Fiji and the world have lost a true champion for the environment with the tragic loss of the Turaga na Tui Macuata Ratu Aisea Cavunailoa Katonivere.
WWF South Pacific Representative Kesaia Tabunakawai said Ratu Aisea was a mover and shaker in the world of conservation, inspiring his people to be passionate about protecting natural resources for the good of all.
“He had a dream; that the seas of Macuata will be richly blessed with fish and marine resources, full to overflowing, that his people would always have enough to eat and the fruits of their qoliqoli will in turn bless many others,” Tabunakawai said.
“And in his heart, he knew that ensuring the future livelihoods of his people was crucially linked to the sustainable management of marine resources.”
Ratu Aisea’s dream instilled in him a desire to pursue the setup of marine protected areas within his traditional fishing grounds.
He persuaded the chiefs of the three other districts of Mali, Sasa, and Dreketi to join him in establishing the 59 square kilometers of the Macuata Marine Protected Areas Network, within the collective 1,344km2 fishing ground.
With the technical advice and guidance of WWF South Pacific the network, along with a management plan was setup.
The marine protected area, considered a model for the world, is the high chief’s legacy of love to his people that challenged not only the region but the world as well.
These marine protected areas in Macuata were the first of a series of MPAs or Locally Managed Marine Areas that was offered to contribute to the national commitment of protecting 30 percent of Fiji’s oceans by 2020, at the time (2005) one of the world’s largest commitment of networks of underwater sanctuaries.
Fiji’s commitment and Ratu Aisea’s outstanding chiefly leadership in the area of marine conservation also inspired other Pacific Island nations including Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands to protect 30 percent of their near shore marine resources and 20 percent of their terrestrial resources by 2020.
For his outstanding leadership and commitment to marine conservation Ratu Aisea won the Global Ocean Conservation Award in 2006.
In Ratu Aisea’s words – “Our greatest success with the marine protected areas is that we have been able to feed ourselves.
“We started off with a dream, we pursued conservation and now that dream is a reality,” he said.
“It was our most important and best decision yet for it addressed our food problems now and ensured food security for the future as well.”
It is that devotedness and single mindedness about the protection of natural resources that WWF South Pacific and other environment conservation organisations that Ratu Aisea worked with, will miss.
“In a time when the world is devouring natural resources at a faster pace than the earth has to replenish, leadership to inspire changed behaviors and attitudes towards a sustainable environment is needed ” Tabunakawai said.
“Ratu Aisea had that style of leadership and his greatest legacy is that he has inspired his people to carry on the work of conservation, even after he has gone.”
WWF South Pacific and its staff greatly miss Ratu Aisea and are one with his family in this time of sorrow, for the people of his district, province and the conservation world!