Skip to main content Accessibility help

Using local ecological knowledge to identify shark river habitats in Fiji (South Pacific)


Local ecological knowledge (LEK) and traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) have the potential to improve community-based coastal resource management (CBCRM) by providing information about the presence, behaviour and ecology of species. This paper explores the potential of LEK and TEK to identify shark river habitats in Fiji, learn how locals regard and use sharks, and capture ancestral legends and myths that shed light on relationships between these animals and local people. Interviews with representatives from 22 villages, communities and fishing settlements associated with seven riverine areas on Viti Levu and Vanua Levu confirmed the presence of sharks in estuaries and rivers on Fiji. Hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna spp.) and larger sharks were reported being close to the river mouths, whereas an unknown species of small size with a rounded snout was reported up to >30 km upriver. Local people consume shark meat as a source of protein, but sharks also have a rich background in ancestral stories and play an important part in Fijian myths and legends, resulting in the support of conservation measures by local villagers.

Corresponding author
*Correspondence: Dr Juerg Brunnschweiler e-mail:
Hide All
Ainsworth, C.H., Pitcher, T.J. & Rotinsulu, C. (2008) Evidence of fishery depletions and shifting cognitive baselines in Eastern Indonesia. Biological Conservation 141: 848859.
Allen, M.S. (2007) Three millennia of human and sea turtle interactions in remote Oceania. Coral Reefs 26: 959970.
Anadón, J.D., Giménez, A., Ballestar, R. & Pérez, I. (2009) Evaluation of local ecological knowledge as a method for collecting extensive data on animal abundance. Conservation Biology 23: 617625.
Aswani, S. (2005) Customary sea tenure in Oceania as a case of rights-based fishery management: does it work? Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 15: 285307.
Aswani, S. & Hamilton, R. (2004 a) The value of many small vs. few large marine protected areas in the Western Solomon Islands. SPC Traditional Marine Resource Management and Knowledge Information Bulletin 16: 314.
Aswani, S. & Hamilton, R. (2004 b) Integrating indigenous ecological knowledge and customary sea tenure with marine and social science for conservation of bumphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum) in the Roviana Lagoon, Solomon Islands. Environmental Conservation 31: 6983.
Aswani, S., Albert, S., Sabetian, A. & Furusawa, T. (2007) Customary management as precautionary and adaptive principles for protecting coral reefs in Oceania. Coral Reefs 26: 10091021.
Bartlett, C.Y., Pakoa, K. & Manua, C. (2009) Marine reserve phenomenon in the Pacific islands. Marine Policy 33: 673678.
Berkes, F. (2004) Rethinking community-based conservation. Conservation Biology 18: 621630.
Berkes, F. (2008) Sacred Ecology: Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Resource Management. Second edition. Philadelphia, USA: Taylor and Francis: 314 pp.
Berkes, F., Colding, J. & Folke, C. (2000) Rediscovery of traditional ecological knowledge as adaptive management. Ecological Applications 10: 1251262.
Brewster, A.B. (1922) The Hill Tribes of Fiji. Philadelphia, USA: J.B. Lippincott: 308 pp.
Brunnschweiler, J.M. (2009) Tracking free-ranging sharks with hand-fed intra-gastric acoustic transmitters. Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology 42: 201209.
Brunnschweiler, J.M. (2010) The Shark Reef Marine Reserve: a marine tourism project in Fiji involving local communities. Journal of Sustainable Tourism 18: 2942.
Brunnschweiler, J.M. & Earle, J.L. (2006) A contribution to marine life conservation efforts in the South Pacific: the Shark Reef Marine Reserve, Fiji. Cybium 30 (Suppl.): 133139.
Bush, A. & Holland, K. (2002) Food limitation in a nursery area: estimates of daily ration in juvenile scalloped hammerheads, Sphyrna lewini (Griffith and Smith, 1834) in Kane'ohe Bay, O'ahu, Hawai'i. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 278: 157178.
