Yacata Island Declare Tabu Area

On Fiji’s Independence Day, the 10th of October 2017, the community of Yacata Island declared a part of their traditional fishing grounds a no-take marine protected area or tabu in Fijian. Vatuvara Foundation and community members from Yacata Island officially closed the lagoonal area for five years with a traditional blessing and boundary demarcation using buoys. The beautiful singing of their hymns was heard across the lagoon, for it was blue skies and crystal-clear waters to mark this special day.

 This pristine lagoon is now protected. Photo by Katy Miller/Vatuvara Foundation

This pristine lagoon is now protected. Photo by Katy Miller/Vatuvara Foundation

In Fiji, inshore coastal areas are traditionally-owned fishing grounds called iqoliqoli, belonging to certain communities that have been passed down through generations. Tabus are traditional temporary closures made by communities for cultural reasons or for maintaining their fish stocks. In villages across Fiji, tabu areas have been established within their traditional fishing grounds of iqoliqoli for conservation reasons, forming modern day marine protected areas.

 Traditional blessing given by Yacata Island to close tabu area. Photo by Katy Miller/Vatuvara Foundation.

Traditional blessing given by Yacata Island to close tabu area. Photo by Katy Miller/Vatuvara Foundation.

The decision to close their reefs happened after education and awareness conducted by Vatuvara Foundation in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society and Ministry of Fisheries. Vatuvara Foundation has been working closely with Yacata Island on the importance of safeguarding their marine resources for future generations.

 Buoys were deployed to mark the boundaries extending from the shoreline to the edge of the fringing reef. Photo by Katy Miller/Vatuvara Foundation.

Buoys were deployed to mark the boundaries extending from the shoreline to the edge of the fringing reef. Photo by Katy Miller/Vatuvara Foundation.

During our marine expedition in May 2017, the tabu area was surveyed and showed a healthy shallow lagoonal habitat. The patch reef was layered with walls of bright yellow cabbage corals, massive huge domes of Porites corals and thickets of branching Porites. The high numbers of juvenile parrotfish recorded suggested it is also an important nursery area. This section of the lagoon had been a tabu between 2011 to 2015, and the team recommended to the community of Yacata to reconsider declaring the area a tabu again. The village chiefs and Yaubula (environment) committee of Yacata have now given this coral reef system the chance to thrive for the next five years and will serve as an important “fish bank” with spillover benefits for the community.

The day prior to this declaration, a team from the Ministry of Fisheries conducted Fish Warden Training with Yacata Island and employees from Vatuvara Private Islands. Our newly appointed Fish Wardens are now aware of their responsibilities by law and are prepared to confront illegal fisherman and poachers in the future. This training along with an effective surveillance program will keep their waters well monitored and supervised.

 Newly appointed Fish Wardens after completing training conducted by the Ministry of Fisheries on Kaibu Island. Photo by Vatuvara Private Islands. 

Newly appointed Fish Wardens after completing training conducted by the Ministry of Fisheries on Kaibu Island. Photo by Vatuvara Private Islands. 

Vatuvara Foundation is committed to set up a network of marine protected areas in the Northern Lau Group of Fiji. The Lau Group is a vast ocean seascape filled with incredible biodiversity, and the tabu area declared by Yacata Island has an important function in seeding and replenishing surrounding reefs.  

Katy Miller