Fiji loses its marine protected area champion

08 May 2013 | Article

Turaga na Tui Macuata Ratu Aisea Cavunailoa Katonivere

A true champion for protected areas in the Pacific has been lost with the recent death of Ratu Aisea Cavunailoa Katonivere, or Tui Macuata, from Fiji.

Ratu Aisea Katonivere, was the paramount chief of the province of Macuata on Fiji’s second largest island of Vanua Levu. He was also the Roko Tui Macuata (Roko Tui signifying a government position), responsible for Fijian administration in the province. His ‘kingdom’ comprised of 110,000 people living in 117 coastal and inland villages, including Labasa, one of the largest towns in Fiji. Recipient of the 2006 Global Ocean Conservation Award for his work protecting Fiji's unique marine biodiversity, Ratu Aisea was the main person responsible for creating the Macuata Marine Protected Areas Network in Fiji.

Ratu Aisea persuaded the chiefs of the three other districts of Mali, Sasa, and Dreketi to join him in establishing the 59 square kilometers of the Macuata Marine Protected Areas Network, within the collective 1,344 square kilometre fishing ground. The marine protected area became the first of a series of MPAs or Locally Managed Marine Areas that contributed to the national commitment of protecting 30 percent of Fiji’s ocean territory by 2020, at the time (2005) one of the world’s largest commitments of networks of marine sanctuaries.

Fiji’s commitment and Ratu Aisea’s outstanding leadership in the area of marine conservation also inspired other Pacific Island nations, including Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, to protect 30 percent of their near shore marine resources and 20 percent of their terrestrial resources by 2020.

WWF South Pacific Representative Kesaia Tabunakawai said Ratu Aisea was a mover and shaker in the world of conservation, inspiring his people to be passionate about protecting natural resources for the good of all. “He had a dream: that the seas of Macuata will be richly blessed with fish and marine resources, full to overflowing, that his people would always have enough to eat and the fruits of their qoliqoli will in turn bless many others,” Tabunakawai said. “And in his heart, he knew that ensuring the future livelihoods of his people was crucially linked to the sustainable management of marine resources.”

A great believer in mobilizing communities, Tui Macuata declared at the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2012 in Jeju that more than 80 percent of protected areas in the Pacific are community managed. “We put the community first, we put the community second, and we put the community at the end. When the community is left out the project doesn’t work. With community participation and capacity building, we were able to embrace the new management regimes that were brought in by the various NGOs that are now working hand in hand with us. We can now sustain our marine protected areas for the future.”

Ratu Aisea will be sorely missed by the whole protected area community, but his legacy in conservation work in marine protected areas and for the people of Fiji will continue to thrive.