Caillaud, A., Boengkih, S., Evans-Illidge, E., Genolagani, J., Havemann, P., Henao, D., Kwa, E., Llewell, D., Ridep-Morris, A., Rose, J., Nari, R., Skelton, P., South, R., Sulu, R., Tawake, A., Tobin, B., Tuivanuavou, S. & Wilkinson, C. (2004) Tabus or not taboos? How to use traditional environmental knowledge to support sustainable development of marine resources in Melanesia. SPC Traditional Marine Resource Management and Knowledge Information Bulletin 17: 1435.
Chapman, P.M. (2007) Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and scientific weight of evidence determinations. Marine Pollution Bulletin 54: 18391840.
Christie, P. & White, A.T. (2007) Best practices for improved governance or coral reef marine protected areas. Coral Reefs 26: 10471056.
Cinner, J.E. & Aswani, S. (2007) Integrating customary management into marine conservation. Biological Conservation 140: 201216.
Compagno, L.J.V. (1984) FAO species catalogue. Vol. 4. Sharks of the world. An annotated and illustrated catalogue of shark species known to date. Part 2. Carcharhiniformes. FAO Fisheries Synopsis 125 4 (2): 251655.
Cooke, A.J., Polunin, N.V.C. & Moce, K. (2000) Comparative assessment of stakeholder management in traditional Fijian fishing-grounds. Environmental Conservation 27: 291299.
Cruz-Martínez, A., Chiappa-Carrara, X. & Arenas-Fuentes, V. (2005) Age and growth of the bull shark, Carcharhinus leucas, from southern Gulf of Mexico. Journal of Northwestern Atlantic Fishery Science 35: 367374.
D'Arcy, P. (2006) The People of the Sea: Environment, Identity, and History in Oceania. Honolulu, USA: University of Hawai'i Press: 292 pp.
De Ricci, J. H. (1875) Fiji: our new province in the South Seas. London: Edward Stanford: 332 pp.
Drew, J.A. (2005) Use of traditional ecological knowledge in marine conservation. Conservation Biology 19: 12861293.
Fahmi, & Adrim, M. (2009) The first record of a shark of the genus Glyphis in Indonesia. The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology 57: 113118.
Feldheim, K.A., Gruber, S.H. & Ashley, M.V. (2002) The breeding biology of lemon sharks at a tropical nursery lagoon. Proceedings of the Royal Society London B 269: 16551661.
Garibaldi, A. & Turner, N. (2004) Cultural keystone species: implications for ecological conservation and restoration. Ecology and Society 9: 1.
Gerhardinger, L.C., Hostim-Silva, M., Medeiros, R.P., Matarezi, J., Bertoncini, Á.A., Freitas, M.O. & Ferreira, B.P. (2009) Fisher's resource mapping and goliath grouper Epinephelus itajara (Serranidae) conservation in Brazil. Neotropical Ichthyology 7: 93102.
Gilchrist, G., Mallory, M. & Merkel, F. (2005) Can local ecological knowledge contribute to wildlife management? Case studies of migratory birds. Ecology and Society 10: 20.
Govan, H. (2009) Achieving the potential of locally managed areas in the South Pacific. SPC Traditional Marine Resource Management and Knowledge Information Bulletin 25: 1625.
Grant, S. & Berkes, F. (2007) Fisher knowledge as expert system: A case from the longline fishery of Grenada, the Eastern Caribbean. Fisheries Research 84: 162170.
Heithaus, M.R., Delius, B.K., Wirsing, A.J. & Dunphy-Daly, M.M. (2009) Physical factors influencing the distribution of a top predator in a subtropical oligotrophic estuary. Limnology and Oceanography 54: 472482.
Heupel, M.R. & Simpfendorfer, C.A. (2008) Movement and distribution of young bull sharks Carcharhinus leucas in a variable estuarine environment. Aquatic Biology 1: 277289.
Heupel, M.R., Simpfendorfer, C.A. & Hueter, R.E. (2003) Running before the storm: blacktip sharks respond to falling barometric pressure associated with tropical storm Gabrielle. Journal of Fish Biology 63: 13571363.
Heupel, M.R., Simpfendorfer, C.A. & Hueter, R.E. (2004) Estimation of shark home ranges using passive monitoring techniques. Environmental Biology of Fishes 71: 135142.
Heupel, M.R., Carlson, J.K. & Simpfendorfer, C.A. (2007) Shark nursery areas: concepts, definition, characterization and assumptions. Marine Ecology Progress Series 337: 287297.
