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Fiji Shark Conservation - Monthly Update
January - February 2014
The Projects Abroad Fiji Shark Conservation Project officially opened its doors on 5th January 2014. Starting with a full complement of 21 volunteers, we got off to a strong start as we began introducing our pilot research studies and conservation initiatives.
January was challenging as we found much of our time was spent overcoming obstacles which were all part of this new project set up. This included limited internet access for the first 6 weeks, difficult logistics, research equipment not working – and then breaking, food and accommodation problems, and so on.
Even so, from the outset, the volunteers were actively involved with the research work as well as the setting up of our new local initiatives, becoming ‘pioneers’ of this project. They worked hard and with enthusiasm, and had a very positive effect on our newly formed local relationships. They have also set a serious tone to our project, which is continuing to flow as new volunteers start to arrive.
In the first week of February we decided to make a major shift in our schedule and change the fishing times to sunrise and sunset, as this is when sharks are known to be more active.
We dedicated the first part of February to finding effective fishing methods to catch sharks with minimum by-catch. The arrival of Dr Juerg and Gary Adkison gave us a fresh perspective and Callun custom built us a long line system.
On 18 February, on its debut outing, this method proved successful. The two 15-meter long lines were deployed using several baited hooks. We caught two baby bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) using this method, one male and one female. Length, weight, sex and fin samples were successfully taken from the sharks.
This month has also been important in working out a functional training and preparation method for the volunteers. In addition to our presentations, we hold practical workshops to train volunteers in our methods.
We are hoping that the next months will enable us to improve on our fishing techniques and increase our catch numbers.
Dr Juerg also brought with him 100 PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tags and three readers. He agreed we were ready to start implementing the tagging process as soon as we catch our next shark.
As part of the Tagging Project, we will soon implement a ‘Local Ecological Knowledge’ survey, as well as map the Navua River in order to gain a better understanding of the eco- system.
Mangrove Reforestation and Community Education
January 2014 was also the start of our Mangrove Reforestation and Climate Change Project.
During our opening month, the volunteers built a large mangrove nursery at the back of one of our villas. The volunteers used locally sourced bamboo and building techniques to create the structure, which is big enough to house around 3000 propagules.
The volunteers visited the local villages of Dranikula and Galoa to set up a seed collection and reforestation plan. The Women’s Group agreed to collect plastic bottles from around the village, beach, and mangrove forests, which we would then use as seedling containers to grow the propagules.
The volunteers prepared the growing containers by cutting the plastic bottles in two and drilling holes in the bottom so that the plants do not become water logged. These containers will soon be filled with soil, which we are currently buying, but eventually we will obtain soil from the same areas where the propagules will be planted. The seedling containers are then placed in 10 x 10 squares, giving us 100 propagules in each square.
Towards the end of January, once the practical aspects of the project were sorted out, we concentrated on our short term goal, which was to get a large quantity of propagules in our nursery (6000 by end March!) as well as to raise awareness by teaching the local people and volunteers about the importance of mangrove forests.
We set our long term goal as running the ‘Mangroves for Fiji’ carbon offset initiative, by partnering up with local businesses to offset their carbon footprint with the help of local communities and schools.
During the month of February, we planted 2000 propagules in our nursery. We estimate they will take 6 weeks to propagate to a strength that makes them suitable for planting.
In March we are partnering up with local schools and communities to build a nursery on their premises, whereby we will utilize their resources i.e. students and villagers will be helping in the whole process of planting propagules, and this will see an exponential growth in our mangrove planting output.
Ingrid and Ron will also be meeting with GIZ in March to present on behalf of Projects Abroad and Mangroves for Fiji, with the aim of partnering with them and to get funding to extend our mangrove project model around Fiji and its islands.
We organized our fist Dirty Day on 24 January and invited the Suva based volunteers to join us. We organized a beach clean-up of the nearby beach so the local people could see the positive impact our volunteer program would have directly on their community. The volunteers prepared and presented a PowerPoint presentation about our work to the local people and tourists at Uprising Beach Resort, who provided us with refreshments in gratitude for our work that day.
January ended on an incredibly positive note, with our visit to Galoa village on 31 January. One of our volunteers, Luc, has formed a partnership with his local school back in Quebec. As part of the partnership, Luc developed a project called “Here’s My Village” which focuses on various aspects of a child’s life, such as favorite meals, games, sports, etc. After the kava ceremony, the volunteers were split up with the local school children and went around the village with them (and their parents and/or teachers) and took photos and filled out the worksheets.
