What do we do on the Marine Conservation program at Caqalai?

By Maxina Warren 8 months ago

Bula (Hello) from Caqalai island in Fiji, South Pacific. Well what can I say, this is a change of pace. The Fijian people are so friendly, I have never had so many people come up to me to ask my name and shake my hand. The country is stunning and our island, Caqalai, is a little slice of paradise. The lifestyle change however, has been a large shock to the system. When they said it would be basics, they weren’t kidding. The island is so small you can walk from one end to the other in 10 minutes, resulting in us being right on the beach with gorgeous views of the surrounding Fiji Islands. The main one being Moturiki, where we do community work with the villagers.

Sunset at Caqalai

The actual work that we do here on Caqalai is monitoring the reefs around the island as it is considered a pristine reef because there is no fishing. GVI have been collecting continuous data so that it can be compared to the data we will start collecting from around the neighbouring island (Moturiki) which has been heavily fished. Moturiki rely on fishing for their food source and income source and we want to be able to protect the waters for threatened species but also, so the communities have enough food. At Caqalai, we have 14 long term monitoring sites that are surveyed for fish, inverts and benthics twice a year. We do multiple surveys at different depths for each site, so we have accurate data on what species are there. This will be compared to the data we collect from Moturiki this year.

However, before we can start surveying we need to learn our topic (mine is Fish) and it takes at least a month to learn all target families and species of fish, then we need to pass several tests to show we know our stuff. So, I won’t be survey ready for a while but in the mean time I get to go on P.O dives (Point Out Dives) where a member of staff ‘points out’ different species to us and tells us what they are, rather than just studying images from a text book. I have had several P.O dives and snorkels to help me learn the following families: Barracudas, Butterfly fish, Coral Beam, Emperors, Fusiliers, Goat Fish, Groupers, Jacks (Trevally), Milkfish, Moorish Idol, Parrot Fish, Puffer fish, Rabbit Fish, Snappers, Surgeon Fish, Sweet Lips, Trigger Fish, Tuna/Mackerels, and Wrasse. There are over 120 species that I need to know by sight, so I’ll get on with my studying after this.

As an intern, I also have a project to complete in the 3 months I’m on Caqalai, which can be anything we want. I have chosen to video the target species because it is very different learning the species from still images and then having to identify them in the water when they are swimming away from you. I thought it would be useful to show new volunteers short clips of the behaviour of the species as well as the photos. I began filming on Monday and got a great clip of a leopard grouper and butterfly fish. I did a fun dive this afternoon where I managed to film a few more species.

I am also the science monitor meaning I enter the data from the surveys we do. There is an amazing amount of data that has been collected from previous volunteers and staff members on fish populations, Crown of Thorns (COT) populations, coral bleaching surveys and many more. This data is being shared with other organisations (Fiji Locally Managed Marine Areas – FLMMA) and government groups to help preserve the ecosystems around Fiji. Once I am survey ready I will be helping to add to this incredible work. I have also been on a D.A.D (Dive Against Debris) dive, where we removed waste from the ocean, bringing up plastic and glass bottles, metal components and things that just shouldn’t be in the ocean. These kill marine life, as they eat it and it even harms the Fijian people as they rely on fishing for their main source of food, but the fish have stomachs of plastic and then they eat the fish because they don’t have any better feasible option. This data is then shared with Project Aware.

Another big component of our training is lectures. We all have been EFR (Emergency First Responder) trained so we all have first aid training, which is good because we have discovered how easy it is for small cuts and illnesses to progress quickly in the tropics. We have been briefed on how to compress the air into the dive tanks and will start our training this week. My role this month is to monitor the ‘cool sightings’ (sharks, rays etc.) from dives and snorkels. I am also marshal trained, because every dive and snorkel need a shore or boat marshal for safety reasons in case of emergencies. GVI do make safety first, which is great as we are diving and snorkeling every day for 5/6 days a week.

This week I went to 2 primary schools on Moturiki. On Tuesday morning we did socioeconomic surveys with 7 houses on Moturiki. These are to identify what type of fishing they do and what they catch, along with health and community aspects. This is an important part of setting up Marine Protected Areas. We then had a lovely lunch made for us in the village and on to the primary school at 1 o’clock. Andrew and I taught grade 5 & 6 (9 to 10 years old) about the oceans in the world, animals in those oceans, climate change, and pollution.

Andrew and Maxi Teaching Year 5/6 about the Oceans

The kids were great and they all drew their favourite marine animal. At the end of the lesson we went outside because it was extremely hot and played bulldog. I had such a great day in the village and teaching the children. The next day we went to the other primary school on the other side of the district and taught the same lesson there. It was an amazing experience. I’m looking forward to the next few months! Moce (goodbye).