A watchtower sitting on a lonely hillside, overlooking a vast stretch of ocean is the latest weapon in the meagre armoury of a Fijian fishing community to be wielded in the battle against poaching.
The watchtower was built by the people of the Mali district, situated in the north of Fiji. It’s a small district made up of two islands, Mali and Vorovoro and four villages, Matailabasa located on mainland Vanualevu, Vesi, Ligaulevu and Nakawaga on Mali.
The traditional head of the district, the Turaga na Tui Mali Ratu Meli Bogiso believes guarding the bounties of their qoliqoli (fishing grounds) is a matter of survival.
“All we have are our marine resources. Our lands are rocky and barren, good enough only for the few root crops we plant for subsistence,” he said.
“Through the fish that fill our fishing grounds we are able to earn an income, build our homes, and send our children to school.
Sitting, on his island home Vorovoro, Ratu Meli worries his people are besieged by pollution that threatens to diminish the richness of their marine resources and illegal fishing.
“Two main rivers that lead away from Labasa, carrying industrial waste pours into our fishing area. We worry about the damage that is doing.
“The poachers are an additional problem. While we set up our marine protected areas to make sure that we have a continuous supply of fish, they creep in and steal from us.”
Fish wardens will be stationed at the watchtower that gives them a birds-eye view of the fishing grounds and marine protected areas – that includes both reef systems and mangrove islands.
The watchtower was built with the support of the “Building Effective Community Driven Governance Systems in Mali District to Enhance Community Access to Food, Income Generating Opportunities and Livelihoods,” project coordinated by WWF-Pacific and funded by the people of Australia through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Project coordinator Unaisi Tagicakibau observed though fish wardens had been identified and trained by the Fijian Department of Fisheries, they cannot effectively monitor their fishing grounds without proper tools.
To this end, WWF-Pacific supplied mobile phones, a fuel quota and other related equipment. The watchtower aids the overall effort for protecting fishing grounds with active monitoring and visibility.
“A schedule has been drawn up for the fish wardens’ rotation to ensure someone is stationed there,” she said.
While islanders combat illegal fishing and ensure the effectiveness of protected areas in replenishing oceans, the program contributes to the protection of the 260 kilometers long Great Sea Reef, Fiji’s largest and most complex reef system.
The GSR straddles the two main islands of Fiji, showing reef passages through which whales, dolphins and turtles migrate in and out of Fiji.
It is also of local significance, supplying as much as 80 percent of fish that feeds the domestic markets, bolstering both the fisheries sector and tourism as well through recreational pleasures like snorkeling and white sandy beaches that form part of the tourist attraction.