Later in the morning, the local kindergarten was brought over to us, and our group played educational shark games with them, focusing on types of shark fins and demonstrating how to use a snorkel and mask. Everyone left the village visit with huge smiles on their faces and we are excited to work with Galoa village in the future! Afterwards, volunteers were given an Education Assignment to complete to encourage them to design and use a wide variety of educational activities on education based days in order to keep them interesting and to increase knowledge.
Every Monday we go to Galoa and Dranikula village to buy plastic bottles at $0.03 a bottle. This project has been instrumental in getting the local village’s to clean up their surroundings. Over the last month we have seen a gradual reduction of plastic from the village, its beaches, the Mangal, and surrounding areas including the farming areas. We can see villagers going through their rubbish, digging, and looking for plastic on the beach, forest, and even in the Mangal. Through buying these plastics bottles we are providing a much needed financial resource for the local villages.
Over the last month we have conducted cultural workshops for our volunteers. This included how to dress, behave and act in a village setting. We will also be conducting a similar workshop for when we go to schools. These are to prepare our volunteers for when they conduct community education and awareness activities in schools and villages.
We have been to Galoa and Dranikula Village on a number of occasions letting them know who we are and what we do, and any future plans that we have that will involve them. We have also been to schools in the local community raising awareness of sharks’ vulnerability, their purpose in the eco-system, and our mangrove and recycling projects. There has been a lot of interest in partnering with us on these worthwhile projects.
Another aspect we will be pushing forward in the next months is to develop an educational program that we can use in schools. This will include games, fun activities, and theory on conservation and sharks specifically. We want this to be taught on a progressive level. It could also be modified to include the older and younger classes. Forward planning and flexibility on when we can go out depends on when they are free. In time we believe that when they see the benefit of our awareness campaigns, they will give us a regular spot on their timetable.
Starting in the first few weeks of the project, the volunteers were trained to identify the local species of sharks, rays and turtles. Erik created hand signals for each species so that communication underwater was consistent and mis-identification limited.
The aim of this survey is to count the same species inside the Marine Protected Zone and outside the protected area, to show that the marine eco-system is healthier and fish more abundant inside the MPA, than outside.
Currently, our sightings are entered into ‘The Great Fiji Shark Count’ and ‘eShark.org’ surveys. However, we also started to develop our own shark survey that hopefully can be implemented next month.
In January we drafted a Public Perception Survey. In February we began completing the surveys around the local area, targeting mainly local people and business owners, schools, villages and some tourists. The aim is to see the local public’s perception of sharks now and then conduct the same survey in one year to see the impact of our Education and Awareness Campaign in the local area. We will shortly be recording and analyzing the data collected and will prepare a report on our findings.
By mid January we were able to set up our first BRUV within Beqa lagoon. The following weeks found us developing techniques and saw a lot of trial and error with deployments and retrievals, as we were faced with extremely strong two directional currents, bad weather and working from an unanchored boat. It took some time to figure out good deployment methods and set techniques, and also to develop a good work distribution of the BRUV survey.
We accomplished 6 successful BRUV survey drops in January. We are now convinced that this project will give some interesting results.
As part of the pilot study, we experimented with chum to figure out the necessary amount and consistency of fish chum to be used in our bait cage. Volunteers were shown how to take all the necessary surface measurements from the boat, including salinity, temperature, visibility and current velocity.
After several discussions with Mark Bond over the past month, we are currently adapting the original hypothesis to enable us to work within our logistical limitations. In the meantime we are continuing to set BRUVs and collect data in randomized GPS areas – to use for this for training purposes as well as to improve our methods.
Most of February was therefore dedicated to resolving issues and working on all the practical and logistical parts of the project. Volunteers received training in performing all the tasks necessary for this study. Hence, we are now confident that the practical part of this project is under control.
We have also suffered some bad weather in February, including a cyclone. This has resulted in some cancelled diving trips and BRUV sets. The spirit of the volunteers remained good and they understood the circumstances.
March will be the month when we will transcend from the initial planning/trial and error phase of this project into actual data collecting.
Wow. These last 2 months and the lead up to the opening of the Project have been a lot of hard work! But we are confident and passionate and have science and the support of the Fijian people behind us. We know that this coming year is going to be something special!