Conservation and Environment in Fiji: Monthly Updates
FIJI SHARK CONSERVATION BIMONTHLY – JULY AND AUGUST 2016
The months of July and August have held some very exciting events for the Shark Conservation Project. The Uprising Beach Resort opened their mangrove nursery, encouraging their guests to plant propagules to offset their carbon emissions from their flights to Fiji. Volunteers were treated to sightings of whales and dolphins on diving days, where they also collected excellent data on indicator fish and many threatened and endangered shark, ray and turtle species. Two volunteers in the last two months also completed challenging training during these dives, and are now qualified Divemasters. Tagging trips held much excitement with a juvenile bull shark recapture, and a juvenile scalloped hammerhead caught and tagged. In efforts to reduce marine debris, volunteers hauled an amazing amount of different plastics from the local beach. Our volunteers also had the unique experience of witnessing a traditional farewell ceremony for the Fiji 7s rugby coach, Ben Ryan. This was a very special event for the volunteers to see. Volunteers also experienced the Fijian culture during a village visit where they were taught traditional games. The Shark Conservation Project also hosted three groups of High School Special students. The volunteers were taught to dive and introduced to all the work the project does towards shark conservation over two weeks. The volunteers also took part in a fun day on August 30th as it was International Whale Shark Day! They had a lecture to learn all about the largest fish in the sea, and built a whale shark out of sand to full scale in the afternoon – great fun! A huge shout out to all our amazing volunteers during the last two months for their hard work and contributions to the project!
In July we celebrated both PADI Women’s Dive Day and Shark Awareness Day underwater in style. Since 2014 Projects Abroad instructors have certified over 430 in the AWARE Shark Conservation Diver course, which is an enormous achievement. July 2016 was also possibly the best month for diving so far this year. August 2016 however has been more challenging due to an enormous raincloud that has dominated the Pacific Harbour’s skies for a number of weeks.
We have had some rare sightings these past two months; a magnificent zebra shark, bull sharks and surface sightings of humpback whales have definitely been the highlights. Some of our volunteers were even so lucky to have swum with a pod of common dolphins during a surface interval when they were spotted nearby. The usual suspects continue to delight volunteers on survey dives including; white tip reef sharks, grey reef sharks, hawksbill turtles, green turtles, blue spotted ribbontail rays, Napoleon wrasse, and even the shy blue spotted stingray has been recorded in our data.
In addition we have seen all recorded species of barracuda these past two months; great, blackfin, bigeye and pickhandle which is a wonderful addition to the data and helpful in training volunteers in the differences between these. Our other indicator species of groupers, snappers, emperors, mackerels and tunas have also been recorded in abundance on every dive.
Our Sunday Funday Fun Dives continues to delight, with our focus shifting to the smaller reef creatures. The past two months have seen sightings of the following nudibranchs; Pteraeolidia semperi, Chromodoris lochi, Phyllidia pustulosa, Phyllidia ocellata, Phyllidia varicosa, and Nembrotha lineolate. Additionally we have had a sighting of two new nudibranchs, Flabellina rubrolineata and Phyllidia cooraburama. Marine Flatworms sighted include; Psuedobiceros bedfordi, Pseudoceros crozieri, Maritigrella eschara and a potentially new species for Fiji, Phrikoceros katoi. Pipefish, guard crabs, shrimps and cleaning stations were also fun to see on the dives, and we have found a resident peacock mantis shrimp right under the mooring line at our bad weather backup dive site.
These past two months we have completed BRUV drops in Yanuca Control, Yanuca Reserve and Medium Reserve. Just a handful more are needed in the Yanuca Reserve region to complete the first milestone for our long term BRUV project.
In the past two months we have watched another two volunteers develop into fantastic Divemasters- qualifying as entry level PADI dive professionals. Massive congratulations to Marco Hentschel and Lauren Benoit for completing the challenging training. We wish you the best of luck in your future diving careers.
July and August were full of surprises. Firstly, a 65-centimeter long female scalloped hammerhead shark was caught about two kilometers upstream the Deuba River. In addition, a few days later, a 97-centimeters long juvenile bull shark was caught in the same river. This particular young shark was previously caught, tagged, and released in a nearby river, four months earlier. This means both individuals ventured out of their original nursery and represents new information regarding the importance of the Navua-Deuba Estuary to be considered as an open and dynamic nursery system.
After multiple meetings between our Lead scientist, Gauthier Mescam, and Kerstin Glaus, PhD student at the University of the South Pacific, further studies will soon be carried on the juvenile bull sharks. Internal acoustic tags will be surgically installed inside their body cavity, allowing the research team to detect their position and movement thanks to passive receivers. In order to perform the surgery safely, Kerstin and Gauthier are going to the Bahamas to be trained by the Bimini Shark Lab team at the end of September.
Furthermore, volunteers had the opportunity to each perform a dissection of a blue-spotted stingray; 34 stingrays were processed, their anatomy explored, and their stomach and liver extracted for further analysis.
Finally we welcomed our 1-year intern, Daigo Kishi, from Japan. Together with Daigo, we have agreed on carrying out a large research project on turtles using Survey Dive and Baited Remote Underwater Video data, in addition to the monitoring of our rescued juvenile hawksbill turtle.
