Conservation and Environment in Fiji: Monthly Updates
Fiji Shark Conservation - Bi-Monthly report – January + February 2015
What a great first two months here at The Shark Conservation Project. Even though we have been going through a transition period with the change over in staff, our new recruits have been passionate and have worked extremely hard to ensure that everything progressed as normally as possible.
We have conducted numerous educational activities with local villages and schools around Pacific Harbour and the province of Serua. Our staff and volunteers have had to brave the long and continuous rain during our tagging trips and survey dives but in spite of this their enthusiasm and upbeat spirit have been exemplary.
We have always undertaken an internal stock take and have spent a lot of time asking volunteers and discussing as staff on how we can improve. This January we celebrated our Projects 1st Birthday! We all enjoyed a huge Lovo feast and cake to celebrate. It was a fantastic celebration of our achievements and all the magnificent staff and volunteers that have aided us along the way. Moving forward we always try to learn from our mistakes and improve on our success. We as an organisation play an important role in the education and promotion of holistic conservation efforts and we can never afford to rest on our laurels. We, the staffs and volunteers celebrate in the honour and the continuous effort of being a part of it.
To an exciting year ahead.
The search for Fijian shark nurseries continues with Projects Abroad in 2015. The beginning of this year was a period of change. Diego Cardenosa, former lead scientist of the program, had 20 days to train his successor, Gauthier Mescam, before leaving the country to start his PhD. The month of January has proven rainy, leading to the presence of debris of all kinds in the river. This meant that the team was unable to use the net as often as they would like so long lines were used instead. After nearly a year, the data collection on Navua River has come to an end. Diego is now analysing the data and writing a report on his discoveries that could help the government to manage this area. For our last tagging trip on the Navua River one of our lovely Danish volunteers Heino, pulled a 64 cm Mangrove snapper (L. argentimaculatus) off the long line!
At the beginning of February, in collaboration with the professor Ciro Rico, from the University of the South Pacific, and his student Celso Cawich, the Fiji Shark Conservation Project has started to assess a new area of South Viti Levu. Local fishermen have told our team that Korovou Bay was a potential shark nursery ground for Scalloped hammerhead sharks. This was a month of trial. The gear, made for catching Bull sharks in a river, had to be changed to catch the smaller sized Hammerhead sharks in a deeper bay. 4 sharks have been caught in the net over the month of February: 3 juveniles Scalloped hammerhead sharks (S. lewini) and one adult male Blacktip reef shark (C. melanopterus) of 1.34 m long. Peter, volunteer from Netherlands, was lucky enough to catch such an amazing shark for his first tagging trip! We also had some unexpected visitors on the long-lines. A Green sea turtle (C. mydas) was captured and release safely, as well as a 57 cm Orange-spotted grouper (E. coioides)!
Our Mangrove Project just keeps getting bigger and better! Last month we replanted along the coast of the Serua Province. Volunteers have been working on various sites collecting propagules to replant and create a habitat for juvenile sharks. This process involves collecting propagules and replanting the propagules into the nursery to help them grow healthier and stronger.
Last Thursday, many of the mangrove propagules were ready to be planted in to an area which we are trying to make into a safe and healthy habitat for juvenile sharks. Firstly, we went to Vunibau Village and gathered the previously planted propagules into bags. After gathering many propagules we took them to (insert beach name here) and with the help of some of the villagers, we planted many rows of propagules that will grow into mangroves to create a safe and healthy habitat for the juvenile sharks! It was a great and memorable day.
In February we also partook in Uprising Beach Resorts publicity for Earth Hour as we are working closely with them on Mangrove Reforestation.
It’s been 2 great months for Community Education. We have been focussing on Vunibau and Galoa Village. In Vunibau Village, apart from educating the kids and the villagers about the importance of Mangrove, Recycling and Shark Conservation we have totally transformed their Kindergarten into an underwater world. The Teacher has mentioned that there has been a great interest in learning about marine ecology and children attendances have increased!
On the 20th February, a group of Project Abroad volunteers went out to the Vunibau Kindergarten. When we got to the school we were greeted by a classroom of kids ages (5-6) and introduced ourselves. We told them where we were from and why we were here, many of the reasons were we loved marine life and wanted to save sharks. After introducing ourselves, we handed out pictures of friendly and funny looking sharks that the kids could colour in. We then spent the morning playing games, one of them was duck duck goose which they really loved. After running in circles, we went back into the classroom and learnt Fijian songs, which the kids sang and danced to. Although we weren’t as good as the kids at dancing it was really fun! We taught them some of our childhood songs which included the Hokey Pokey and a very catchy song Baby Shark. After playing around for a couple of hours, we were fed a delicious lunch and said our goodbyes. It was a great and memorable day!
Emma Eustence - Canadian Volunteer
An important part of the Shark Conservation Project involves what is called “Dirty Day.” This day is in place to emphasize the way this project goes far beyond a simple conservation project. It isn’t just survey dives and shark lectures, but rather a project that takes care to interact and help the entire community it is immersed in. Dirty Day can vary each month, including activities such as painting a school, building a fence, or developing a nature area.
On January 19th, a group of Project Abroad volunteers went to Kilikali Settlement. This day was organized through a charity called The Happy Homes Trust, with whom we work once a month. For this project, we were tasked to fix up a house for a young girl, who had cerebral palsy. Throughout this day, we fixed the floor, door, adjusted the ramp and fixed the window frames. The work was hard but very rewarding and the family was truly grateful!
