Marine Atlas: Maximizing Benefits for Fiji
SPECIAL AND UNIQUE MARINE AREAS
To prioritize management and/or protection of Fiji’s waters, local marine experts came together to identify areas in Fiji’s waters that are special and/or unique.
Special and unique: Yasawa Islands One of the 98 special and unique areas in Fiji’s waters is the Yasawa chain of islands. Its northernmost island in the north-west of Fiji received an overall rating of 10/10 during the Special, Unique Marine Areas (SUMA) identification process. This long, narrow volcanic island about 23 kilometres long and 1–2 kilometres wide has steep cliffs of black volcanic rock and long white sand beaches. There are seven villages or settlements and a luxury resort for guests attracted by the fringing and patch reefs around the island that have high levels of coral cover in the Fiji’s KBAs (see previous chapter) emphasize not only the importance of marine biodiversity to Fiji, but also to the world. Much of Fiji’s waters contain very diverse physical and ecological envi- ronments, which in turn support a huge range of marine life, yet a great deal of these environments remain undocumented. As the resources of both the nearshore and offshore marine environments are vital to the well-being and prosperity of the country and its people, their sustainable manage- ment and conservation are in the interests of both resource managers and the general population. So how can sustainable management be achieved? One requirement is to set agreed man- agement priorities, which allow for an incremen- tal, inclusive and sustainable management and conservation approach to Fiji’s valuable biodiver- sity. To help achieve this, the important concept of KBAs was complemented and extended by the identification of Special and Unique Marine Areas (SUMAs) and bioregions (see also chapter “Be- yond the hotspots”). SUMAs are areas that are particularly important in maintaining Fiji’s biodiversity. They can serve as priority areas for management actions within Fiji’s marine environment. It is important that these areas are identified and agreed upon by a broad cross section of local users and experts to ensure they have validity in relevant decision-making processes. Therefore, in 2016, local users and subject experts were brought together to share their knowledge and identify and map 98 SU- MAs. This effort built upon and updated previous efforts, including the 2004 Fiji Islands Marine Ecoregion report, the Fiji Protected Area Com- mittee’s Marine Ecological Gap Analysis and the information on EBSAs. The local users and experts contributed their local knowledge of the area and were guided by four criteria in identifying SUMAs in Fiji’s waters: biophysical justification, geographic explicitness, availability of information sources, and interna- tional and national obligations. Ranging from mangroves and seagrasses to deep-sea trenches, canyons and seamounts, these marine areas are some of Fiji’s most bi-
shallower areas. The western side of the barrier reef comes closer to shore than an- ywhere else in the Yasawa chain of islands, making the fringing and barrier reefs close- ly connected. Great hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna mokarran) have been sighted off these deep reefs, while there are green turtle foraging areas and hawksbill turtle nesting sites along the coast. Within the lagoon and back-reef areas, there are very productive seagrass beds and sites where grouper breeding occurs between June and Septem- ber every year.
ologically important. These sites, together with the corresponding report “Biophysically Special, Unique Marine Areas of Fiji”, will assist in the selection of marine managed protected areas, to achieve 30 per cent coverage of Fiji’s waters (see also chapter “Fiji’s commitment to marine con- servation”) (Sykes et al., forthcoming). Moreover, they provide site-specific information for local or national-level decisions, policies, plans or analy- ses that refer to marine places. The maps show a total of 98 offshore and inshore SUMAs. Within these, the experts identified 33 subsites of interest as special, unique marine environments, reflecting the immense variety of marine habitats within the Fijian islands, reefs and surrounding oceans. Much of this information has been published in formal papers and reports, but there is also a great vein of local knowledge held by the traditional resource owners themselves, which should be taken into account when de- scribing what is special and unique.
MAXIMIZING BENEFITS FOR FIJI
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