Empowered communities in Rotuma, an isolated island located to the North of Fiji, are strong stewards of their environment caring for their biodiversity and undertaking programs to conserve nature on the island.The LäjeRotuma Initiative (LRI) is a community-based environmental education and awareness development programme in Rotuma that has provided strong support to the local communities. Formed in 2002 by a group of young Rotumans, to bridge their home island with the rest of the world in raising awareness on environment issues, the LRI has successfully led numerous activities on the island.
Rotuma is a 43 square kilometer Island with a population density of 61 people per square km (Fiji Census 1996). It is situated in the South West Pacific, about 465km North of Fiji.
Rotuma, as a geographical isolate, with an economy that is externally influenced from mainland Fiji, illustrates the high dependence of an island community on its natural resources.
"LRI has, over the years grown from humble beginnings to being recognised as an important partner that decision making processes affecting Rotuma's development and natural resource use plans," said Alfredo Ralifo of WWF, one of the founding members of the LäjeRotuma Initiative.
"Currently, LRI is in the process of registering itself as a charitable trust so that it can be more effective in achieving its vision for Rotuma and her people."
When it began the LäjeRotuma Initiative focused on engaging youth to strengthen the capacity of the island community in making informed decisions on managing the natural resources of Rotuma. LRI has now grown to include nature conservation activities on the island.
The range of these activities includes carrying out baseline biodiversity surveys in Rotuma, 10 island youth trained as certified PADI Open Water divers to help conduct basic scientific coral reef surveys in Rotuma, funding secured to help implement community conservation awareness and many other achievements.
One of the most recent involves assisting the Yasawa Island Group in Fiji with forming a Biodiversity Conservation Network named Tikina Naviti Conservation Initiative.
"Sharing lessons between two unique but similar island communities to support each other in terms of protecting their unique island biodiversity is very important. The LäjeRotuma Initiative hopes to share its lessons and experiences over the years with other island communities and establish a network of island communities to improve community livelihoods and as well as building resilience towards the effects of Climate Change."
The current Plan of Action for the LRI encompasses community outreach, building community resilience to climate change, integrated fisheries management, sustainable livelihoods options and research and capacity building.
The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) is a major partner of the LRI, other major partners are: Rotuma Island Council, Rotuman Member of Parliament, WWF, AUSAID, Marine Studies Program, Institute of Marine Resources, SISA, University of the South Pacific, GCRMN, Global GreenGrants Fund, British High Commission Suva, SeaWeb, Coral Cay Conservation, PADI Foundation, Project AWARE, Ministry of Youth, WAC Theatre Unlimited, Rotuman Suva-7-Districts, Rotuma website, Rotuma Island Coordinator & Youth Volunteer Network.