The day before Cyclone Winston hit, Luke Tuibua and students from Deakin University (Melbourne, Australia) were hard at work planting mangroves along the coastline near Luke’s village Waivunia, on the coast of Vanua Levu, the second largest island in Fiji.
Mangroves are an excellent way to combat coastal erosion. The complex underground root system helps to bind and build soil, while the above-ground roots slow down water flows and can help with storm surges.
But twenty-four hours later, category five cyclonic winds and heavy storm surges had erased all of their efforts. The experience hasn’t deterred Luke from his mission, however. In fact in some ways he sees Cyclone Winston as positive; an opportunity to start fresh, do things right and leave a lasting legacy for future generations.
Luke is the founder of the Waivunia Marine Park, an initiative set up by Naivuatolu Cooperative Limited, a group of people from Luke’s village who are customary owners of the land and ocean surrounding Waivunia.
“After seeing the abundance of marine species decreasing, I became concerned. When I retired, I started pushing really hard to increase sustainability in the village. And after witnessing evidence on television and the radio about diminishing resources and climate change, I think there will be a lot more villagers that will be joining us as well,” says Luke.
The independent cooperative is the first in Fiji’s history to hold an official government license for their project, which means they can prevent fishing in an area 600 metres from the foreshore to the break in the reef. The cooperative work hard to protect this area and preserve marine life, which was dwindling before the license came into effect.
Naivuatolu Cooperative has also identified species of fish that are close to extinction and have worked with scientists abroad to learn about how to boost them. Their conservation efforts don’t stop at the ocean, they also look at how to reduce the cutting down of trees, the use of fertilizers and the burning of land.
“The project we are working on is focused on conservation of resources, renewables and trying to put in place a resource that will sustain the lives of these little ones walking about this village now.”