Katie Treasure - Shark Conservation in Fiji
As soon as I arrived in Pacific Harbor, I immediately felt like I was somewhere that I would fall in love with. From the generous greetings from locals, Projects Abroad staff and volunteers, to the beautiful scenery, I knew it would be an incredible location for me to spend the next eight weeks volunteering.
I arrived in the early evening and after a brief tour of the apartments, I was left to get settled in, unpack and get to know the volunteers. Oni, the house chef, couldn’t have been more friendly, providing me with food for my dietary needs from the moment I arrived. The older volunteers were incredibly welcoming in my first few days (it’s easy to forget that they were also new once), and I spent my first evening at Uprising, the local beach resort that we ended up visiting almost every night. You soon learn the names of everybody there; don’t worry if you can’t remember them all immediately. I certainly couldn’t!
My Shark Conservation Project
I arrived with the attitude that I would get out of the project what I put in. Getting stuck into ‘Mangrove Monday’ on my first day was a brilliant way to see how non-diving related activities have an important impact on the Conservation Project. My first week was also spent learning to identify different species of marine life, including sharks, rays and turtles. This was vital information, because I was then able to collect valuable data during the dives. To be even more prepared for the survey dives, I would suggest that future volunteers have a look through the pre-departure study guide, which is a really helpful tool!
Sundays and Wednesdays were dive days and these days were the highlights of the week for most of the volunteers. Two survey dives would be carried out by each volunteer on each day, with a 30 to 40-minute surface interval between each dive. During these dives, I recorded data, got to know other volunteers and the staff at BAD (Beqa Adventure Divers, the dive shop we worked with), and took many beautiful pictures of the spectacular Beqa Lagoon.
Community days, which take place once a month, were also a favorite for me. On these days, we did beach clean-ups, taught local communities about sharks, painted schools, built playgrounds for kindergartens and did various other activities. All of these activities gave us the opportunity to give back to the local community and allowed us to be immersed in the Fijian culture, especially when we took part in the ritual of drinking Kava, which has an acquired taste, but I recommend that everyone try it at least once while in the country.
Land-based activities, which took place on the days when we weren’t diving, gave us the chance to witness the shear amount of data that is collected at the project. Some of the work we did on these days included inputting survey data, watching back footage of BRUV drops from dive trips, organizing tagging equipment, and cataloguing photos from shark dives. These were all valuable contributions to the work at the project. These tasks also showed us the level of detail that marine biologists go into to ensure all their work is accurate.
Then, of course, there are the highly anticipated shark dives. I was in Fiji for eight weeks, so I was lucky enough to go on two shark dives, one for each month I was there. Each dive was totally unique and the experience is just as incredible, no matter how many times you do it. There are no words to describe it and you can’t really imagine just how close the bull sharks get until you go on the dive. They swim so close to you, yet with the staff from BAD, you couldn’t feel any safer! Your one-hour surface interval is a brilliant opportunity to talk to BAD’s marine biologists and learn more about the bull sharks; you even get the opportunity to learn their individual names and identifying features.
My overall experience
My time at the project has opened up opportunities that I wouldn’t have thought possible. My perception of marine conservation has changed in the most incredible way. The friends I have made and the knowledge I’ve gained are invaluable. It was amazing to see staff and volunteers who were all so passionate about the work they were carrying out at the project. I would 100% return to Pacific Harbor and do it all again, for longer if I could!