Yakawe Reef Marine Protected Area Project

Where is Yakawe?

Yakawe Reef is located in the Yasawas Islands, an archipelago of around 20 islands in the northwestern part of Fiji. Yakawe reef has an area of ca. 5 km2 and is located 5 km away from Kuata Island where the Barefoot Kuata Island Resort is. The resort works hand in hand with the local communities of Wayalalai island located just in front of Kuata and where almost all the employees live. Outside these villages, the resort also obtained agreements with other chiefs to use the nearby reefs such as Yakawe for tourism activities. Here in Fiji, nothing can be done without the support of Fijian land owners and users.

How the MPA started

In 2014, shark specialist Thomas Vignaud established The Awakening Shark Dive (ASD) with the purpose of breaking the stigma around sharks and offer a way for everyone to encounter bull sharks, tiger sharks, nurse sharks and lemon sharks in a safe environment.

Since the beginning of this activity, Barefoot Kuata set the goal to establish an official governmental Marine Protected Area (MPA) around Yakawe Reef, meaning a no-fishing zone with only the shark dive and scientific activities allowed. The reef hosts several endangered marine species according to the IUCN Red List and is surrounded by deeper waters, making it an interesting spot for sharks and pelagic fishes. The resort is now on the last steps of this process after long years of discussions.

Yakawe reef from above with Kuata and Wayalalai in the background.

MPA monitoring

Juliette’s goal is to implement an MPA monitoring protocol and to start studying Yakawe fauna and flora to have a before and after impact assessment. Reef and commercial fish populations, coral cover and health and invertebrate numbers are studied.

But I am not alone in doing it. With the help of local marine biologists trained by the Drawaqa Marine Conservation Trust (DMCT) who have complementary rays of expertise, we started monitoring the reef in August 2023. All the trainees are women as the position and presence of women in science especially in developping countries is a cause that deeply matters to the DMCT and me.

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