Blue Prosperity Fiji expedition team with partners and stakeholders. Picture: SUPPLIED/TOM VIERUS
By SOSIVETA KOROBIAU
BLUE Prosperity Fiji is an opportunity for Fijians to have an improved understanding of our ocean and resources, as well as create a space to better navigate its development and protection,
says Arthur Sokimi, the programme’s country manager.
To this extent, he said the Blue Prosperity Fiji programme had embarked on a large-scale ocean science expedition across Fiji to gain a better understanding of existing marine life and resources.
This, according to Mr Sokimi, was the first nationwide ocean science expedition to be undertaken in the country, and would support other numerous surveys that had been done previously from Macuata to Yasawa, the Great Sea Reef, Vatu-i-Ra passage, Lau, Beqa and Yanuca.
“Determination of these sites was by the Ministry of Fisheries, led by their research division,” he said.
“The selection was informed by the needs of Government to understand the different parts of the country and the status of our coral reefs and marine ecosystem.
“Government can use the information to development management plans at community and national level to better manage our marine resources.
“These management plans do not only speak for the conservation of resources but for the needs of our people today, tomorrow and onwards.”
The dive expedition boasts around 15 advanced certified divers, including three officers from the ministry, who would be diving into designated waters across Fiji to find out more about the ocean’s health status and at the same collecting and collating data for future use.
“We are not going to be sugarcoating any of the findings. The findings will speak for itself,” Mr Sokimi said.
“These are the findings Government will use to develop plans they want to have in place to ensure the sustainability of resources.”
This effort will be led by the Government of Fiji and supported by local non-governmental organisations, The University of the South Pacific (USP), international scientists, and the Waitt Institute.
Fiji had formalised a partnership with the Waitt Institute to implement 30 per cent protection of Fiji’s waters from 0-200 nautical miles and support ocean management in three core areas; marine spatial planning, blue economy, and sustainable fisheries.
Prior to the expedition, the Government and Blue Prosperity Fiji teams conducted extensive community consultations and cultural protocols, including sevusevu to ensure the appropriate permissions were given to survey each qoliqoli area.
While officiating the launch of the Blue Prosperity Fiji ocean science expedition on May 22 at the Suva Royal Yacht Club, Minister for Fisheries Kalaveti Ravu said Fiji was now taking that much-needed leap to get the right information for informed policy decisions, three months after signing the memorandum of understanding between the Coalition Government and the Waitt Foundation.
“I have been advised that this expedition is one of the seven aspects of the agreement between Blue Prosperity Fiji and the Fijian Government,” Mr Ravu said.
“The expedition will help us understand the health of our corals, the status of our fish stocks, and the quality of our water across our islands so that we can make informed decisions and policy interventions about how to be responsible stewards of our oceans and its resources.
“Fiji’s history is marked by exploration. Our people would not be here if not for the explorers that ventured out across the sea in search of new lands and a better life.”
He said fishermen and fisherwomen were the original stewards of the ocean, as they had deep wisdom and connections to the ocean.
“Yet their livelihoods are changing. They are finding smaller fish on their reefs, pollution in their waters, and must travel further to feed their families,” Mr Ravu said.
“At the micro level, every recording of data, every sample and analysis, will be most valuable and will provide leaders with the right guidance to making informed decisions, fit-for-purpose policies and legislation at the very macro level.”
Blue Prosperity Fiji co-primary investigator for the science expedition, Dr Joeli Veitayaki, said the expedition offered local people information about their fishing areas.
“Blue Prosperity Fiji is, for me, the answer to the country’s prayers for a better future for our future generations as its promises to provide the enabling environment to assist Fijians to embark on the sustainable development of its biggest resource base, our ocean,” Dr Veitayaki said.
“The expedition offers local people information about their fishing areas.
“Do they think the environment is as productive as it used to be or is it the other way around?
“They can use this information to think about what they have done to try and look after the interest of future generations.
“It is this generation’s responsibility to prepare for the well-being of future generations.”
According to Blue Prosperity Fiji, the expedition will involve underwater research from a team of divers that will gather information about Fiji’s qoliqoli areas and coastal habitats. The data collected is expected to provide insight on the state of these qoliqoli areas and their resources.
It is understood the researchers would assess coral health, fish populations, invertebrate populations, and water quality. Blue Prosperity Fiji will also help implement Fiji’s National Ocean Policy and follow through on international commitments to sustainably manage 100 per cent of Fiji’s ocean.
“The programme is designed to support inclusion, equity, and traditional knowledge to improve long-term economic stability, livelihoods, and ocean ecosystems,” Blue Prosperity Fiji highlighted.
“The expedition will be carried out in three legs and cover an extensive amount of Fiji’s various seascapes.
“This includes studying corals around Viti Levu, Vanua Levu, and Lau. Leg one will focus around Viti Levu. Leg two focuses on Vanua Levu and leg three will focus on Lau.”
Beginning in May, the expedition will visit the three confederacies through the end of August this year.
Sosiveta Korobiau is a final-year journalism student at The University of the South Pacific’s Laucala Campus, Suva, Fiji. He is also the 2023 news editor for Wansolwara, USP Journalism’s student training newspaper and online publication.