The threats posed by climate change, such as rising sea levels, the increasing number of tropical cyclones and the erosion of biodiversity are crucial challenges for Pacific island countries and territories.
The role of the RESCCUE project, which is coordinated by the Pacific Community and mainly financed by AFD and FFEM, is to strengthen the resilience and adaptation to climate change of Pacific ecosystems and communities.
Two of the project’s pilot sites are located in Fiji, 16,500 km from Paris. In Ra Province, a project component involves rehabilitating the coast by planting mangroves (photo opposite) and coastal vegetation, which provide a number of benefits for communities, such as the protection of homes against cyclones... At the same time, another project component aims to protect and sustainably manage watersheds in order to reduce flood-related risks and preserve water resources and biodiversity: reforestation, river bank restoration, establishment of protected areas and creation of two agroforestry farms. Nurseries have been set up in several villages, as well as new domestic waste management systems. Each time, there is a concern to work in close partnership with residents.
“The fundamental concept of RESCCUE is to move forward with the population, listen to it and work with it in an integrated and friendly manner to ensure it takes ownership of the project.”
Isoa Korovulavula, RESCCUE coordinator in Fiji (photo above, on the right)
It is one of the jewels of the RESCCUE project in Ra Province. Vatu-i-Ra Conservation Park, the marine reserve located off Fiji’s Sunshine Coast, is an attraction for tourists, especially for divers with its corals, its sea fans, its huge shoals of fish and its seabird colonies, which are visible over an area of 110 km2.
Jean-Baptiste Marre, Deputy Regional Coordinator at RESCCUE, works at the Pacific Community in Nouméa. He believes that the park is a major step forward: “This park protects the largest area of coral reefs and marine ecosystems in Fiji. It is a major success.”
In Partnership with the NGO Conservation Society, RESCCUE has worked on the creation and adoption of this exceptional marine park with local communities, tour operators, fishermen, the provincial administration and the Government. At the same time, RESCCUE has developed a financing mechanism to ensure the sustainability of the park’s conservation and resource management activities, while promoting local development via scholarships for young people.
Students: Allies of the environment
Visitors to the park each pay an optional admission fee of FJD 15 (EUR 6), which is valid for a calendar year. 30% of this income and other additional donations are used for the marine park’s conservation and management activities. The remaining 70% go to an education fund, which offers scholarships to students from the Nakorotubu district.
This year, 18 students have become the first scholarship holders of this initiative, including Tevita Laso Savua, who is studying for a diploma in history and geography at the University of the South Pacific. This young 21 year-old man from Tobu village is looking towards a career as an environmentalist and landscaper: “I have set myself the goal of becoming a defender of our environment in order to tackle climate change, which directly threatens our natural environment.”
Since his childhood, Ratu Etuwini Sivo has had a ringside seat in seeing the impacts of climate change in Nabukadra. For this 69 year-old village chief, one of the most significant is coastal erosion: “Our ancestors had a dyke made of large rocks”, he remembers. “But it no longer protects the coast.”
Climate change continues to be seen through the repeated floods caused by extreme rainfall events and a period of drought, which has affected farmers. Everyone remembers the tropical cyclone Winston and the 44 people it killed when it hit Fiji in February 2016, causing chaos and damage in Nabukadra which Ratu Sivo had never seen before: “Everything was devastated: both our livelihoods and the environment.”
Protecting nature together
Many hectares of mangrove, whose rehabilitation and protection are part of the RESCCUE project, did not survive the onslaught of the cyclone. Ratu Sivo has also noted that residents, worried about their livelihoods, have often taken individual initiatives. “It’s no longer really done as a community, whereas before we would have discussed it”, he points out. “These individual initiatives have ended up degrading the natural environments.”
The village chief wants to recreate a community spirit to stand up to the impacts of climate change and ensure that behavior is in keeping with sustainable development, rather than causing sometimes irreversible damage.
RESCCUE’s operation has made local communities aware of the importance of sustainably managing natural resources: “It’s fundamental”, says Ratu Sivo. “RESCCUE has restored the values of conserving resources and having a community and environment that are more resilient to the impacts of climate change.”
The RESCCUE project, which was launched in 2014 and planned for five years, will stop in Fiji at the end of 2018. It will stop its activities in the region in mid-2019.
Jean-Baptiste Marre, Deputy Regional Coordinator at RESCCUE (first photo at the top of the page, on the left), says that discussions are ongoing with AFD to continue efforts in Fiji.
But he stresses the work already completed and the sustainable dynamics which have been set in motion: “For example, an additional and sustainable financial mechanism has been set up for Vatu-i-Ra Conservation Park. For the reforestation activities, we have involved the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Forests which will continue the efforts based on community nurseries whatever happens.”