Stretching across the channel that links Fiji’s two main islands is a blue-green jewel of forest and reef. Called Vatu-i-Ra, its vibrant seas are laced with coral reefs, masses of colorful reef fish, and sea turtles, while the adjoining landscape of coastal forests is alive with crested iguanas, tree frogs, and sea birds.
This extraordinary 7,500 square mile mosaic of forests, mangroves, seagrass meadows, reefs, deep channels, and seamounts is one of the Pacific’s last great wild places. It is home to the largest population of nesting hawksbills in Fiji as well as green and loggerhead turtles. It is one of the few remaining sanctuaries for the highly prized but globally endangered humphead wrasse, which animates the reef alongside bumphead parrotfish and white tip reef sharks. Local people thrill to frequent sightings of resident pilot whales and dolphins as well as humpback whales passing through on their annual migrations. Strong currents run through the deep Vatu-i-Ra channel, nourishing a magnificent diversity of more than 300 species of corals. These, in turn, sustain breeding colonies of frigate birds, black noddies, and red-footed boobies.
Vatu-i-Ra’s intact forests boast many species unique to Fiji – crested iguanas, tree frogs, and more than 120 endemic plant species. Free-flowing rivers connect the forest to the reef, allowing small but spectacularly colorful goby fish to migrate from upland streams to the coast and back.
Like most of Melanesia, the residents of the coastal villages around Vatu-i-Ra hold formal tenure rights over their land and traditional fishing rights over their coastal waters. Fisheries are a major source of food and income to these communities, as are revenues generated by Vatu-i-Ra’s world-renowned dive tourism. However, growing demands on the Seascape from unsustainable fishing to logging and expanding agricultural activities combine to threaten its forests, rivers, and reefs as well as the vital connections between them and the services they provide to human and wildlife communities.
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and our local partners are engaged in an ambitious effort to mobilize science and traditional knowledge to achieve our 10-year vision for Vatu-i-Ra: healthy, resilient forests that are connected to and sustain rivers, mangroves and coral reefs, and where coral reefs teem with whales, turtles, sharks, humphead wrasse, and abundant food fishes that are managed to support livelihoods and Fijian culture.