Bringing the ‘Kuita’ Back in Fiji

In the Pacific Islands, the participation of local communities is key to effectively managing natural resources. This is particularly true in the islands of the Western Pacific, where many of the inhabitants of this region have been given rights to manage their coastal systems, either on their own or in co-management arrangements with government agencies. In a region where millions of people rely almost exclusively on fish and other marine resources for survival, the stakes are incredibly high.

The Packard Foundation’s Western Pacific subprogram supports hundreds of communities that are creating networks of tabus: small-scale, marine-protected areas governed by traditional resource management systems.

In January 2010, a Fiji Times article “60 Years On” brought attention to an unexpected occurrence. Just over a year after enforcing the tabu, local fishermen spotted a prized species of octopus that had not been seen in that location for 60 years. The long-lost octopus, known as “kuita,” was considered a delicacy that villagers had expected to never taste again. The villagers attributed the return of the kuita to the success of the tabu.

As a result of the improved conditions in and around the community’s traditional fishing grounds, there was enough kuita moving into areas adjacent to the tabu for each fisherman to harvest several per day in the week immediately after the discovery. The community also reported seeing other species—including the ta (surgeonfish) and kanace (mullet)—which were thought to be extinct locally as well. Multiple stories and results such as these have led to the rapid expansion of and belief in the effectiveness of locally managed marine areas for people and for conservation.