Shark Reef Marine Reserve – breaking News!

October 27, 2014

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I’m over the moon!

But first, watch this.

Did you see it, right at the end?
Yes, we’ve just received the official notification that from its humble beginnings as one of dozens of locally managed MPAs in the country, the SRMR has now been upgraded to a National Marine Park – one of the first if not the very first in Fiji!

 

Oh boy has this been an adventure!
It is the result of a whopping 11 years of constant advocacy and cajoling all the way to begging: hundreds upon hundreds of e-mails, dozens of formal meetings and position papers, several governments, multiple ministers, five different village chiefs chairing numerous village meetings with ever changing village committees, having to wait for the outcome of the ultimately failed Fiji Shark Sanctuary campaign, and the list goes on and on and on. And mind you: all these years and enormous effort had to be invested into a conservation project that was completely undisputed and where every single stakeholder had given his approval since the very beginning!
This just as an aside and as a warning to those groups that want to quickly parachute in and get fast results and instant gratification – this is not how Fiji works!

 

But in the end, we’ve pulled it off.
We are highly grateful to Government and specifically, to Frank Bainimarama for not only having single-handedly saved our sorry ass back then in 2010, but for getting Cabinet to finally endorse it. And an enormous shout-out goes to Aisake Batibasaga, Principal Research Officer at the Department of Fisheries, for his unwavering support and encouragement all throughout this interminable process. It is thanks to his very personal efforts that it got finally tabled, and for that we shall always be grateful to him.
Vinaka Bati, you’re a good man and a good friend!

 

Our massive thanks also go to the village of Galoa.
Shark Reef lays is within their fishing grounds, and I must really say that contrary to others, working with them has always been easy, and fueled by mutual trust, respect and above all, honesty. To celebrate this event and show our appreciation, we will very shortly increase the marine park levy, with all incremental funds flowing to Galoa only.
Vinaka vakalevu!

 

And then there’s our unmatched team.
Here’s to James for having founded BAD and to Andrew for his excellent leadership, loyalty and hard work; to Papa and Nani that have been invaluable guides when navigating the treacherous waters of local protocol; to Rusi, quite possibly the world’s best Shark feeder and my dive buddy who continues to inspire me every single day; and to the BAD boyz an gals that always make me so proud.

 

And then!
Here’s to those wonderful people that have been helping us since the very beginning – for a decade of friendship, counsel and encouragement, and above all, for stellar company and shared adventures: Valerie and the late RonJuergGary and Brenda, the Hawaii gang of Jack and his disciples John, Rob and Richard and least but not least, Alexander Goldknecht of the Shark Foundation who funded our first patrol boat, continues to fund Juerg’ research and is a sponsor of the ongoing GFSC.
And to you, the many loyal friends we’ve made on the way, and the thousands upon thousands of visitors that have enabled us to keep going and finally achieve our vision of a tourism-based integrated Shark research and conservation project, and reach finally this milestone.
And to our detractors – your have only strengthened our resolve!
Thank you so much!

 

Oh yes this is long – but it has to be!
So, please, bear with me for another bit.

 

Back to the SRMR.
Yes in the big scheme of things, this is a nothing, a tiny insignificant speck in the vastness of the ocean – but here’s why it may well be just a tad more than that.
As far as I know, this is possibly the first time anywhere that the public sector is conferring the day-to-day management of a National Marine Park to a private entity.
There will be a management committee comprising representatives from Fisheries, BAD, private societies and academia – but whereas Fisheries will always retain the final say in anything, BAD are the only operator entitled to conduct Shark dives, will regulate daily access, monitor the reef, coordinate research, and police and even enforce the fishing ban via our fish wardens. To that effect, we will be shortly conducting our fourth fish warden course, after which every single one of our staff will be a honorary park ranger with full authority to inspect vessels and catches, and apprehend perpetrators.
Methinks this public-private partnership is a great and possibly ground-breaking template, especially for developing countries with their notorious lack of resources – so you purists out there, please do consider the many advantages before summarily slamming it down!
Leaves the video.
Contrary to last time, this is obviously a professional job.
We commissioned it because we knew that something was cooking and as chance would have it, it just got completed one hour ago – in fact I’m posting this minutes after having obtained the Vimeo link! The editor is none other than Jackie’s husband Dave who happens to equally be a keen Shark diver – and it sure shows, nobody else could have done it the way he has, bravo!

To be continued – and that’s a promise!

PS – thank you Martin!


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