Protecting coastal communities from the negative impacts of climate change in northern Vanua Levu

Pacific island countries like Fiji have made near negligible contributions to global climate change, yet they will be the first to suffer its consequences. Climate change primarily affects Fiji through rapid sea-level rise, ocean acidification, rising temperatures and more extreme rainfall events. Mangrove forests are the ultimate ‘fully-natural’ Nature Based Solution to the impacts of climate change such as extreme weather events and food insecurity.

Mangrove forests are estimated to provide ecosystem services valued at almost $200,000 per hectare annually. This project aims to establish sustainable management of mangrove forests at three key sites in Vanua Levu, Fiji, alongside restoration, livelihood and awareness activities.

Many communities in Vanua Levu have noted the impacts of climate change in their coastal zone. Most apparent is the extreme coastal erosion, which is locally attributed to sea-level rise. At Raviravi, the village is often inundated during spring tides. Extreme weather events are also a clear issue at the site, Cyclone Yasa in particular, decimated numerous villages along the coastline. Many communities also attribute loss of coral reefs and associated fisheries to ocean acidification, a direct result of increased carbon dioxide emissions.

Mangroves and coastal marshes are important communities. In ideal circumstances, where terrain allows mangrove extent to migrate inland, they can mitigate the effects of sea-level rise. In areas near Labasa where multiple rivers converge, the delta regions are formed that historically have had fluctuating coastal community edges at both the inland and seaward edges. With urban growth, conversion to agriculture and road networks that limit tidal and land-based water movement, sea-level rises will consume, rather than create, coastal ecosystem areas. Losses of mangrove and coastal marshes will also greatly reduce the capacity to mitigate land-based pollution to the marine environment and cause substantial reductions inbreeding and rearing grounds for fish and invertebrates. Following a call of concern from communities in Macuata about the destruction of mangrove forests for wood and their associated stocks of crabs, shellfish and juvenile fish, C3 Fiji assisted with the first replanting initiatives in Sese, Navidamu and Ravi Ravi, where a total of 3,200 trees were planted.

The project aims to implement:(i) effective biodiversity management efforts for the three proposed LMMAs including:ecological survey reports, community management plans including maps and proposed management measures, provincial council recognition of LMMAs, 50 people at each site able contribute productively to the management plans, management committee with inclusive approach regarding gender and age, LMMAs have adequate support infrastructure(ii)a sustainable mangrove restoration programme at the three communities including: teams able to manage mangrove nurseries and restoration efforts, mangrove nurseries established and active mangrove coverage increasing and monitored on a monthly basis(iii) an effective awareness programme including visibility materials such as posters, leaflets and t shirts, over 1,600 people trained through community awareness events and increased income from mangrove-related livelihoods.

The objective of the project?

  • Objective 1: Three target sites in Northern Vanua Levu each host at least one functional, sustainable and legally-recognized mangrove-dominated Locally Managed Marine Areas. We are in the process of initializing the formation of mangrove-focussed LMMAs at each of the target sites, however, much work still needs to be done in terms of formalization, capacity building and scientific research. The proposed project will include detailed surveys of mangrove habitats at all of the target sites in order to accurately measure the biodiversity impacts and extent of the habitat. Formal recognition by the relevant government bodies will also be sought, based on formal management plans developed in association with the relevant stakeholders. Alongside these activities, significant capacity building activities will be instigated in order to provide the institutional and technical capacity to sustainably manage the LMMAs over the long-term and avoid previous pitfalls experienced in the region.
  • Objective 2: Restoration of mangrove forest and associated livelihoods within LMMAs at 3 target sites–at least 1 ha per site. Training will be provided to each community inmangrove ecology, threats, conservation, blue carbon sinks, NbS and climate change adaptation prior to replanting and protection activities. Communities will then be consulted regarding current or proposed mangrove protection and replanting plans anddates set for activities, between them, C3 and Ministry of Forestry. Building capacity and linking communities to Ministry of Forestry in Labasa will enable them to organise their own future replanting efforts, scaling up the rehabilitation of degraded forests across Vanua Levu. This is an issue most communities are requesting support in, having seen the success of our past collaborative planting efforts and having experienced devastation from cyclone Winston in 2016 and Yasa in 2020. Wider mangrove protection will also lead to safe havens for fish and molluscs and hence greater food security, increased water quality on nearshore seagrass beds and reefs and a physical buffer to storm surges and cyclone damage. Each suitable site will be replanted, mobilising maximum numbers of volunteers from the community, the NGO sector, university students and others to ensure the most effective, enjoyable and inclusive efforts. The assumption is that communities will remain highly motivated to protect existing mangrove forests and large numbers of stakeholders will be motivated to participate in replanting efforts. Trained community volunteers will conduct weekly monitoring of the status of propagules and their growth. Some new and existing areas will be incorporated into LMMAs for long-term protection.
  • Objective 3: At least 1,600 people in Macuata aware of the importance of mangrove forests and LMMAs as Nature Based Solutions. We will develop a suite of mangrove awareness materials, to be distributed to relevant government offices, schools and communities. The several hundred-strong Reef Rangers network was set up by C3 andthe Ministry of Education to build environmental awareness in Northern Vanua Levu and are represented at all the target sites. These youth, supported by a team of local Conservation Ambassadors in each community will run climate change and biodiversity events with a focus on mangroves and NbS. These outputs will result in youth acting as leaders on a wide scale across the target sites to heighten awareness of nature-based solutions and climate change matters across all sectors of society. Using our strong local press contacts, we will expand the reach of the project through national TV and newspapers’ coverage of these events. Finally, we will work with community members, with a focus on women to promote and build capacity in sustainable mangrove livelihoods such as crab-fattening and use of efficient fuel stoves. At least two livelihoods will be given seed funding at each site and monitored throughout the project timeline.

Info+:

As with all low-lying Pacific islands, Fiji faces a host of threats to its communities and natural ecosystems from current and future climatic change. In our project sites, many families are facing food security risks due to climate change such as fisheries declines from ocean acidification and crop failure from more severe and prolonged droughts. Increased frequency of cyclones have reaped havoc on the region, and have exposed the intense vulnerability of these peoples to climate change1. Mangrove coverage in Fiji is among the highest of Pacific Island Nations, however, since 2001,over 1,135 ha have been lost, with tropical cyclones identified as the biggest threat. The province of Macuata features extensive mangrove habitat, covering 100km of coastal habitat and numerous mangrove islands and the third longest barrier reef in the world, covering 150km2. The northern coastline of Vanua Levu has registered the highest losses 3, and is a high-priority candidate for restoration (81 %) according to the IUCN Mangrove Mapping Tool and our work focuses on the most marginalised communities in this area, who have been least able to access support for mangrove restoration and protection to date.

Source: Kiwa

Last updated on: 19 September 2022