By Eroni Tuinaceva, journalism student at FNU
4 December 2013 - A community-based solution to conservation in Vanuatu has received recognition at the inaugural Pacific Islands Environment Leadership Awards in Suva, Fiji, on Monday night.
Vanuatu's Nguna-Pele Marine Reserve took home the Community or Group category in the Ratu Aisea Katonivere Leadership Award.
They were honoured for their innovative leadership in Vanuatu, especially for its green turtle conservation programme and its marine park of over 3000 hectares of managed reefs, sea grass beds, mangrove forests and intertidal lagoons. In addition, Nguna-Pele has been instrumental in the implementation of 'taboo' reef systems and forests, which would remain permanently off-limits, as well as assigning community representatives to conduct reef surveys, tag sea turtles, plant coral and run ongoing environment awareness across the two islands. Most impressive is the reserve's take on invasive species, organising a crown-of-thorns starfish catching competition in 2010 that saw over 10,000 of the creatures being collected.
Accepting the award on behalf of Nguna-Pele was Chairman, Mr. Ronneth John.
"I would also like to thank SPREP for acknowledging the work of Nguna Pele by giving us this award. I also want to thank all the people of Nguna-Pele and especially the Department of Environment, for also helping us in doing a lot of eco-conservation around Vanuatu," Mr. John said.
Nguna-Pele Marine Reserve was founded in 2002 and engages the 16 communities on the islands of Nguna and Pele.
Nguna-Pele Marine and Land Protected Area Network, Vanuatu – Community/Group Category of the Ratu Aisea Katonivere Award for Excellence in Community Leadership in Environmental Sustainability and Conservation
The networks achievements include protection of turtles, with the number of green sea turtles and other species observed in the area increasing. The community-based approach has also been effective in the struggle against invasive species. Over 10,000 crown-of-thorns starfish were collected during a 'clean-up campaign competition' coordinated by the network in 2010. This major threat in the past is now well managed by communities who also use the dead crown-of-thorns starfish as a great organic fertilizer for gardening.
Marine protected areas now play a major role in the island's economy with a doubling of the average income for those who shifted from fishing to ecotourism. New projects on food security through a solar drying process, organic fertilization and tree planting already provide benefits by diversifying sources of revenue.
Eroni Tuinaceva is a member of the Media Team providing coverage of the 9th Pacific Islands Conference on Nature Conservation and Protected Areas from 2 to 6 December in Suva, Fiji. This is a partnership between the Fiji National University (FNU), University of the South Pacific (USP), SPREP and Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) whereby a team of 10 journalism students are mentored by senior reporters as they cover the conference. This activity is funded by the Pacific Assistance Media Scheme (PACMAS).