By Amy Hall
I briefly mentioned Projects Abroad and the Shark Conservation Project (http://www.projects-abroad.com.au/destinations/fiji/conservation-and-environment/shark-conservation/) in my last post about Global Friendships (http://www.southpondfarms.ca/stories/a-global-community-friendships-while-travelling) while discussing how difficult it was to leave my new found home in Fiji behind, but I’m sure by now a few of you may be wondering just what exactly it was that I was doing during my time there.
In some ways that is a rather complex question to answer, as there are many facets to the project itself. After having this dialogue with many people face to face, I have figured out that the best way to elaborate on what I was doing is to simply describe our weekly schedule, which is exactly what I am going to do for you here.
Sunday - Dive Day!
Sundays and Wednesdays are the best days of the week. Why? Because they’re dive days! We’re assigned to either the morning or afternoon dives for the day. Morning dives are always the best because the wind usually picks up in the afternoon, thereby limiting the dive sites you can access and sometimes affecting the visibility. On the dives we are conducting surveys, looking for what are called indicator species - aka fish that sharks like to eat. Before you are able to participate in a proper survey dive, you must pass your fish ID test. In a nutshell, we swim around under water for 30 minutes writing down all of the indicator fish we see. In turn, this information is recorded on the boat and entered into several online data bases.
Or, as Kris who is in charge of the mangrove nursery would say, “Mangroves for Fiji baby!” Not only are mangroves a crucial link in a healthy marine ecosystem (75% of saltwater animals will call the roots of mangroves home at some point in their life), they are simultaneously one of the most efficient plants at converting carbon dioxide into breathable air while providing protection from erosion and tsunamis.
At the apartment we had one of the largest mangrove nurseries in Fiji, so every Monday we dedicated an entire day to maintenance, organization, planting propagules (kind of like seeds) and eventually planting the seedlings themselves in the rivers. It was often one of the more physically demanding days, but also an incredibly rewarding one. Kris’ passion and excitement for mangroves was infectious and definitely rubbed off on everyone - myself included.
Tuesday - Chores
I always looked at Tuesdays as a very practical day. We would usually begin with a workshop or guest lecture, followed by house chores. In the afternoon we would conduct surveys in one of the nearby towns to gather information about local fishing practices and public perceptions regarding sharks. Responses were very interesting because you would experience opposite ends of the spectrum. On the nearby island of Taveuni, locals worship a shark god and therefore have a great reverence for them. On the other hand, you might meet fishermen who think that sharks are ruining the fish population by eating their daily catch. You never knew what you were going to encounter. Our job, however, was to collect information, not to preach or judge.
Mondays and Tuesdays were also tagging evenings. We would go out with the lead marine biologist, Gauthier, and tag any sharks we caught throughout the evening. Unfortunately when I was there we were between projects. The previous work was done in the Rewa river with baby hammerheads and after a year of research it is believed this may be one of the largest hammerhead nurseries in the world! When I went out in Navua we were hoping to catch a few baby bull sharks, but unfortunately we didn't have any luck. It was still a beautiful night out on the water in Fiji though!
Wednesday - Dive Day!
One thing I forgot to mention about dive days is that we also drop a BRUV before our survey dives. A BRUV is a baited remote underwater video. Basically a large welded contraption with a GoPro mount and bait. We would sink the BRUV and set the video to record for a few hours while we were gone on our dives. Watching the videos during land based activities was either incredibly boring, as sometimes nothing interesting would come by, or incredibly exciting and you would hear people screaming when something like an eagle ray decided to come check out the BRUV.
Thursday - Cultural & Community Days
Depending on the week, Thursdays were set aside for cultural days, community days and/or land based activities. Cultural days included things like making tsulus (traditional Fijian sarongs for men and women), cooking lovo (traditional cooking method in the ground with rocks) or learning the language. Community days during my time there consisted of helping to paint a local school and cleaning up the nearby beach.
Friday & Saturday - The Weekend
Since we dive on Sundays, Friday and Saturday became our weekend. Often times we filled our weekends with, what else, more diving. A group of us went out on a Tiger Shark dive and ended up having a private dive with a 4 metre female as we were the only divers there (aside from the staff). If you ever have the chance, you must dive in Beqa Lagoon, it’s one of the most rich and diverse eco systems I have ever seen and the project is working very hard to keep it that way.