The importance of the Great Sea Reef

Mangrove patch area in Qoliqoli Cokovata. In 2018, the Fiji Government designated Qoliqoli Cokovata of the Great Sea Reef as a wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. Picture: WWF-PACIFIC

THE Great Sea Reef (GSR) is the third-longest barrier reef system in the world spanning more than 200km from Udu point all the way to the Yasawa and Mamanuca Islands weaving its way towards the Coral Coast.

This reef system provides about 70 per cent of fish consumed locally and is an important tourist destination.

In Fiji, WWF’s focus is on protecting and conserving Fiji’s Great Sea Reef, a living icon for Fiji.

WWF-Pacific Great Sea Reef program manager Alfred Ralifo said WWF works with many stakeholders and partners to sustainably manage and protect GSR.

“As we use many conservation tools, lessons from other parts of the world and liaising with all partners and stakeholders, equal and inclusive participation in decision-making processes, facilitate good scientific surveys and research work to inform planning and policy, awareness and campaigns and promote and encourage the use of traditional knowledge and practices,” he said.

“Overall it’s about collaboration and inclusivity.”

The GSR is important to the people of Fiji and the Pacific and it’s under enormous threats and pressure.

“If we do not do anything about it then we are going to lose this reef system in the near future.

“The GSR is important to not only sustaining Fiji’s economy at the national level, but also at the grass-roots level. It is important for food and nutritional security for adaptation and building resilience to climate change. It’s an integral part of Fiji’s culture and identity.”

The GSR faces many threats from pollution, unsustainable agriculture and forestry (soil erosion, use of chemical pesticides and weedicides and deforestation), unsustainable tourism, unsustainable fishing, shipping industry, urban expansion – clearing of mangroves and coastal vegetation, waste water from factories and sewages.

“All these threats are compounded by the impacts of climate change – ocean acidification, overheating of the sea, sea-level rise, storm surges, hurricanes, etc.,” he said.

“If we do not protect and address these multiple threats we are going to lose this very important reef system including the fish and other sea creatures (corals, turtles, sharks, rays, shellfish, etc.) which are important to us.

“We won’t be able to protect ourselves against the impact of climate change. Our Fijian economy will be affected because we will lose our tourists and our fishing industry will collapse. Health and nutrition will also be a problem and incidents of poverty will rise.”

He said their work in Fiji and the Pacific was a small component of a larger movement across the globe where people are recognising that business, as usual, was creating more problems for the planet and for the people and benefitting the elite few.

“Business, as usual, is destroying the health of our planet earth, destroying our oceans, our rivers, our forest, our soil, the air we breathe and biodiversity. “Business, as usual, is making the rich richer and the poor, poorer.”

He said they are working with all stakeholders of the Great Sea Reef through fundraising, capacity building, and consultation and promoting sustainable and regenerative practices.

“We are creating awareness and advocating for policy change to ensure that there are enabling mechanism to support sustainable blue-green economies that are inclusive, transparent, focusing on the most vulnerable groups and communities first.

“We are creating awareness and ensuring that everyone has the ability to make informed decisions on how they should manage and sustainably use their natural resources.

“We are working to support the Fijian government in implementing its international commitments such as the sustainable development goals, the Paris Agreement and Convention of Biological Diversity, UN Oceans Conference to name a few.”

In 2018, Government had designated the Qoliqoli Cokovata of the Great Sea Reef as the wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.

“WWF-Pacifi c (my team and I) collaborated with the Fiji Government and with the traditional owners of Qoliqoli Cokovata of Macuata – the Tui Macuata and the people of Macuata, Sasa, Dreketi and Mali – to ensure that we complete the Ramsar designation process,” he said.

Qoliqoli Cokovata(QC) is now Fiji’s first coral reef Ramsar site which means that Government and the people of the Qoliqoli Cokovata are committed to ensuring that the QC is managed sustainably and used wisely.

Qoliqoli Cokovata Ramsar Site is a gift from the Tui Macuata and the people of Macuata, Dreketi, Sasa and Mali to the people of Fiji and the world.

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