- This is a guest blog by Cari Morgan, a Communications Specialist at O.A.R.S., named “The best river and sea outfitter on Earth” by National Geographic Adventure.
Last spring, award-winning filmmaker and National Geographic Freshwater Hero, Pete McBride, set out to explore one of the only protected rivers in the South Pacific—Fiji’s Upper Navua. What he discovered was not only one of the most beautiful rivers on Earth— a “mini-tropical Grand Canyon”— but a unique conservation story that has helped communities and changed lives in the Fijian Highlands of Viti Levu.
Now, in his recently released short film, River of Eden, McBride takes viewers on an intimate exploration of the tropical paradise within the Upper Navua Conservation Area (UNCA), and through spectacular cinematography and storytelling shows the power of ecotourism to improve communities in developing parts of the world.
The UNCA was established in 1998 when a small rafting company, Rivers Fiji – along with the dedicated support of O.A.R.S. president and founder, George Wendt – joined forces with an unlikely group of local entities including two villages, nine mataqalis (land-owning clans), a logging company and a government organization to protect the area’s natural assets. As a result, the group set-up a 25-year land lease that precludes logging, road building or mining in the fragile river corridor. Instead of easy money from resource extraction, locals turned to tourism to fund a conservation area that would provide long-term sustainability to the region. Since then, a low-impact commercial rafting operation on the Upper Navua headed up by Rivers Fiji has given more than $1 million back to local communities. However, the fate of the UNCA is largely in the hands of future generations.
While the group currently has a lease to protect the UNCA until 2025, and a 99-year lease is already in the works for when the original agreement expires, there are still ongoing threats to the area. According to Dr. Kelly Bricker, co-founder of Rivers Fiji, the health of the entire river corridor is continuously at risk because of illegal logging within the conservation area, as well as gravel mining operations on lower stretches of the river.
“Resource extraction operations along the Navua cause increased sedimentation and erosion, which disrupts the river channel in a variety of ways, ruining important aquatic habitat,” explains Bricker.
But it’s not only the health of Fiji’s third largest freshwater resource that’s at stake. Bricker says there are also concerns about increased development including a proposed hydroelectric dam and potential mining projects in the future. So, like many conservation battles, and despite small victories along the way, the fight to protect the UNCA will continue.
To learn more and for a chance to win an 8-day Fiji adventure to see this tropical paradise first-hand, visit RiverofEden.com.