The Natewa-Tunuloa Peninsula is of exceptional importance to conservation. BirdLife International has designated it as an Important Bird Area. A recent study found that although the peninsula comprises only about 3.1% of Fiji’s land area, it contains 59% of its terrestrial bird species, 33% of native terrestrial mammals, and 35% of nationally occurring reptiles. About one-third of these birds, reptiles, amphibians, and trees occur only on Fijian islands; some occur only on Vanua Levu or even only on the peninsula. Several species are classified as endangered or vulnerable.
This amazing area, however, faces grave environmental threats. Erosion caused by the rising sea has damaged the forest and forced about 400 people to move to higher ground. Increasingly violent cyclones have destroyed houses. The coral reef offshore is nearly dead, probably from pollution, storm damage, and seawater warming and acidification. Other threats to this beautiful area include logging and development.
The people of Wailevu Village, many of whom are subsistence farmers, want to formally protect their land by creating a large forest reserve. The forest around the village contains highly sought-after native tropical hardwood trees, including the dakua, vesi, and more.
They also want to give their damaged reef a chance to recover by creating an expansive marine protected area. The proposed MPA extends from the shore and contains giant clams, coral trout, sea cucumber, octopus, and other species. Villagers often see green and hawksbill turtles, and also encounter olive ridleys, loggerheads, and leatherbacks—all endangered.
With a Seacology grant, the community is building a community hall, which will do triple duty as a kindergarten, community center, and storm shelter. Kindergarten was held in a one-room building filled to bursting with 32 five-year-olds. For the first time, the village will have a place for public meetings, women’s livelihood activities, and shelter when cyclones strike.