Conservation and Environment in Fiji: Monthly Updates
Shark Conservation Bimonthly – November and December 2015
Throughout 2015, the Projects Abroad Fiji Shark Conservation Project successfully deployed 96 BRUVs and conducted 336 survey dives. During 2015, numerous predatory fish species were observed including more than 10 species of shark and ray. The survey dives are performed all around the lagoon. The sightings made, including 33 species of predatory bony fishes, are being compared to the BRUV data and contribute to two international online databases: SharkBase from Dr. Ryan Kempster, and eOcean from Dr. Christine Ward-Paige.
In the last year, the Fiji Shark Conservation Project also contributed to over a thousand scalloped hammerhead sharks being successfully captured, tagged and released. The data collected on this endangered species is invaluable, illustrating abundance, spawning seasons, and growth rates of the species. Furthermore the project rescued five adult specimens over 2015 from their fishing gear: a 2m female bull shark, a 1.72m male tawny nurse shark, a 2.25m female white-spotted wedgefish, and a 1.36m male whitetip reef shark.
The focus of the 2015 mangrove project was to significantly expand the mangrove project and the first step required was to increase capacity of the mangrove nurseries. Consequently, the largest mangrove nursery in the South Pacific was constructed at the Projects Abroad base camp which now houses 18,000 seedlings. Within the nursery, a new concept of propagule tables was invented and implemented allowing the top half of plastic bottles to be placed on the tables and bottom half of bottles to sit under the tables. This principle doubled the capacity within the nursery area. In 2015 ~30,000 mangrove seedlings were planted into the local environment however with a total capacity of 30,000 mangrove propagules between all 4 nurseries, planting ability should increase 3 fold in 2016.
During 2015, a wide range of community work was undertaken by the Projects Abroad Shark Conservation Project. This included presentations to local villages on the negative impacts of plastics to the marine environment, shark based puppet shows and crafts for kindergarten children and presentations on conservation based issues for junior children. Other community based work included the creation of an ocean safety and swim club for 70 local children at a nearby resort; Uprising Beach Resort.
Throughout the last two months, the volunteers worked very hard to rebuild and re-establish the mangrove nursery located in Vunibau village. Tasks included making bamboo frames to hold shade cloth above the nursery, thus providing protection for the young propagules (mangrove live young) from the harsh sun. Establishment of this new nursery also involved taking used plastic bottles and cutting them in half to use in place of pots. The bottle halves are filled with soil, and each has a propagule planted in it.
The main nursery at Ventura Apartments was also replenished with new propagules after our last planting event. This requires volunteers to fill the plastic bottle halves with fresh soil, and planting a propagule in each bottle half. With the use of the propagule tables that have been previously built, the bottle tops can sit upright in the mesh on top of the tables, and the bottoms of the bottles sit on the ground below. This method allows for maximization of space in the main nursery. Each plastic bottle that is used in the nursery has been collected from local resorts, villages and shops instead of ending up in a landfill, or worse, the rivers and ocean.
In order to replenish the nursery at Ventura Apartments, and reestablish the nursery in Vunibau, the volunteers and staff had to scour the local beaches for propagules that have fallen off the adults plants and are thus ready to be planted.
The high season is back! Over the past two months, and despite the bad weather that condemned us to cancel numerous trips, the number of catches has significantly increased. On one of the tagging trip, project abroad team and the volunteers caught 13 juvenile scalloped hammerhead sharks in only one hour. They were all very young, proved by their open or semi-open umbilical scar left after birth. The end of this year marks the end of the scalloped hammerhead Rewa project and hopefully the start of a new project focusing on bull shark, the shark symbol of the Fiji Shark Conservation Project.
In addition, the trust built over the last two year with one local fisherman in the vicinity of the research facility lead to three emergency phone calls to tag and release a 1.7 m male tawny nurse shark, a 2.25 m female whitespotted wedgefish, and a 1.3 m male whitetip reef shark from a certain death. We are hoping to develop this aspect of the project, building more relationship with local fishermen during 2016. The tagging project wrapped up 2015 with one last emergency call on December 31st from a local fisherman where volunteers assisted in tagging and releasing an 80 cm juvenile male bull shark we named “New Year”.
Evie Rikers’ internship on the biology and ecology of the bluespotted stingray is now complete. We collected more than 60 DNA samples from bluespotted stingrays at the Suva fish market. 50 of the rays were purchased and kept for further analysis, such as stomach content and pigmentation pattern. Evie also studied the sightings data from two years of Projects Abroad Shark Conservation survey dives. We all wish her good luck for her graduation!
We are also glad to announce that we managed to perform more survey dives and Baited Remote Underwater Camera drops in 2015 than in 2014, collecting valuable data. We made our training and exam harder to increase the quality the data collected, and received greetings from our different partners for our contributions over the past year, including The University of the South Pacific, Beqa Adventure Divers, SharkBase, and eShark. We hope to do even better in 2016.
Crazy months have gone by having our Volunteers to focus their attention on the Educational aspects of the Project, visiting schools and kindergartens sharing their knowledge of the Shark Conservation project. November was an exciting one as it was school break; Volunteers ventured out to two nearby Villages, Galoa and Vunibau Village, to do some Fun Day activities with them. Kids came out in numbers to enjoy Games; both indoor and outdoor.
The dirty day for November was beautiful, where volunteers and staff returned to Makasoi Child Care to complete the mural that had been started in October. They also worked very hard at cleaning up the yard where the children play, making it safer for the children of Makasoi.
A memorable December it was to end off the Year 2015 as staff and volunteers of Projects Abroad welcomed Happy Homes to Ventura apartments for some Christmas Bonding, Games and more Fun Activities. This was definitely a hit! Volunteers were very enthusiastic in teaching the children of Happy Homes about Mangroves, BRUV (baited remote underwater video) viewing, Shark Identification and Tagging. This was really appreciated by the Trustees and Board members of Happy Homes.