21 Apr 2010

Fiji's comic-book heroes of conservation

By Nick Askew
Children attending schools around Fiji's Mount Nabukelevu IBA are to become the conservationists of the future, with help of a BirdLife project backed by the local and national government, and supported by the Keidanren Nature Conservation Fund. Mount Nabukelevu is one of two IBAs (Important Bird Areas) on the island of Kadavu, and its montane forest is of critical importance for five Globally Threatened bird species: White-throated Storm-petrel Nesofregetta fuliginosa and Crimson Shining Parrot Prosopeia splendens (both Vulnerable), and Collared Petrel Pterodroma brevipes (Near Threatened), Whistling Dove Ptilinopus layardiand Kadavu Fantail Rhipidura personata (all Near Threatened). But unsustainable practices are causing degradation of agricultural areas, leading to further pressure to clear more forest. BirdLife initiated conservation activities at Mount Nabukelevu in 2005, working with the local communities to identify problems, define potential solutions and develop appropriate skills. This has led to the establishment of a Site Support Group (SSG), comprising representatives of land-owning mataqalis (family units), who want to manage their forest resources sustainably. The Mount Nabukelevu SSG is establishing a community-based protected area of around 350ha at 300m elevation. Recent grants from the GEF Small Grants Programme and the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund will allow reforestation down to 250m or even 200m elevation, which will increase the forested area significantly. The SSG is also managing a model farm and nursery, which was established to initiate a forest restoration programme and to help communities to implement sustainable agricultural practices. Now the Mount Nabukelevu SSG wants to involve young people, and particularly school children, in their conservation efforts. "We want to ensure that these kids will be the 'conservationists of the future' and that next generations will also be able to enjoy and benefit from our natural environment and resources", said BirdLife Conservation Officer, Tuverea Tuamoto, the project's manager. Educational tools aimed at the kids of Kadavu will include a cheap but robust and child-friendly pocket guide to Kadavu's birds, and a comic strip with information about the value of forests, ecosystems, birds and biodiversity in an easily accessible form. Both will be published in the local language. The comic will describe practical alternatives to the practices currently degrading Kadavu's forests, including the importance of sustainable management for soil conservation, food security, water quality, climate change, biodiversity and non-timber forest products. The guide and the comic will be distributed to all the primary schools in Kadavu. There will be a one-week eco-camp during the term break, complete with games, bird identification training, quizzes and nature walks for the children of the three primary schools in the Mount Nabukelevu area. The eco-camp will also launch a tree-planting programme focusing on the degraded areas of the forest, which will then be taken up by the children of the three schools. Nature clubs and school-based nature programmes will be set up at each of the schools. These activities will be rolled out to other schools on the island if further funding can be obtained. Project partners include Fiji's Ministry of Education, the NGO Live and Learn Environmental Education, and Kadavu Provincial Council. A strong relationship already exists between BirdLife and Kadavu Provincial Council; BirdLife has attended almost all Kadavu Provincial Council meetings since it started working in the area, and continues to seek advice and to ensure the support and consent of the Council for planned and ongoing activities. The SSG will make logistical arrangements for the meetings in the villages and schools and will also be responsible for sustaining the activities once the project has ended. This project will help the SSG develop into a Community-Based Organisation that can initiate further activities independently.