Conservation and Environment in Fiji: Monthly Updates
Fiji Shark Conservation - Monthly Update - May - June 2015
It was a great two months here at the Shark Conservation project. The weather hasn't been ideal here in Pacific Harbour but we are all at the mercy of Mother Nature and there's nothing that we can do about it. Our volunteers and staff are to be commended for not letting the weather deter them from completing and participating in their respective projects. Here at the Shark Conservation project, we believe in a holistic approach to conservation and I'm very proud to say that we are making a difference in the lives of our volunteers as well as the local community.
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 this includes 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 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 reforestation, 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 as well as 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 the months of May and June, Projects Abroad volunteers and staff continued planting mangrove propagules in the Vunibau village nursery, increasing propagule count to ~4,500. Other work completed during April includes the expansion of the Ventura nursery area, increasing potential capacity from 12,500 to 20,000 propagules. Propagule tables have also been invented and implemented to further increase capacity of the nursery. By constructing tables from timber and metal mesh sheets, the top halves of the bottles are placed on the tables and bottom halves are placed under the tables. This has further increased capacity to 30,000. Approximately 12,000 propagules are currently housed in the Ventura nursery.
The new objective of this year is to increase the nursery capacity to 50,000 and plant approximately 100,000 propagules into the wild over the next six months. Further objectives are to construct a larger nursery area at Uprising Beach resort and Vunibau village. Once this has been achieved, Projects Abroad aims to approach local businesses and estimate their carbon footprint. Using this information, emissions can be translated into the number of hectares of mangroves needed in order to offset their carbon emissions and businesses will be able to become carbon neutral with the help of Projects Abroad.
Community days over the last two months have been very successful. Volunteers visited Vunibau village, Galoa village, Makosoi village and Pacific Harbour Multi Cultural School. In Vunibau and Galoa, volunteers attended the kindergartens and performed a puppet show demonstrating the journey of plastic bottles when they are discarded into the environment, and also what happens when they are recycled. The entire exercise was used as a tool to excite and teach the children about the importance of protecting their marine environment and how plastics should be recycled. Concurrently, some volunteers gave various presentations to the adult villagers covering micro plastics, the great pacific garbage patch, and reducing, reusing and recycling waste products. In Pacific Harbour’s Multi Cultural School and Makosoi, volunteers again worked in the kindergartens making shark hats and colouring pictures of fish to feed the sharks. The exercise was aimed at teaching the children about the importance of conserving their marine environment and how sharks are not to be feared.
The Shark Conservation Project not only encompasses survey, restoration and community education but also gives something back to someone or somewhere in need. This can range from building to painting and even cleaning. Over the last two months, volunteers visited The Happy Home Trust in Suva City in May, which is a refuge for children in need, and then Vunibau village in June to paint the community hall, inside and out. At Happy Homes, a bunk house for the children is currently being constructed and volunteers were involved in the painting of the structure inside and out. Projects Abroad also donated 30 mattresses to Happy Homes to be used in the new bunk house. Although it was ‘dirty work’, all that took part left knowing that they had done a selfless act for somebody that would never have asked for help. In Vunibau village, volunteers assisted the villagers with inside and outside walls. After the day’s work, volunteers were rewarded with a traditional Fijian lunch. The villagers were tremendously grateful and all involved had a lot of fun. In addition to this, Projects Abroad made it into the local newspaper; the Fiji Times, for their community work in Vunibau village.
In the Shark ID section of the project, we have developed a progressive learning scheme for long-term volunteers to better learn the individual bull sharks. This will aid our research by increasing the accuracy of data collected on the shark dives. It will also allow us to post more comprehensive photo collections of the individual sharks on the Shark Reef Marine Reserve Facebook page. Due to the busy season in diving, our volunteers are currently only getting one shark feed dive a month. This also requires the volunteers to go on the weekends when there is no room on the shark dive boats during the week. Our volunteers are okay with this, as we give them plenty of warning. The shark feed dive is a very exciting dive for our volunteers and they always come to the surface very excited afterwards! A software program, I3S, is also being integrated into the shark ID research to allow us to ID individual black tip reef sharks at Shark Reef Marine Reserve.
For the past two months, the volunteers have concentrated their fishing efforts on Rewa river-mouth in Suva, helping the University of the South Pacific to catch, tag, and release 146 juvenile scalloped hammerhead sharks. Some great surprises have been found in the net and released, such as a green turtle, a lobster and a moray eel. Since the beginning of the project in Suva, 872 scalloped hammerhead sharks have been captured and 10% of them were recaptured in the following months. The scalloped hammerhead is an endangered species and the importance of this project is capital. The team is hoping to reach 1000 sharks by August. Stay tuned!
Another new addition to the project is our partnership with SharkBase. Fiji Shark Conservation Project is now submitting every Elasmobranch sighting into this new online open database, created by Dr. Ryan M. Kempster from the University of Western Australia, who happened to be a former volunteer at Projects Abroad. Fiji Conservation volunteers started to input the data on the 13th of May and have already submitted almost 120 sightings and are second on the SharkBase Leader Board with the Master rank.
The conditions above water have gotten more challenging. As a result, multiple dives have been cancelled, mostly afternoon dives when the winds pick up. This decision is always made between the captain, Andrew, at the Beqa Adventure Divers shop, or the dive leader that day. Twice, they were cancelled all day and no dive boats went out. We replaced one of the dive days with an EFR course, which we ran half in the apartment and completed it over at The Uprising Beach Resort. This programme was a great success with large disaster and rescue scenarios taking place on the beach. Other days were replaced with Mangrove days (as it was Dirty Day week and mangroves were cancelled.)
For all the bad weather, underwater has been beautiful. The crossings are often very rough and between dives it can be cold and windy, but the volunteers are reminded to bring warm clothes and don’t seem to be overly bothered. The visibility has been amazing with up to 30m on almost every dive. The cold water (low of 24 degrees C) brings in large fish and we are seeing sharks, rays, turtles, and huge predatory fish on every survey dive. We have seen multiple zebra sharks, black tip reef sharks, bull sharks, grey reef sharks, silvertip sharks, and of course white tip reef sharks. Narrow barred Spanish mackerel and large schools of barracuda and red/black snapper are a common occurrence. We have even seen a whale on the crossing back from Beqa Lagoon in early June.
The BRUV (Baited Remote Underwater Video) drops have been challenging because of the weather conditions. We are often unable to make the crossing and have to dive in the close reef area. Although the reefs are beautiful and great for diving, we do not have any places for the BRUV in this area. This means we are getting around two new BRUV videos every week, in each of the morning dive sessions. This is okay because we have an excess of BRUV videos to watch from earlier in the year. The weather looks like it will continue to be the primary challenge on dive days until September when the season changes. Until then we will do what we can!
The BRUV videos have also been very eventful, with guitarfish, lemon sharks, tiger sharks, zebra sharks, silvertip sharks, and many predatory indicator fish making an appearance.
Overall, the dives have been a huge success when the weather has allowed it. The volunteers continuously come back with smiles on their faces and stories to tell. They also are very understanding when the dive is cancelled due to weather. The staff try to make at least one dive in the close reef even when conditions are bad, that way the volunteers understand that we call dives for a reason.
We try to reschedule cancelled dives, but we are only able to do that in the same week, and with high season in full effect, the chances are very low that this will be logistically possible on Beqa Adventure Diver’s end. We have not been able to reschedule a dive yet.
The Dive Master Training programme
The Dive Master Training programme is progressing well. We had our first pre-booking starting in September. The current DMTs will be completing their course in two weeks’ time. They meet every Monday and go over knowledge reviews, lecture topics, and receive guidance and evaluations for their week’s performance. They have been progressing well with excellent diving and rescue skills, and stepping into the role of dive master. We are looking forward to celebrating with our new Dive Masters after they complete their final exam.