Molly Salford-Jones - Shark Conservation in Fiji
My first impression of Fiji
After stepping off the plane, 28-hours since I left home, I was met with a sight of happiness and laughter. It was at that moment that I knew I was going to love the next four weeks!
I chose Fiji as my volunteer destination due to my love for marine biology and conservation. I knew that I was going into something which I have a real passion for - this for me was extremely important. My work in Fiji would be to ensure the protection of many amazing yet misunderstood marine wildlife.
My shark conservation placement
Our primary role on the project was to complete survey dives and identify any sharks, rays or turtles, as well as indicator species, which we were required to learn as part of our diving qualification. As you step off the boat, slates in hand, and you descend with your scuba gear down to the 18-metre mark, you are hit with an unbelievable sight, which my descriptions cannot do justice. You have to see it to believe it! The many colours and species was the most unique experience I could wish for; there is no better way to experience this other than a first-hand account with other volunteers (aka the extended family) who all have the same passion as you!
Although survey dives are amazing for me, the shark dive was something truly extraordinary! At first it was slightly daunting, the prospect of diving with 45, two-meter bull sharks! Eight shark dives later and I cannot wait to return! You do not at any time feel under threat or in a position of danger! The BAD (Beqa Adventure Divers) boys are always there, ensuring the dive is as calm and relaxing as possible. At the project you get two shark dives per month, however more can be arranged in advanced, which I would definitely recommend doing during your free time.
The shark dive consists of two dives, one at 30-metres and one and 18-metres. This is a very relaxed dive; any nerves are quickly put to rest by the knowledge and expertise of the dive masters, who have done this dive many times. Many of them are marine biologists, therefore are experts when it comes to the behaviour of the sharks.
Working with the mangroves
The project does not only focus on shark conservation, but incorporates many other aspects of conservation. As volunteers, we were required to work in the mangrove nursery. At least once a week volunteers set out to collect mangrove propagules found along the beach - this gave us time to catch-up with volunteers and generally have a good laugh! Back at the nursery we would then plant these in recycled plastic bottles donated from locals. Although this is probably the most tiring work, it is definitely the most rewarding! This is part of the project where, when you go out into the local community, you can see the difference our work at the project has made.
Learning more about Fiji
Once a week you also have culture day. This is an important aspect of the project; going out into local villages to help paint, or even learn traditional Fijan dances back at the apartment (what a laugh!). After this we would all sit around eating the traditional Lovo and drinking Kava, before going out to the local resort. This is what I miss most about the project - the chilled atmosphere where everyone, including staff come together to relax.
Travelling around Fiji
Working days are from Sunday to Thursday, so Friday and Saturday volunteers are free to do what they want, and there's no better way see the beautiful island of Fiji than through travelling. My first weekend was spent on an amazing remote island in the north or Fiji. Here I got the chance to swim with Manta Rays, and complete a night dive using specialised lighting. Amazing! Volunteers are always organising trips away so I would definitely recommend getting out and exploring the country. Other weekends I spent in Suva, Fiji’s capital. We used this time to see Fiji’s waterfalls, explore the beaches and relax in the local resort. This is one of the best things about the project, having free time to travel and experience different cultures.
For anyone considering this project I would definitely say go for it! One of my main concerns, being only 16 years-old, was what if everyone is older than me or am I too young to do this project? This was not a problem, and something that should not stop you. Everyone on the project is like one big family and age is not something that separates volunteers!
This was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I cannot wait to return one day! Vinaka Vaka Levu (thank you very much) Projects Abroad!