The rich biodiversity and cultural richness of the Lau Islands

As part of the inaugural Lau Seascape Yaubula Festival, Conservation International (CI) is thrilled to launch its short documentary showcasing the rich biodiversity and cultural richness of the Lau Islands.

The documentary is a co-production by Dave Lavaki of First Fighter, who hails from the serene island of Lakeba in Lau.  The film magnifies the beauty and biodiversity of Lau, reinforcing the need to protect this unique maritime province. It is a visually engaging extension of the Lau Seascape Strategy, effectively conveying the goals and fundamental principles to a broader audience.

The film showcases the pivotal role that Indigenous leadership plays in conservation initiatives throughout Lau, illustrating how the Indigenous community, through their profound understanding and respect for the land and sea, has significantly contributed to the protection of distinct habitats and biodiversity. Featuring efforts to restore coral and forest habitats, the film mirrors community consultations to advance the seascape responsibly and collaboratively, ensuring it meets the desires and needs of the Lau people.

It also puts a spotlight on the Lau Seascape’s crucial role in Fiji’s ambitious 30×30 initiative – a nationwide effort to protect 30% of its marine area and manage 100% of its oceans by 2030. Presently, the Lau Seascape contributes an impressive 8% to Fiji’s national goal. The film effectively boosts awareness, instils pride, and promotes proactive ocean management efforts amongst all stakeholders.

Tied to the release of the documentary, the Lau Yaubula Festival kicked off on 29 June 2023 at the National Gymnasium in Suva. The festival, which is a celebration of Lau’s natural resources, demonstrates an innovative blend of culture, heritage, community, and conservation in the Lau Seascape. The festival aims to solidify the commitment of the LSI to preserve not just the ecological richness, but also the vibrant cultural heritage of the island.

The event is jointly organised by the Lau Provincial Office, Matabose ni veika-vakavanua and Conservation International, under the guidance of the Bose Vanua o Lau.

Inaugurating the event, President Ratu Wiliame Katonivere shared a critical sentiment. He stated “I was presented the opportunity to peruse your Lau Seascape Strategy 2018-2030, and was deeply concerned with the threatened [red] status of one of the 10 strategic targets – Cultural Integrity.  Today’s milestone event is one step towards moving the needle from red to green. The preservation of Cultural Integrity will restore the critical social-cultural elements that are of significant value to guide conservation and sustainable development in Lau.”

“I am humbled that while you strive to deal with the above challenges, I am encouraged to see that Lau is contributing and shaping national development to fulfill Fiji’s UN Ocean commitments such as the MPA 30×30 where 8.26% is the contribution of Lau. These national commitments are aligned to the Lau Seascape Strategy.”

Mere Lakeba, Senior Director Fiji Program and Regional Fisheries for CI Fiji, commended the Vanua  o Lau’s active leadership and collaboration in organising the Yaubula Festival.

“The blending of tradition and heritage with our sustainable development initiatives beautifully exemplifies the core values of the Lau Seascape Strategy – maintaining cultural integrity while advancing conservation and livelihood targets” said Lakeba.

“In Lau, where nature and tradition go hand in hand, the ocean isn’t just a resource – it’s a cornerstone of our prosperity and way of life,” added Lakeba. “In protecting it through initiatives like the Yaubula Festival, we’re ensuring that this beautiful place with its unique social cultural values remains healthy and vibrant for the benefit of all – locals and future generations alike.”

Roko Sau, Chief of Totoya Island in Lau, said: “This festival is an ideal stage for sharing our ancestral wisdom and biodiversity. We’re proud to work with CI to make this event and documentary a reality, highlighting our dedication to conservation.”

“The protection of Lau, its culture, and its biodiversity is our gift to the future generations.”

The Lau Provincial Council also re-emphasized their commitment to preserving the Lau Seascape, highlighting that “the success in saving the environment comes from keeping our traditions strong, while also pushing for new ways to protect our surroundings.” 

“The Yaubula Festival demonstrates the resilience of the Lau people,” said Roko Tui Lau Jioji Kalounivalu. “By coming together to organize such a festival, they show their determination to maintain their traditions and community spirit, even in the face of modern-day challenges and pressures.”

The festival will provide platform for all 13 Tikinas from Lau to display their cultural practices and sell their unique local artifacts, demonstrating their shared commitment to preserving their environment and traditions. It will also provide opportunity to the diaspora generations of Lau that have not visited homeland, to reconnect with their rich heritage.

The Yaubula festival will run from 29th – 30th June and is open to the public.

CI Fiji invites everyone to help amplify its conservation efforts by watching the new documentary, and engaging in the Yaubula Festival and gaining a deeper awareness of the Lau Seascape, its unique culture, and the importance of its preservation.

This story was produced by Priya Chand, original content of Conservation International published on 29 June 2023.

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