in hand.
“What I love most about nature is the serenity and peacefulness it provides, and seeing birds, insects and other species interact. It is a place for me to sit down and observe and appreciate what is there. Waterfalls, ocean - when we go out diving, I see it as one place where I can think and just see what is in front of me and shuts out the hustle and bustle of life.”
Looking ahead to future, Senimili emphasized the importance of mobilizing younger generations across Fiji in efforts to conserve the islands' marine ecosystem.
“In the future, I would like to see a lot of youths taking part in conservation activities, to build groups, clusters, and work together to protect fishes that are endangered and threatened.
We should be action-oriented rather than passive. Before, we saw just fish as food and did not really connect their role in the marine ecosystem. My hope is for youths to actively participate in village conservation activities.”
Thanks to programme funding, young people at Projects Abroad in Fiji are doing just that: taking action and participating in conservation.
Paying it forward
For Senimili, this work is also helping her be a good ancestor to future generations.
“The work I do now is in conservation, restoration of nature, replanting mangroves, replanting forests, beach clean-ups, building nurseries for more mangrove restoration. We are creating awareness in the marine environment with communities. As someone who cares for the environment, I will continue to be a good role model to others.”
“My ancestors are very important to me. They are the ones who taught us at a very young age about the sea, ocean, nature, and our relationship with them and how to use it sustainably.”
The world needs to leverage the full potential of all generations. Solidarity across generations is key for sustainable development, and youth are central to this work.
This is an edited and abridged version of a story originally produced and published by UNDP: Ecosystems & Biodiversity. Edited by the Development Coordination Office (DCO).
To learn more about the UN's work in the Pacific, please visit: Pacific.UN.org.