Conservation Spotlight: Pacific Blue Foundation’s Beqa Lagoon Initiative | Sport Diver

Conservation Spotlight: Pacific Blue Foundation’s Beqa Lagoon Initiative

MISSION: “To work with local Pacific Island communities using a cross sectoral integrated approach to preserve ecosystems and culture, build resilience to climate change, enhance community well-being and disseminate sustainable practices.”

Beqa Island

View on Beqa Island, lagoon and barrier reef. Dakuni village nestled in the sheltered bay.

David Girsh

HQ: San Diego, California / Suva, Fiji
YEAR STARTED: 2004
CONNECT: Instagram | Facebook | YouTube
PROJECT: A major draw for divers worldwide, Beqa Lagoon is famous for its crowds of tiger and bull sharks — and some of the most pristine, colorful and diverse reefs in the South Pacific region. Pacific Blue Foundation’s Beqa Lagoon Initiative is working toward indigenous-community-focused solutions to keep the area’s environment, as well as its people, thriving sustainably for years to come.

Right now, the biggest threats to the region include unsustainable and poorly managed fishing practices, land and sea pollution, and lack of sustainable livelihoods, says Sefano Katz, project manager for the Beqa Lagoon Initiative.

“These threats interact synergistically, and they all require holistic nature-based solutions,” Katz says. “For example, pollution runoff from the land degrades the health of coral reefs while supporting population outbreaks of coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS). This, in turn, affects fish populations, which are then more susceptible to overfishing.”

Crown of Thorns Starfish Removal

Crown of Thorns Starfish removed from the reef by Fijian graduate student Abby Robinson. The starfish is used for a collaborative research project between the University of the South Pacific and Pacific Blue Foundation.

David Girsh

One way to address both social equity and environmental degradation simultaneously is by implementing a blue-green economy. This marine management model is based on the principle that integrating communities and their values into solutions is essential to achieving overarching sustainability.

“The blue green economy model is of utmost importance to the success of the Beqa Lagoon Initiative, as human well-being, subsistence living, poverty, and a reliance on land and sea resources are all part of the problem — and therefore are a major factor in the solution,” Katz says.

To work toward this model, Pacific Blue Foundation leans on partnerships across a number of sectors, including NGOs, academia, government and business. They also employ a staff of diverse backgrounds, including Fijians, who collaborate heavily with the chiefs of local tribes and villages. They have set up Natural Resource Management Committees in each of the lagoon’s two tribes and 10 villages belonging to the tribes, ensuring each group’s voices are heard.

“These tribes have joined forces to protect and preserve the natural and cultural resources for future generations,” Katz says. “Collaboration and unity is the key to long term success in protecting marine assets such as coral reefs and the ecosystem services they provide.”

Pacific Blue Foundation Mangrove Mapping

Pacific Blue Foundation and local community members in the middle of the extensive mangrove forest during a mangrove mapping activity.

David Girsh

In fact, preserving cultural integrity is one of the foundation’s four focus areas. The other three include, sustainable community development, for which they’re setting up small-scale business opportunities for women and youth; enhancing education, for which they’ve implemented ocean stewardship programs for Fijian children; and conserving marine and coastal ecosystems, which has already resulted in designating 10% of the lagoon as a locally managed marine area/no-take zone.

The ultimate goal of Pacific Blue Foundation, Katz says, is to empower local communities with skills, knowledge, inspiration and financially sustainable strategies to conserve and manage their coastal and marine resources on their own, without the need for the foundation’s involvement.

“Succeeding in protecting marine and coastal resources has to go hand-in-hand with solutions to poverty, unsustainable fishing practices and community equality,” he says, “which is why addressing these issues by brokering alternative livelihoods and establishing local and traditional governance structures are at the epicenter of this program.”

Beqa Island Villager

Beqa Lagoon Initiative Project Manager, Sefano Katz discussing with Beqa Island's head woman, Sereana Nagatalevu on pathways to engage the youth and women in conservation.

David Girsh

GET INVOLVED: 1. Adopt A Coral Pacific Blue Foundation’s Adopt A Coral program enables visitors to be directly involved in the recovery and restoration of the lagoon’s coral reefs.

“The program involves taking broken fragments of coral, usually caused by poor snorkeling or diving techniques and boat movement, and providing them with the right conditions to grow into sizable colonies before being transplanted back into the coral reef habitat,” Katz says.

Visitors to the lagoon are welcome to join in this project (more info below), but those who aren’t traveling can still participate by adopting a coral.

For a small donation, you can become the adopted guardian of a coral fragment. You will be able to name your coral, and you’ll receive a certificate of adoption, the scientific name of your coral, and a photo of your coral with the name you choose engraved on its identification tag. Depending on your donation level, you may also receive updates on its growth and a Beqa Lagoon Initiative T-shirt.

  1. Volunteer Through Beqa Lagoon Resort Want to have a hands-on restoration experience while visiting an island paradise?

Through Beqa Lagoon Resort, travelers can participate in a range of ecotourism activities including fish identification, mangrove restoration and exploring the intertidal zone. Divers can participate in additional activities such as crown-of-thorns starfish removal and coral restoration.

“Divers can be involved in transplanting broken fragments of coral back onto the reef from which they came, or go on a hunting mission for COTS,” Katz says. “It is a fantastic way for visitors to the area to make a direct contribution to the conservation of the reef system that they were attracted to in the first place, and be assured that 100% of the financial contributions support implementing the project activities.”

By participating in these programs, visitors leave with a better understanding of the biological, ecological and cultural values of the lagoon, as well as its importance to local communities.

  1. Donate Pacific Blue Foundation’s work in Beqa Lagoon is essential to the region’s long-term health, both ecologically and culturally.

“Without protecting the lagoon by managing the human-induced pressures that threaten the health and beauty of the region, the opportunities to dive these spectacular reef systems and encounter apex predators in vast numbers will be greatly diminished,” Katz says.

Sites that attract thousands of divers every year are in danger of collapse due to current unsustainable activities. But every donation to Pacific Blue Foundation helps secure the area’s survivability for the next generation of divers to fall in love with as well.

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