10 villages now have sustainable sea transport and access to a canoe-building workshop

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To encourage sustainable fishing and food security in ten villages in Beqa and Yanuca Islands, Fiji, ten druas have been provided to the communities and 25 members trained on how to build environmentally friendly canoes through a joint partnership between the University of the South Pacific (USP), under the Pacific – European Union Marine Partnership (PEUMP) Programme, and the Uto Ni Yalo Trust.

The villages are Dakuibeqa, Dakuni, Lalati, Naceva, Nawaisomo, Naiseuseu, Soliyaga,  Raviravi, Rukua and the Yanuca Islands.

Furthermore, Rukua Village in Beqa will house a central canoe building workshop whereby the five women and 20 men trained can build more canoes and share the cultural knowledge with Pacific Islanders by equipping them with the skills they have learnt.

This will help Pacific communities in many folds to help unemployed villagers to earn a living, have edible protein, break the debt cycle which comes as reliance on fossil fuel, carry out regular surveillance on tabu areas (marine protected areas), reduce marine pollution and increase marine safety.

Turaga Tuisawau, Ratu Timoci Matanitobua, said this intervention is timely given that the effects of COVID-19 and TC Harold will help villagers who are unemployed due to the tourism economy downturn, save on fuel, have access to seafood to sell and eat and cause less pollution to ensure the waters of Beqa remain teeming with healthy sea life for food, income and tourist quintessential activities.

Traditional fisherwoman, Senimelia Narimo, said her village of Dakuibeqa relies on seafood as their vital protein source and livelihood, traditional boats as such would mean they do not have to buy fossil fuel and help save money and in turn there would be less pollution to their marine resources.

“Our fisher tribe is known world over for the fishdrives (yavi rau) and this training reinforcing traditional knowledge helps recognise the importance of indigenous fisheries and how they can help build healthier ocean ecosystems and contribute to the well-being of families,” she said.

Tourism worker, Aporosa Vidovi, whilst studying marine studies units at university level he has yearned to learn traditional sailing as he is in awe of how his ancestors travelled and made themselves a home in Beqa.

“Working in the tourism industry and as a Pacific Islander means I have to work extra hard and at the same time learn how I can access, learn and pass on traditional knowledge to others and at the same time play my part in the preservation of our land and ocean resources,” he said.

The Ambassador of the European Union for the Pacific and to Fiji, H.E Sujiro Seam while congratulating the recipients said, “The Pacific European Union Marine Partnership recognises that the small Island States of the Pacific are big ocean States. This partnership focuses on the sustainable management of marine resources, balancing environment protection and sustainable livelihood, traditional indigenous knowledge and state of the art training. This partnership continues to build the capacity of Pacific Islanders to face the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic or tropical cyclones. I am proud to officiate at this award ceremony, which shows the positive impact of the European Green Deal for Fiji and the Pacific.”

USP Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Regional Campuses and Estates & Infrastructure, Dr Giulio Paunga, said this was an opportunity and a first for the PEUMP Programme to sail into the future by beginning to weave into education and training, revitalisation of traditional ocean navigation to help coastal communities become more resilient to the changing climate at the same time ensuring equal opportunity.

Trustee for the Uto Ni Yalo Trust, Colin Philp said the canoe is the most important artefact in the history of Oceania and with this partnership we hope to leave a legacy of new found love for the mode of sea transport that our ancestors enjoyed for many hundreds of years.

The USP is one of four key implementing partners of the overall PEUMP Programme, an initiative funded by the European Union and the Government of Sweden. In the framework of the Programme, the USP focuses on building capacities for Pacific islanders through education, training, research and development in fisheries and marine resources management.

The overall EUR 45 million (110 million FJD) Programme promotes sustainable management and sound ocean governance for food security and economic growth, while addressing climate change resilience and conservation of marine biodiversity. It follows a comprehensive approach, integrating issues related to ocean fisheries, coastal fisheries, community development, marine conservation and capacity building under one single regional action.