In the second week of April, as part of its planning activities and to help staff understand the conservation efforts that IUCN supports, the Oceania Regional Office organized a field trip to the Upper Navua Conservation Area (UNCA). UNCA is Fiji's only listed Ramsar Site and the only conservation area in the country managed by a private enterprise. IUCN Oceania commends the efforts by Rivers Fiji - in preserving this special nature reserve and promoting eco-tourism that benefits all players including the local communities.
The rafting trip - Upper Navua River:
The trip is a whole day affair. After a briefing at the Rivers Fiji office in Pacific Harbour, a 40 minute-bus ride takes you inland through the rainforest. Upon arrival at Nabukelevu Village, life jackets, helmets and paddles are handed out then there is a short hike through the rainforest to the launch site. Safety procedures are then illustrated before the rafting adventure begins: views of countless waterfalls, rainforest, etc. The trip down the river takes approximately 3 hours. Another one-hour bus ride to the Rivers Fiji office completes the entire journey.
The UNCA covers approximately 615 hectares of land, including the upper part of Navua River - Fiji's third largest river - in the Province of Serua, Viti Levu. The area is one of the very few relatively untouched major wetlands remaining in Fiji – largely due to its remoteness and inaccessibility. Lush highland rainforest surrounds the entire river, made use by the local communities for medicine. Approximately 15 villages/settlements are located along the Navua River including Navua Town. The only village located in the upper reaches of UNCA is Nabukelevu Village. All the land within and surrounding the Ramsar site of UNCA is owned by the traditional land owning families (mataqali). There are eight mataqali that lay claim to the land. Rivers Fiji works with the landowners through a conservation lease which allows rafting trips on the Navua River.
UNCA is home to a wealth of species diversity as expected of relatively intact healthy ecosystems. The forests surrounding the gorge contain 17 endemic species of birds, 15 of which are found only on the island of Viti Levu. Endemic and restricted range birds species include the Pink-billed Parrot Finch (Erythrura kleinschmidti) and the Black-faced Shrikebill (Clytorhynchus nigrogularis) both listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, and the Giant Forest Honeyeater (Gymnomyza viridis). Reptiles include the Fiji Banded Iguana (Brachylophus fasciatus) which has been listed as Endangered by IUCN. The most prominent of the aquatic fauna are at least two endemic freshwater fish species (Redigobius leveri and Schismatogobius chrysonotus). The most significant component of the vegetation is the endemic Fiji Sago Palm, Metroxylon vitiense which is found in abundance in the gorge.
Rivers Fiji, through its eco-tourism ventures,provides the local communities with alternative business opportunities besides logging or mining. Over the past 10 years this has also allowed additional funding and resources for schools, police posts, churches, village projects and functions, such as books and medical supplies, clothing, and shoes, built classrooms, dug water lines, constructed washrooms, installed village radios, and so much more on the grassroots level.
Comments from IUCN Oceania staff:
|“On the journey down the river, you can clearly make out where the protected area ends because you can start to see coconut trees, cleared land, cattle grazing and the presence of invasive plants”
“It is encouraging to note that about 2 metres of land adjacent to the river is also covered under the lease agreement, as a soil management measure”
“All the tour guides are from the land owning mataqalis’. Its encouraging to see that the locals understand the natural wealth that they own and that they don’t have to destroy it to gain income”
“Rivers Fiji has clearly made the link between the private sector and conservation”
“The protected site is just amazing – worth protecting indeed”
"The trip was a good opportunity for staff members to see the sort of work that we as a conservation organization support and contribute to. The site is of international importance and IUCN is supportive of protected areas"
" The multi stakeholder partnership embedded in this protected area should be commended – local community, Rivers Fiji, local conservation organizations, relevant Fiji Government Departments etc - a win for all"