Huntington, H.P. (2000) Using traditional ecological knowledge in science: methods and applications. Ecological Applications 10: 12701274.
Huntington, H.P., Suydam, R.S. & Rosenberg, D.H. (2004) Traditional knowledge and satellite tracking as complementary approaches to ecological understanding. Environmental Conservation 31: 177180.
Jackson, J.B.C., Kirby, M.X., Berger, W.H., Bjorndal, K.A., Botsford, L.W., Bourque, B.J., Bradbury, R.H., Cooke, R., Erlandson, J., Estes, J.A., Hughes, T.P., Kidwell, S., Lange, C.B., Lenihan, H.S., Pandolfi, J.M., Peterson, C.H., Steneck, R.S., Tegner, M.J. & Warner, R.R. (2001) Historical overfishing and the recent collapse of coastal ecosystems. Science 293: 629638.
Johannes, R.E. (2002) The renaissance of community-based marine resource management in Oceania. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 33: 371–340.
Kimmerer, R.W. (2002) Weaving traditional ecological knowledge into biological education: a call to action. BioScience 52: 432438.
Léopold, M., Cakacaka, A., Meo, S., Sikolia, J. & Lecchini, D. (2009) Evaluation of the effectiveness of three underwater reef fish monitoring methods in Fiji. Biodiversity and Conservation (in press).
Lotze, H.K., Lenihan, H.S., Bourque, B.J., Bradbury, R.H., Cooke, R.G., Kay, M.C., Kidwell, S.M., Kirby, M.X., Peterson, C.H. & Jackson, J.B.C. (2006) Depletion, degradation, and recovery potential of estuaries and coastal seas. Science 312: 18061809.
Lowe, C.G. (2002) Bioenergetics of free-ranging juvenile scalloped hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini) in Kāne'ohe Bay, Ō’ahu, HI. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 278: 141156.
MacDonald, J.D. (1857) Proceedings of the expedition for the exploration of the Rewa River and its tributaries, in Na Viti Levu, Fiji Islands. Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 27: 232268.
Maliao, R.J., Pomeroy, R.S. & Turingan, R.G. (2009) Performance of community-based coastal resource management (CBCRM) programs in the Philippines: a meta-analysis. Marine Policy 33: 818825.
Martin, R.A. (2005) Conservation of freshwater and euryhaline elasmobranchs: a review. Journal of the Marine Biological Association UK 85: 10491073.
Maurstad, A., Dale, T. & Bjørn, P.A. (2007) You wouldn't spawn in a septic tank, would you? Human Ecology 35: 60601.
McCord, M.E. & Lamberth, S.J. (2009) Catching and tracking the world's largest Zambezi (bull) shark Carcharhinus leucas in the Breede Estuary, South Africa: the first 43 hours. African Journal of Marine Science 31: 107111.
Montoya, R.V. & Thorson, T.B. (1982) The bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) and largetooth sawfish (Pristis perotteti) in Lake Bayano, a torpical man-made impoundment in Panama. Environmental Biology of Fishes 7: 314347.
Moller, H., Berkes, F., Lyver, P. & Kislalioglu, M. (2004) Combining science and traditional ecological knowledge: monitoring populations for co-management. Ecology and Society 9: 2.
Muehlig-Hofmann, A. (2007) Traditional authority and community leadership: key factors in community-marine resource management and conservation. SPC Traditional Marine Resource Management and Knowledge Information Bulletin 21: 3144.
Myers, R.A., Baum, J.K., Shepherd, T.D., Powers, S.P. & Peterson, C.H. (2007) Cascading effects of the loss of apex predatory sharks from a coastal ocean. Science 315: 18461850.
Neer, J.A., Thompson, B.A. & Carlson, J.K. (2005) Age and growth of Carcharhinus leucas in the northern Gulf of Mexico: incorporating variability in size at birth. Journal of Fish Biology 67: 370383.
Ortega, L.A., Heupel, M.R., Van Beynen, P. & Motta, P.J. (2009) Movement patterns and water quality preferences of juvenile bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) in a Florida estuary. Environmental Biology of Fishes 84: 361373.