Dirty Day in February was located in the same community and was directly next door to the home that was helped on the January Dirty Day. The family in question has a son with Muscular Dystrophy, and another son who seems to be developing the disease. It had become hard for the boy to access the home due to it having steps leading inside.
The volunteers arrived that day with a clear goal. Make life easier for this family. Armed with an anonymous donation of timber worth $1,000, we got to work. The day began busy; with some volunteers measuring and cutting wood, some digging mud out of the house, and some carrying the mud over to fill holes in the road. The house had a simple, packed mud floor, with a fairly low ceiling so the wooden floor could not be simply be built on top. We dug two deep parallel strips in the floor to place beams of wood into, and then striped down several layers of mud from the rest of the house. All the while the mud was being shovelled into bags which were then carried outside. The mud was used to fill in holes in the road that passed by the home.
While this was being done, a separate group of volunteers worked on creating ramps for wheelchair access into the home. Two ramps were built. One permanently in place outside leading onto the front stoop. The other was a temporary ramp that could be placed inside for access from the stoop into the house and vis versa. These ramps were especially important because, although the steps were not significantly sized into and out of the house, pushing a wheelchair several times a day up and down would be unnecessarily draining and eventually impossible for a pregnant mother with several young children.
Once the mud had been dug out to where it would be possible and comfortable to place the wood on top, the assembly line began. There were two groups of volunteers cutting wood, with volunteers inside measuring for lengths, yelling lengths outside, and nailing the wood into place. Other volunteers handed the cut wood inside or made sure there was always a fresh piece of wood ready for cutting on the table.
The end result was worth every moment of work on that hot day. The sense of accomplishment for being able to help out a family that much was something that could never be recreated. We all were very aware of the appreciation felt by the family and the pride that we had given them for the future, to have a home with a nice floor instead of the packed mud they previously lived on.
January survey dives were lead by Kira and Gauthier. No dives were cancelled or recalled in this month and the survey dives were often held around Yanuca reserve with a few dives at Frigettes on the outer reef in Beqa Lagoon. This site proved to have lots of the indicator species including numerous sittings of hawksbill turtles, spotted eagle rays, giant reef ray (marble ray) and a large population of white tip reef sharks.
As of February 8th 2015 the new dive staff, Juan and Lauren, took over after a week of training with Kira. Some new standards and protocols were changed that week. The pace of the dive slowed down and the size of the group are the primary changes. The BAD Dive Master has been used to lead the dives while both the Survey Divers (Lauren’s group) follow behind and the Survey Divers in Training (Juan’s group) are in the back. If the groups are split due to training needs or other unseen problems, then the data collected by the Training Group does not count towards the official data collection but is still used in the data discussion after the dive for training purposes.
The new staff started to develop the training and the curriculum for an official distinctive specialty for shark survey diving. The extended training was implement in the middle of February and the new standards are still being finalized and integrated with the old and new volunteers. The training group focuses on perfecting dive techniques and being able to identify the families of fish in the indicator species list. Independent study and time spent in the training group during the dive days is meant to further their fish identification skills to specific indicator species.
Majority of the dive sites have been exploratory dives at ‘Random Reefs’ around the east side of Beqa Lagoon around the Small and Medium reserve/control areas. Some sites have proved to be very plentiful with lots (min. 4) of curious white tip reef sharks and benthic rays. Furthermore a large 2.5 m leopard shark was seen at Leopard Reef around the medium reserve. However some sites have proved to be very empty of the indicator species with only one or two groupers spotted during the dive. We want to continue surveying random dive sites and compare the data from the reserves and the control areas.
The diving conditions have varied in the month of February. The visibility has been a low of 4m and a high of 20m, averaging around 10-15m. This large variance limits the ability to see some of the faster indicator species such as snappers and trevallies.
There was one diver recall that occurred due to unsafe weather conditions. The recall was the decision of Captain Ace from Baqa Adventure Divers at 19 minutes into the survey dive, cutting our survey dive 11 minutes short. The conditions are better in the morning with rain, wind, and overall bad weather almost continuously coming in around 3pm on dive days.
There are two main points of note in the BRUVs in January and February. Firstly, a male tiger shark was spotted on the BRUV at the end of January. Secondly, there was a random male diver in a Cressi BCD that tampered with the BRUV at the end of February in a drop in Yanuca Reserve. He was seen moving the BRUV and placing it on top of coral around 5 minutes before the BRUV was retrieved.
Our BRUV drops are proving more and more interesting and showing us not only what we already knew was out there but what we had hoped was out there! That being said, no data is still good data. When we see nothing on the BRUV in MPAs and non MPAs the data is important in showing which areas are being protected and which are not.
Recycling + Social
As an environmental and conservation group we try to raise awareness and find alternative solutions to managing our garbage. We have already started to buy all the empty plastic bottles from the villages for our mangrove project, however we have now found another project to work on – building bricks out of rubbish.
There’s no denying that building bricks from rubbish is time consuming work, but highly environmental friendly. It is incredible how much rubbish you are able to stuff into one milk carton. All the pizza cartons from Saturdays dinner, as well as other plastic and paper materials, had turned into something useful. Our plan is to use the bricks to build retaining walls for our veggie garden and our compost box. However there are many other things you can use with these bricks.
To celebrate the end of a successful week of work the Volunteers help prepare a delicious Lovo feast and share Kava. On the weekends they enjoy all the fun activities Fiji has to offer like; shark diving, hiking, white water rafting, skydiving, beach going and of course Volunteers vs Staff Volleyball games and more.
We’ve had such an incredible start to 2015 and are so looking forward to the coming months!
Moce and Vinaka Vakelevu!