Coral reefs once ran along the shoreline of Dreketi, the village elders say. These reefs acted as a natural barrier from storm surges and strong waves, keeping the ocean at bay and protecting the village, which lies just metres from the beach behind a thin wall of vegetation. These reefs helped keep the community safe.
Much of these reefs have now disappeared or died. The disappearance has caused a steep sandbank to form, creating a strong current, strong waves and removing a layer of protection during storms.
This is creating difficulties. Tropical cyclones now have a greater impact on the village, and drainage has worsened, creating bogs that reduce the land available for food.
These are creating challenges. But the people of Dreketi have faced similar challenges for many years, developing great resourcefulness despite having limited land and resources. Their resilience has seen them come through many difficult times. Now, it is enabling them to confront the difficulties of climate change.
“Climate change has come,” says Nacanieli Catui, leader of the Dreketi Resilience Committee. “You can’t change that. The only thing for us is to work together; there is a solution in everything we do in life.”
Dreketi residents are adept at finding solutions to the problems they face. Despite a relatively small land area of around 300 acres and few natural resources, they still produce and sell many things, such as brooms, mats, oil, copra and Fijian bread called bilo. Improvements in recent years like newly built homes, a road that allows the bus to drive right up to the village and three new water tanks has helped them face their environmental challenges.
Many young people also returned during the pandemic, which Nacanieli says has helped bring new ideas about how Dreketi can flourish.
“The young people are growing,” he said. “When the generation grows, new ideas come. When the young people bring their ideas and the old people bring their ideas, there is a solution to everything we do.”
The Climate Resilient Islands programme is now helping the people of Dreketi build on their ideas, documenting these possible solutions to work towards the future they hope for.
“Generations come and go, but there has been no record for them,” Nacianeli says. “In this project, whatever is written is for other generations to come. They can compare and they can follow that pathway.”
The people of Dreketi are not the only ones using their local knowledge, strength and resilience to build a more hopeful future. From other villages in coastal areas to those located across the hills of Vanua Levu, other communities are doing the same.
It is the aim of the Climate Resilient Islands programme to work alongside people in Dreketi and other villages like it as they use their knowledge, resources and abilities to adapt to the changes they are facing. This information is being compiled into Resilience Profiles for each community, which will help direct resilience actions throughout the programme and provide a pathway that leads to greater climate resilience.
The reefs may be gone from Dreketi. But the people continue to work to keep their community safe and secure into the future.
“This gives us hope and excitement to work together,” Nacianeli says.
“This is the right path: for us to work together, so we can move forward.”