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Conservation and Environment in Fiji: Monthly Updates

Overview
Project Overview Monthly Updates

FIJI SHARK CONSERVATION BIMONTHLY – SEPTEMBER AND OCTOBER 2016

INTRODUCTION

A painted school building

The last two months on the Shark Conservation Project have held some very exciting moments for our volunteers. Tagging trips have proved to be fruitful and incredibly thrilling for volunteers with two different species of sharks being successfully tagged and released. The volunteers have put a huge amount of effort into our education program, teaching local children the importance of the marine ecosystem and mangroves. They have also participated in beach cleanups, collecting and safely disposing of plastics that could otherwise end up in our oceans.

Volunteers have also worked very hard on collecting data during survey dives, recording indicator fish species data and many sightings of threatened or endangered sharks, rays and turtles. The project also reached a new milestone - a total of 1000 survey dives have been completed since the project began!

Mangroves for Fiji, run by the Shark Conservation Project, was invited to help set up a mangrove nursery in an area hard hit by Tropical Cyclone Winston on the north side of Viti Levu. Once established, these mangroves will help the coastline and provide a habitat for many species.

October ended with a bang when staff and volunteers celebrated Diwali - the festival of lights - with sparklers, rice painting and an impressive display of fireworks! “Vinaka vakalevu” to all of our wonderful and dedicated volunteers for all their efforts during the last two months!

DIVING

Propagules planted in plastic bottles

Lovely weather over these past few months has meant some briSurvey dives in the Beqa Lagoon have continued to be a favourite activity for many of our volunteers. During the months of September and October, our volunteers completed 66 survey dives in the Beqa Lagoon. Survey dives take place primarily in either reserve areas where fishing is restricted, or in control regions of the same sizes where fishing is permitted. During these dives, volunteers and staff collected invaluable data on several species of sharks, rays and turtles that are all listed IUCN Red List as Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered. Our volunteers also collected fantastic data on indicator fish species that are commercially important or food sources around Fiji.

As mentioned earlier, the project hit a milestone of completing 1000 survey dives in October since the project began. This also marked the 300th survey dive for the project so far this year.

Table 1: The total count on shark, ray and turtle sightings during survey dives in the months of September and October, 2016.

Species Sept/Oct
Sightings
Whitetip reef shark 31
Grey reef shark 5
Bull shark 1
Bluespotted ribbontail ray 6
Bluespotted stingray 8
Spotted eagle ray 1
Reef manta 2
Hawksbill turtle 15
Green turtle 1

Over the last two months, the volunteers have also assisted our staff in setting the baited remote underwater video (BRUV) system in the same reserve and control regions where survey dives take place. During the month of September, there was one BRUV set in each of the small, medium and Yanuca control regions. In October, there was one BRUV set in each in the medium and small control regions. The goal of the BRUV is to compare the abundance of sharks, rays and turtles in the control regions where fishing is allowed, to the reserve areas where fishing is not allowed.

During these two months, the project also certified 21 volunteers as Projects Abroad Survey Divers and 26 volunteers as AWARE Shark Conservation Divers. These courses increase the diver’s underwater skills and deepen their knowledge and awareness of the plight facing sharks.

The project also said “Moce” (goodbye) to Serena Stean in September, who was the dive operations manager for the project. Since then, our summer staff member, Lisa McLernon, has taken up the role as dive operations manager and is bringing new and great ideas to the Shark Conservation Project.

TAGGING

Shark conservation volunteers paint local school buildings

These past two months have consisted of excitement, dedication, and suspense! Acoustic passive receivers in the two large rivers close by the research facility were deployed and others were deployed in three others rivers around Fiji by the University of the South Pacific. These receivers will record any of the 10 pregnant large female bull sharks tagged previously on the Shark Reef Marine Reserve by the Beqa Adventure Divers team. When these ladies return to the reef, flat from giving birth, we will retrieve the receivers and find out if one of them went upstream to bear their young. It would help us understand which river they are using, how far they are travelling, and when precisely they are giving birth. The suspense begins!

Volunteers working on the shark conservation project

We have also been excited because our project manager, Kris Miles, who hadn’t been tagging for a while, got lucky and caught a large female blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus), with a 1.67 m in total length. It was an amazing opportunity for our volunteers to experience the handling of a large and powerful shark by our lead scientist Gauthier Mescam and the Projects Abroad team. This beautiful lady, named Triss, was released safely into the wild with a PIT tag installed, measured, and sampled.

Finally, during a day off, Gauthier received a call from a lady in a local village saying that a family member came back from fishing with a shark in his boat. She was convinced that the shark’s gill slits were still moving. Gauthier told her to put it back in the water and he immediately jumped in the car with Kris. After a short stop at the project to pick up Daigo Kishi (the intern at the placement), Basil the volunteer, and the tagging material, we were on our way to the village. It was a young bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas), weak, but still breathing. After a long team effort and commitment, this female, named Patricia, was released, alive, swimming in the Navua River, PIT-tagged, sampled, and measured. This beautiful bull shark was caught in a net, but before being released she had two hooks safely removed.

