National Trust of Fiji project officer Jone Niukula with a crested iguana. Picture: SUPPLIED
FOR the past decade, Jone Niukula has dedicated his time and effort to maintaining Fiji's natural heritage and landscape from the devastating impact of climate change, invasive and evasive species, extinction and depletion of natural resources, and threats to sustainable living.
Two weeks ago, he led a team from the National Trust of Fiji, Ministry of Forests, Food and Nutrition Centre, Conservation International and the University of the South Pacific en route to Yadua Island in the Northern Division for a two-day workshop on climate change adaptation.
The end result was the compilation of a work plan by the villagers of Denimanu to establish a nursery site and further training on sustainable farming practises.
Jone is no stranger to conservation work and 10 years is a long time to familiarise oneself with our natural landscape.
Whether it's hiking through rough terrains or taking charge of a fibreglass boat over rough seas, Jone says dealing with traditions and culture are issues close to the heart.
"Somebody who motivated me to care about the environment and traditional plants and animals especially important native species in Fiji was Professor Randy Thaman from the University of the South Pacific," said the 34-year old from Tonuve Village, Bemana in the province of Nadroga.
"I've lived in Suva my whole life. I love the great outdoors, going to the beach, to the village, exploring mangroves, malea (tilapia) and duna. I've had many people come up to me saying they want (to do) my job and travel around Fiji.
"Working with communities on different projects can be a challenge mostly establishing an understanding. You really need to be there with them, learn about what they do, how they do things and you have to mix it up with what you want to tell them - the importance of conserving plants and animals."
The former Lelean Memorial School scholar graduated from USP with a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in geography and minoring in earth science.
He initially reached final year of his Bachelor of Science program before switching to an Arts degree program. It was nature's way of pulling him deep into the study of our local landscape and heritage. In 2002, Jone joined the National Trust of Fiji as a project officer and was instrumental in several successful projects like the protection of crested iguanas on Yadutaba, among other contributions to environmental conservation.
"I feel happy and satisfied whenever projects come through successful like the removal of goats from Yadua (and Yaduataba), Mamanuca and Monuriki for Fiji's iguanas.
"But there's always the worry that as soon as I leave the place, there's a chance somebody would take the goats back to those islands. So the challenge is maintaining the work plan in those areas." The proud father of one is married to Teresia Malaucake and says his young family keeps him grounded when work is hectic. But juggling work and family commitments have worked in his favour so far with the support from his wife, family, friends and colleagues.
The youngest of three siblings, Jone's father was a church minister while his mother was a teacher. He attended four primary schools growing up not because he was grouped with the mischievous lot but because of his various father's postings.
"I attended Annesley Methodist in Suva then moved to the United States for six months because my father attended theological training," he said.
"It was back to Vuda District School because my dad was then senior superintendant of the Vuda Circuit. Next was Lautoka Methodist School until Class Eight." After completing Form Six at LMS, he enrolled in USP's Foundation Science program before finally completing his degree. To be in a field that deals with the conservation of our natural and national heritage sites requires passion, dedication and commitment - and Jone knows all too well those values got him through tough challenges on the job.
Introducing Peceli and Wendy. Babasiga (pronounced bambasinga) is the dry land of Macuata in northern Fiji - our place in the sun in Fiji. The town is Labasa and our village is Vatuadova and the beach is Nukutatava. We are part of Wailevu Fijian tribe with relatives in Mali Island and Naseakula village. Peceli was born in Labasa and Wendy is an Australian and today live in Geelong, Australia.