My very first dive on Shark Reef in 2003 immediately got me hooked! Six species of sharks on a single dive including a very good number of decent sized bull sharks and the beautiful silvertip shark! It was clear from the very beginning that one day Shark Reef would host the Bull Shark Tagging Programme. That day came in 2004 and ever since, Shark Reef Marine Reserve is home to the Bull Shark Tagging Programme Fiji.
Shark Reef is a small reef patch located on the fringing reef off the coast of Viti Levu, Fiji. Because of its locally long-known shark abundance and convenient accessibility, a local dive operator started developing a tourist shark dive on Shark Reef in 1998. Up to eight different shark species can be encountered on a single dive including bull, silvertip, sicklefin lemon and tiger sharks. The Shark Reef Marine Reserve project that started to develop in 2002 aimed at declaring parts of Shark Reef as a no-take zone and the use of this area as a self-sustaining diving site by using a participatory business planning approach to MPA management, in which the dive operator focuses on the ability of the MPA to provide ecological goods and services to its target users over the long term and ensures that local stakeholders become the beneficiaries of tourism development, but also are fully integrated into the relevant planning and management processes. In other words, the basic concept of the Shark Reef Marine Reserve was to "buy" the fishing rights from the local villages that traditionally own the fishing rights on Shark Reef and designate it as a closed area. An extended fishing moratorium on a reef is, in effect, a marine protected area.
In 2003, a basic agreement was reached with the two villages which own the traditional rights to the reef. In exchange for the villages’ agreeement not to fish on the reef, the dive operator would be granted exclusive access rights to the site and collect a so-called daily marine park levy from each visitor to be directly paid to the villages. Meetings with the Minister of Fisheries and Forestry resulted in their endorsement of having the site officially declared as a marine reserve by the Fijian government. Representatives of both villages then jointly asked for the formal establishment of a marine reserve at Shark Reef, and that request was granted on 9 April 2004, the official date for the establishment of the Shark Reef Marine Reserve.
Read what kind of shark reserach has been going on in Shark Reef Marine Reserve in coming blogs!