A WCS United Nations Ocean Conference Blog

Bright Spots for the Ocean in Melanesia

Ridge-to-reef landscape from Nayau Island in the remote Lau Province of Fiji. Photo by Stacy Jupiter/WCS.

By Stacy Jupiter
June 2, 2017

A few weeks ago I strolled across the street with my infant son to show him an impromptu fish market that popped up on the seawall where I live in Suva, Fiji. There were bundles of larger than plate-sized Indian mackerel, thumbprint emperor ,and queenfish.

When I asked the fishers where they were caught, I was astonished to hear that all the fish came from Suva reef, which sits just 2 miles off an extended urban area of over 300,000 people. At a time when almost 90 percent of the world’s fish stocks are fully fished or over-fished, it was surprising to see such a large, healthy haul so close to an urban center in a Pacific fishing nation.

Fisherman unloading catch from the Suva reef onto the city seawall, Fiji. Photo by Stacy Jupiter/WCS.

But perhaps I should not have been so surprised. There are places in Melanesia, which includes Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu, which have recently been identified as bright spots for coral reef fish, meaning that reef fish biomass in these locations is well above expected.

These places with bountiful reefs tend to have a high level of participation in marine management, a high dependence on coastal resources, and strong customary governance systems.

Fisherman from Kia Island, Fiji, pulling in a fresh catch. Photo by Stacy Jupiter/WCS.

Traditionally in Melanesia, customary kinship-based groups regulated how sea resources were accessed and used within their territory. Although these customary management systems were not inherently designed to produce sustainability outcomes, they can provide the platform for enduring fisheries and marine habitats.

This has been recognized by Melanesian leaders, who in 2015 endorsed a road map for inshore fisheries, noting that achievement of national food security needs is dependent on empowering and enabling coastal communities to become stewards over their marine resources.

School of bigeye jacks in the Namena Marine Reserve, a large community-managed marine protected area in Fiji. Photo by Stacy Jupiter/WCS.

The road map is presently being operationalized in part through support to national community-based resource management networks, such as the Locally-Managed Marine Area Network, which won the Equator Prize in 2002 for setting an outstanding model for sustainable resource management.

More recently, Melanesian governments are taking steps to integrate inshore community-based management into larger scale ocean planning. Vanuatu recently launched its National Ocean Policy in April 2017, while Fiji is finalizing its National Ocean Policy Framework and Solomon Islands is taking steps to produce a National Integrated Framework that mainstreams ocean issues into development planning.

Women gillnet fishers from Nasavu Village, Fiji. Photo by Stacy Jupiter/WCS.

As World Oceans Day and the United Nations Ocean Conference approach, these are positive steps towards ensuring sustainable management of our oceans.

This fills me with hope that when my son grows up, he will still find an ocean thriving with fish and corals, which form the foundation for flourishing industries that support rather than harm human livelihoods and well being.

Child in a traditional dugout canoe near Kavieng, Papua New Guinea. Photo by Stacy Jupiter/WCS.

And because I spent most of my days with the Wildlife Conservation Society working alongside communities and Melanesian governments to build the platforms for sustainable management, I hope I can tell him that his mother played a small part in ensuring that our oceans are still healthy.

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Stacy Jupiter is the Melanesia Region Director at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).