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Alumni Spotlight: Sangeeta Mangubhai

conservation economics Palau Fiji alumni WCS
Sangeeta participating in CSF's Economic Tools for Marine Conservation course in Palau in 2014. Photo Credit: Dr. Dean Miller

Sangeeta Mangubhai, Director of the the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Fiji Country Program, attended CSF’s Economic Tools for Marine Conservation course in Palau in 2014. At that time WCS had limited experience with marine Payment for Ecosystem Service (PES) programs, and Sangeeta told us that, “after my training with CSF, I saw the potential to expand this work into both marine and forest ecosystems.”

Six months after completing the course, Sangeeta designed and implemented a national assessment of innovative conservation mechanisms operating in Fiji. The report, entitled "Contribution of Marine Conservation Agreements to Biodiversity Protection, Fisheries Management, and Sustainable Financing in Fiji," includes 10 case studies of partnerships between communities with tenure rights and the tourism industry, and highlights the success of this type of partnership in the history of conservation in Fiji. The report also provides important recommendations for effective management for policy makers, tourism operators, and communities that are instrumental as Fiji strives to reach its Aichi targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Sangeeta and her staff have also been involved in establishing the Vatu-i-Ra Island Conservation Park and the Kilaka Forest Conservation Area. Both of which protect the unparallelled biodiversity found in the oceans and forests of Fiji, and were only possible through multi-year discussions between WCS and the local communities with land tenure rights to the forest and marine resources.

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Coral reef in the Vatu-i-Ra Island Conservation Park. Photo Credit: Nai'a Live Aboard

The Vatu-i-Ra Island Conservation Park is the largest such park in Fiji, protecting 110 square kilometers of marine ecosystems as well as the island, known for the large colonies of seabirds which breed there. This area had been conserved informally by local communities since 2011, but was formally designated as a Conservation Park in 2018 after more than 3 years of negotiation. Tourism operators who use the park pay a voluntary fee into the established trust fund, and those funds are then used to finance management of the park, and provide education for local people.

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The beautiful forests of Fiji. Photo Credit: Adam Selwood

In the case of the Kilaka Forest Conservation Area, WCS has worked with land owners to secure a 99-year conservation lease on over 400 hectares of pristine tropical forest. This forest, and the people who have property rights to it, are under pressure to open the land for logging and mining. The conservation lease provides an alternative source of income and prevents destruction of the forest, and management of the agreement is led by traditional landowners. The Kilaka Forest is an example of a combination of PES and co-management strategies, and has the potential to be replicated in other forests in the region.

Sangeeta credits CSF with, “providing me with the knowledge and background on PES and other economic tools to apply them in marine and terrestrial ecosystems across Fiji. I think these may prove to be more durable conservation approaches in the long-term.”