FIJIAN conservation officer Lui Manuel is welcomed to the USC campus by Hailey Bolland.
FIJIAN conservation officer Lui Manuel is welcomed to the USC campus by Hailey Bolland. Warren Lynam

USC maps what really counts for Fijian villages

A GRASSROOTS approach to research is creating an important bond between the University of the Sunshine Coast and indigenous Fijian communities impacted by external and internal forces that compromise their sustainability.

The approach sees researchers live and work in communities to identify and map areas of value as food sources and economic exchange, cultural significance and vulnerability.

Researcher Renne Currenti said the team from USC's Sustainability centre work together with communities to include traditional and scientific knowledge to understand how environmental challenges, including climate change, translate to affect live and livelihoods and adaptation opportunities.

The project is being undertaken through the collaboration of the University of the South Pacific and the Nadroga-Navosa Provincial Council

The process has been boosted this week by the visit to the university this week of Lui Manuel, conservation officer for the province of Nadroga-Navosa, who has facilitated the USC research project.

Mr Manuel is responsible for the environmental conservation of the 122 iTaukei villages in the province and has been integral to the USC research organising data collection meetings with iTaukei villages directly related to the Sigatoka River, conducting data collection by way of participatory social mapping, preparation of dissemination materials and data verification.

Bachelor of Science honours student Mikayla Cover is focusing her research on the potential impact on the villages of a bid for a mining licence that seeks to extract magnetite used in steel making, ilmenite, reclamation sand and gravel from the river bed and surrounds of the Sigatoka River.

Ms Currenti said mapping being developed would identify hot spots of value to indigenous communities that show the Sigatoka is more than just a river with minerals in it.

She returns to Fiji in three weeks to work on another research project in Nawairuka Village in the highlands which is still feeling the effects of Cyclone Winston which struck in February 2016 causing $1.4 billion damage to Fiji and neighbouring South Pacific islands.

Ms Currenti will spend two months living in the village to document how the community is dealing with climatic and other changes.

Set in a bowl-like valley, Nawairuka was badly impacted by landslides triggered by a combination of Cyclone Winston rainfall and the clearing of forest in the mountains above it for agricultural use.

While on the Sunshine Coast Mr Manuel will help interpret data collected during the USC's previous visit and to attend courses by research team members Dr Tristan Pearce and Dr Javier Leon.

As well as the South Pacific, the USC Sustainability Centre's Environmental Change Research Group also is engaged in projects in the Canadian Arctic and Australia.

The group includes Drs Pearce and Leon, Ms Currenti, Ms Cover, Roger Kitson and Danielle Rietberg.

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