Phuthego, T.C. & Chanda, R. (2004) Traditional ecological knowledge and community-based natural resource management: lessons from a Botswana wildlife management area. Applied Geography 24: 5776.
Pillans, R.D. & Franklin, C.E. (2004) Plasma osmolyte concentrations and the rectal gland mass of bull sharks Carcharhinus leucas, captured along a salinity gradient. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology A 138: 363371.
Poizat, G. & Baran, E. (1997) Fishermen's knowledge as background information in tropical fish ecology: a quantitative comparison with fish sampling results. Environmental Biology of Fishes 50: 435449.
Robbins, W.D., Hisano, M., Connolly, S.R. & Choat, J.H. (2006) Ongoing collapse of coral-reef shark populations. Current Biology 16: 23142319.
Ruddle, K. (1995) A guide to the literature on traditional community-based fishery management in Fiji. SPC Traditional Marine Resource Management and Knowledge Information Bulletin 5: 715.
Russ, G.R. & Alcala, A.C. (1999) Management histories of Sumilon and Apo Marine Reserves, Philippines, and their influence on the national marine resource policy. Coral Reefs 18: 307319.
Ryan, P.A. (1980) A checklist of the brackish and freshwater fish of Fiji. South Pacific Journal of Natural Science 1: 5873.
Sáenz-Arroyo, A., Roberts, C.M., Torre, J. & Cariño-Olvera, M. (2005) Using fishers’ anecdotes, naturalists’ observations and grey literature to reassess marine species at risk: the case of the Gulf grouper in the Gulf of California, Mexico. Fish and Fisheries 6: 121133.
Silvano, R.A.M. & Valbo-Jørgensen, J. (2008) Beyond fishermen's tales: contributions of fishers’ local ecological knowledge to fish ecology and fisheries management. Environment Development and Sustainability 10: 657675.
Silvano, R.A.M., MacCord, P.F.L., Lima, R.V. & Begossi, A. (2006) When does this fish spawn? Fishermen's local knowledge of migration and reproduction of Brazilian coastal fishes. Environmental Biology of Fishes 76: 371386.
Simpfendorfer, C.A., Freitas, G.G., Wiley, T.R. & Heupel, M.R. (2005) Distribution and habitat partitioning of immature bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) in a southwest Florida estuary. Estuaries 28: 7885.
Snelson, F.F., Timothy, J., Mulligan, J. & Williams, S.H. (1984) Food habits, occurrence, and population structure of the bull shark, Carcharhinus leucas, in Florida coastal lagoons. Bulletin of Marine Science 34: 7180.
Swamy, K. (1999) Shark fisheries in Fiji: their management an issues of future concern. In: Case Studies of the Management of Elasmobranch Fisheries, ed. Shotton, R., pp. 508607. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper. No. 378, part 2. Rome, Italy: FAO.
Teh, L.C.L., Teh, L.S.L., Starkhouse, B. & Sumaila, U.R. (2009) An overview of socio-economic and ecological perspectives of Fiji's inshore reef fisheries. Marine Policy 33: 807817.
Thorburn, D.C. & Rowland, A.J. (2008) Juvenile bull sharks Carcharhinus leucas (Valenciennes, 1839) in northern Australian rivers. Beagle 24: 7986.
Ubeda, A.J., Simpfendorfer, C.A. & Heupel, M.R. (2009) Movements of bonnetheads, Sphyrna tiburo, as a response to salinity change in a Florida estuary. Environmental Biology of Fishes 84: 293303.
Wilson, D.C., Raakjær, J. & Degnbol, P. (2006) Local ecological knowledge and practical fisheries management in the tropics: a policy brief. Marine Policy 30: 794801.
Worm, B., Barbier, E.B., Beaumont, N., Duffy, J.E., Folke, C., Halpern, B.S., Jackson, J.B.C., Lotze, H.K., Micheli, F., Palumbi, S.R., Sala, E., Selkoe, K.A., Stachowicz, J.J. & Watson, R. (2006) Impacts of biodiversity loss on ocean ecosystem services. Science 314: 787790.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Environmental Conservation
  • ISSN: 0376-8929
  • EISSN: 1469-4387
  • URL: /core/journals/environmental-conservation
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Rasalato supplementary material

 Word (51 KB)
51 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed