Conservation in Fiji – Monthly Update – May - June 2014
These last two months have seen a huge shift from us being a brand new project, still adapting and finding its feet, to what we have been told is the best and most well rounded Shark Conservation Project in world.
“You are probably the best shark conservation project in the world“ - Ian Campbell - Program manager WWF
After a total of 6 months, having such praise by one of the top Shark Conservation Managers in the world only makes all the hard work by such an amazing team of people worth every second.
For me the greatest compliment is having volunteers not wanting to leave and saying things like:
“This project has changed my life”,
“I have learned so much and I am going to tell everybody I meet about sharks”,
“I am going to come back as soon as can”,
“The best experience of my life”.
The work we do in Fiji is a small piece of a very large puzzle, and it needs to work side by side with all other organizations with the same goal.
If every volunteer that leaves this project tells 10 people about how important sharks are in the marine eco systems, and those 10 people tell 10 more, we have created the ripple effect! Which, with the help of today’s technologies such as Facebook and other forms of social media, we can reach out and influence millions of people.
“We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.” ― Mother Teresa
I am proud and humbled to be a part such an amazing project in such an amazing country with such an amazing team!
The months of May and June have been awesome with regards to the Mangrove Project. We have planted more than 2000 mangrove plants in Vunibau Village. The villagers have been enthusiastic with this project with villagers coming to help us. It is also encouraging to see young kids coming out to help and our volunteers teaching them the importance of Mangals.
We have also started replanting the grown propagules from our Galoa Nursery. We have more than 6000 replanted Mangrove propagules at Galoa Bay!
We are currently working on a proposal to send to Coca-Cola to help us with our recycling costs. It is very expensive to transfer the unused plastic to the landfill. It cost about 300fjd to transfer the plastic from Galoa to the landfill site which is about an hour away.
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 Mangroves, 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.
Mays Dirty Day was in Vunibau Village where the Volunteers fixed a bridge for the community. Junes Dirty Day was also held in Vunibau Village. In Fiji 4000 out of the yearly 6000 deaths are caused by Non-Communicable Disease (NCD’s). This is an average of 11 deaths per day. These are caused by excessive consumption of carbohydrates, poor dietary patterns, lots of processed foods, etc.
This month we decided to plant a Health Garden in Vunibau Village. It consists of super food such as Sagan which contains 4 times more calcium than Milk!
We also donated a computer which kids in the village can use for writing up their assignment and also since there are no computer lessons at the school they attend, we gave them a program to follow and taught someone in the village to give lessons to the kids so that they can learn how to use the computer. Dirty Day was a massive success!
BRUV’s and Shark Survey Dives
The month of May was a success concerning the dive operation as a whole. With our scientific and dive operation methods in place, we continue to operate efficiently. The BRUV drops and retrievals are going smoothly.
The BRUV videos are showing apex predators; several species of sharks, barracudas, snappers and other species of interest such as Spotted Eagle Rays (Aetobatus narinari), Moray Eels (Muraenidae), Trevally’s (Caranx ignobilis) and more!
The Shark Survey Dives have been a success as well. We have implemented ‘survey training dives’ for our new Open Water and Advance Open Water volunteers. This gives them time under water with the Projects Abroad Instructors (Josh and Kira) to improve the dive skills needed in order to be considered a quality shark survey divers. These skills include neutral buoyancy, streamlining or horizontal hovering, environmental awareness (not kicking/damaging coral), properly checking their air pressure and bottom times. I believe this attention improves diver skills quickly (usually 1 dive trip) rather than them ‘learning along the way’ (typically a 2 week/4 dive trip learning curve).
June has been extremely active for the BRUV and Shark Surveys. The new locations are showing a higher diversity of indicator species which includes Black Tips (Carcharhinus melanopterus) and Eagle Rays (Aetobatus narinari) on the Shark survey for the first time. We also observed a Bullshark (Carcharhinus leucas) on the BRUV video for the first time!
The sites that we are surveying are fixed as Yanuca Marine Protected Area (MPA), Yanuca Control, Medium MPA and Medium Control. The Medium Regions are south of Beqa Island. We have taken out the Naiseuseu and Rakua regions due to its’ low visibility as discussed in the last report. We are still exploring the new region, marking every BRUV drop site and Survey Site on the GPS, and plotting it on a map.
Indicator species are being surveyed in both the BRUV videos and in all the survey dives, and volunteers are receiving full Shark Survey and BRUV Project Workshops which include learning how to identify fish. This is giving us a larger dataset to work.
For the BRUV project we are considering moving it to the next level. We conducted an experimental BRUV where we set up fish carcasses in front of a camera and for the first time we had a Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) and a Lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris) on the video, as well as a massive Lemon shark and Grey reef Shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos). This was very encouraging and motivating for us and the volunteers and Diego are currently in discussion with Mark Bond about implementing deep water BRUVS in the near future.
Our intern Adam is an incredibly keen data scientist. We are working with him to develop a ‘heat map’ of the data population densities of indicator species. These are exciting times for Projects Abroad Fiji –Shark Conservation Team!
We are looking to improve the volunteer’s identification skills by presenting Shark, Ray, Turtle and Indicator Fish Species in a proper workshop on land which will include species ID practice and measurement training with T-sticks.
Our lead scientist on site, Diego Cardenosa, along with Mark Bond, has rearranged our BRUV and Shark Survey Dive locations in order to synchronize our sampling efforts. Each experimental group (Marine Protected Area/Reserve) is accompanied with a control group (fishing area).
We are emphasizing how the size of the areas impact the MPA/reserves effectiveness. Yanuca is our ‘large-size’ region, a region below Naiseuseu (to-be-named) is our ‘medium-size’ region, and Naiseuseu is our ‘small-size’ region. This is subject to change based on the visibility of the BRUV videos. Mark Bond has set a 7 meter visibility minimum.
Often times the water runoff from Naiseuseu’s coast (small size region) is silted or muddy due to heavy rain and freshwater run-off. A few weeks of testing will show if we can use the region or if we have to find a different area to implement our BRUV’s/Shark Survey Dives.
In summary, we have three MPA/reserve areas, each accompanied by a control group. Note: for now, Rakua and our original control (Waisomo Village Qoliqoli) have been taken out as areas of study.
Also, the same species will be noted for the BRUV videos and the Shark Surveys, synchronizing our two studies. These include all species of Sharks, Rays, Turtles, Barracuda, Snapper, Jacks (Trevally’s), Emperor Fish, and Groupers. Specific species of interest and size minimums will be set shortly.
Tagging Bi-monthly report
In the last two months we went to the Navua River looking for juvenile bull sharks. We caught two, one 90 cm male and a 94 cm female. Both sharks were very healthy and swam away in excellent shape after the measuring and tagging procedure.
Despite our hard fishing efforts, we only managed to catch two sharks, which could be a signal of low abundance of sharks at this time of the year (i.e. winter time). The river temperature is around 22 and 23 degrees Celsius, which is a little colder than what juvenile bull sharks prefer.
During our trips we also appreciated many incredible Fijian sunrises and sunsets that the volunteers fully enjoyed. The next challenge for the coming months will be getting to know the River more, which means we will be fishing and exploring the river upstream. In addition, we will conduct more Local Environmental Knowledge surveys (LEK) to learn more about the river and its sharks from the local fishermen.
It’s a brilliant time to be Volunteering at the Project. We are so blessed to have such passionate Volunteers who work hard and have fun no matter the task!
As always Vinaka Vakalevu!