Much work has been completed during these last two months with the Mangroves for Fiji project. The project has a few different aspects involved and this includes constructing nursery areas from bamboo and nylon mesh, recycling plastic bottles by cutting them in half and making holes on the underside, filling bottles with substrate, collecting propagules, planting propagules in pots, watering propagules, weeding pots, replacing dead propagules for live ones, and planting established propagules into the wild. The outcome of all this work has various benefits and by taking part in mangrove afforestation volunteers are indirectly responsible for:
- depositing significant quantities of organic 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
During July and August, Projects Abroad volunteers and staff continued to plant propagules in mangrove nurseries allowing them to establish a root system and therefore increase survival rate once planted into the wild. The nursery here at the Projects Abroad headquarters has been extended with four additional propagules tables added to the nursery. This brings the capacity to over 18,000 propagules. Projects Abroad volunteers and staff have recently extended the nursery at Pacific Harbour Multi Cultural School. There are plans to extend the nursery even more and have the students help the volunteers maintain the pots by weeding and watering the propagules. We hope to get the students more involved with the mangrove project so they have an understanding of the importance of mangroves and the work that we do.
Over the two months, we have had three groups of High School Special volunteers with us doing work in the nursery and in the field. We organised two planting trips to Navola village, while the High School Special volunteers were on project. This village has been fighting coastal erosion for some years now and got in contact with the Projects Abroad staff to assist them by planting mangroves. Volunteers and staff planted 1900 propagules. This not only gave them the opportunity to plant mangroves with other volunteers but to also have a village experience. This was a very successful day in the field followed by a kava ceremony and lunch provided by the villages to thank the volunteers and staff for their hard work.
With propagules being taken from the nursery to be planted in the wild, volunteers and staff have been out in the mangrove forest collecting propagules. We had a very successful mangrove Monday where we collected ~7000 (10 sacks) propagules in three hours. These were then planted in the nurseries over the next two weeks. On both beach clean-up days, we managed to pick up 3-4 sacks of propagules that had washed up onto the beach. We were able to replenish the nursery and fill all the new propagules tables. Volunteers also worked very efficiently cutting a whole bottle cage full of plastic bottles for the extension of the nursery in two hours.
One of the great achievements over the last two months was the launching of the Uprising Beach Resort Nursery. Project Manager Kristian Miles gave the staff of Uprising a mangrove workshop followed by the official launch of the Uprising Beach Resort mangrove project. Each staff member at the resort was asked to plant propagules in the nursery. Unfortunately due to poor weather conditions and the tide not in our favour, the beach and drain planting at the resort has not been completed. We are however hoping to complete this soon when the tide is low enough for the volunteers to work in. We have asked the Rugby 7s coach that won Fiji the first Olympic gold medal to offset his carbon emissions by planting propagules in the Uprising Nursery. This will hopefully bring great publicity for our mangrove project as well as a great marketing tool for us.
The month kicked off in high spirits! We welcomed the High School Special volunteers who joined us during our Cultural Thursdays. Cultural events happened from the first week of July followed through to every 3rd week until the month of August. Volunteers thoroughly enjoyed the dances, making their own costumes from scratch, learning about Fijian culture including food preparation of ‘Lovo’. We were glad to have entertained the High School Special volunteers during their visit to the main Project. August ended off again with Culture, but this time we took it to Dranikula Village. Volunteers were taught some Fijian games which were played in the past by the local people. Similarly, volunteers and staff enjoyed the warm company of the local people, the dances, songs and the local delicacies.
Rampur Primary School has always been welcoming and receptive. Our volunteers took the honours of creating awareness with the school by doing presentations for Year 7 and 8 (ages 12-13) on topics of Mangrove and the Ecosystem, Global Warming and Climate Change, Shark, Rays and Turtles. Volunteers had the time to share their experiences and knowledge to discuss with students of this age group. Presentations included posters, pictures and games. This boosted morale for the students who were all excited to end off their second term of school on a one-week holiday.
With the love of what we do on the Project, similarly we try and execute a plan to save marine life. Beach Cleans are always part of the fun, going out in teams, getting dirty and collecting trash from Uprising Beach towards The Pearl resort. Plastic or plastic material is always recorded as the highest in our data sheets. Pretty amazing to see how much plastic usage we have here in Fiji! At the end of the day, we encourage volunteers, staff and the local community to use re-usable cotton bags or shopping carts rather than having their groceries packed in plastic bags.
With a large group of volunteers within these two months, we were very fortunate to also fully complete the painting of the Navola Village Hall. There was perfect weather each day and a big warm BULA welcome that awaited us at Navola Village. Team work from all our volunteers and team bonding from the villagers as everyone got geared up to complete our mission was great. Appreciation is always shown towards the Projects Abroad volunteers with food, Kava and lots of laughter to go around ending a perfect Dirty Day!
Our volunteers have continued to be amazed during the shark feed dives over the last two months. This dive brings our volunteers incredibly close to four species (sometimes more) of sharks that we survey in the Beqa Lagoon. After completing their first shark dive, all subsequent shark dives the volunteers collect data on how many sharks were at the feed and the individuals present during the dive. Thanks to one of our bull shark loving volunteers, Tilia, we now have a database to look up bull sharks based on their identifying feature. This allows present and future volunteers to more easily identify sharks based off of their photos and video clips once they’ve returned from the shark dive. I3S software is continuing to be used by volunteers to identify individual black tip and white tip reef sharks based off of their first dorsal fin colouration.