SCIENCE

The volunteer research assistants followed a biology lesson on Elasmobranch anatomy, by watching Gauthier and Daigo dissect two spotted eagle rays. Specimens and tissue samples of four species of Fijian rays were sent over to a laboratory in Tasmania for identification. They are now part of a vast project of taxonomic revision of worldwide rays.

MANGROVES

Over the last two months, much work has been completed with the Mangroves for Fiji project. The project has a few different aspects involved and these include:

  • constructing nursery areas from bamboo and nylon mesh
  • recycling plastic bottles by cutting them in half and making holes in the underside
  • filling bottles with substrate
  • collecting and planting the propagules in pots
  • watering the propagules
  • weeding the pots
  • replacing dead propagules for live ones
  • planting established propagules into the wild.

The outcome of all this work has various benefits. By taking part in mangrove afforestation volunteers are indirectly responsible for:

  • depositing significant quantities of detritus into the marine environment which in turn provides food for sea-life.
  • providing a nesting, nursery and refuge ground for mammals, amphibians, reptiles, countless species of plants, juvenile fish including sharks, invertebrates, sponges, barnacles, oysters, mussels, crabs, shrimps and many avian species.
  • recharging underground water supplies.
  • trapping debris and silt, stabilising the near shore environment, preventing shore erosion and clarifying adjacent open water which facilitates photosynthesis in marine plants.
  • buffering natural forces such as hurricanes, wave action, tidal change and run off.
  • sequestering carbon from the atmosphere and mitigating the effects of global warming.

The months of September and October have been busy for the mangrove project. Projects Abroad volunteers and staff continued to plant, weed and water propagules in mangrove nurseries allowing them to establish a root system and therefore increase the survival rate once planted into the wild.

An additional four tables were bought during these months to add to the four that were previously bought for the new extension. This brings the capacity to well over 18 000 propagules, making our nursery the largest in the South Pacific. Projects Abroad staff and volunteers also built a second extension at the local school allowing for more propagules to be planted.

Shark tagging in Fiji

During our many visits to the local schools for education day, volunteers made posters and fact sheets about the importance of mangroves and presented it to several classes. It was a great experience for the volunteers and an informative session for the kids. One of these days fell on International Disaster Day so the volunteers were able to answer questions as students were doing group discussions within their classes on ways to prevent, prepare and protect themselves during these disasters. “Planting mangroves” was one of the answers given by the students. During a recent community day some volunteers painted a mural of a mangrove ecosystem on the side of the building at a local school.

During a beach cleanup, volunteers and staff managed to fill two sacks with propagules that were washed up onto the beach. This was then planted in the nursery the following Monday and placed in the nursery.

After the launching at Uprising Beach Resort we got the children at the local school involved and were able to plant 400 propagules in the ditch by the reception area. The kids were given a briefing about how important mangroves were as this was a question asked in the external exam. The Rugby 7’s coach, who won Fiji’s first Olympic gold medal, was asked to plant mangroves in the nursery to offset his carbon emissions. We arranged a day for him and he came to join us by planting propagules. A picture was uploaded onto our mangrove Facebook page; the picture alone was seen by more than 38 000 people and shared by 153 individuals.

Also during these months, Projects Abroad was approached by Leadership Fiji to travel to a village just off the coast of the mainland, four hours out of Pacific Harbour. Three staff members and one volunteer were able to make the trip on their day off and helped build a nursery housing 470 propagules. On this trip we were approached by the general manager of a five star resort, Volivoli Beach Resort, to help them plant mangroves that were destroyed during Cyclone Winston.

COMMUNITY

Volunteers conduct shark conservation lessons in local schools

Community Thursday is another important aspect of meeting, socialising and educating the local people on the importance of Shark Conservation. These two months took us back to Rampur Primary School and Pacific Multi Cultural School where we worked with Year 5 to Year 8 and the kindergarten students. Through the use of posters, activity sheets, laptop presentations and verbal communication, students were educated on the importance of sharks, mangroves, fishes and the marine eco-system in general. We also discovered hidden talents in our volunteers during the preparation of these workshops – they all worked very hard in compiling their presentations using various creative methods!

Beach Clean is always one of our Community Days where we head out to Pacific Harbour Beach. Here we not only collect trash, but we also record what trash is collected. As part of our Community Thursdays, we assisted in Mangrove planting at the Uprising Ditch and planted close to 400 propagules. The end of the month is always exciting as volunteers look forward to learning more about Fijian Culture by performing dances with their awesome costumes that they create themselves. Lovo food is always a great way to end each month with fire dancing from the local Fijian boys.

Community Day

The completion of murals at Rampur Primary School and the making of a 20-meter long footpath at Dranikula Village was another amazing giveaway Projects Abroad volunteers and staff worked on for the September and October Community Day. This was a success through great teamwork from volunteers, staff and the local people.

Overall, we had a productive two months!

SHARK ID

Volunteers have continued to be excited and thrilled with the infamous shark dive at Beqa Lagoon. Volunteers that have already completed one shark dive have assisted the project by collecting data on the individual bull sharks that are present. Excitingly, during the last two months, volunteers have been able to observe signs of pregnancy with the female bull sharks. Soon these gorgeous ladies will not be present at the shark dive as they will be giving birth upriver. We will then be able to note the return of these females, after they have given birth to their young.

Management Plan, Data & Reports Interviews

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