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The Gap Year Blog

Science Reports 2020: Fiji Marine Conservation

3 Jun 2020 09:30 AM
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Frontier's scientific research is a crucial part of our organisation, and the spring reports are a culmination of all the data collection our awesome project teams have been doing from January - March this year.  We're so proud of the important work our staff and volunteers do, and we can't wait to share their latest findings with you.

 

Project Background

The Republic of Fiji is an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean. The Frontier Fiji team are based on Beqa Island, which it has over 50 world-class dive sites.  

Fiji is known as the ‘Soft Coral Capital of the World’, and it is home to a variety of marine life including dolphins, whales, sharks, rays and turtles.

The island is surrounded by semi-commercial fisheries, which are governed both by traditional practices (the iTaukei system) and English common law. The iTaukei system is run by village chiefs, who implement seasonable bans and temporary no-take areas (‘Tabu’ areas) to ensure a healthy maintenance of the reef.

The Frontier Team work to monitor the health of coral reefs around the island and track the populations of fish and invertebrates. The data they produce will help to assess the effectiveness of the current marine management system and help to inform future policy to best protect this incredible eco-system. This is a great example of community conservation, as all efforts to protect the reef are done in collaboration with the iTaukei people of Fiji and local authorities.

 

Why is Our Work Important?

It is vital to protect the coastline in Fiji for several reasons. The population of Beqa relies on the coral reefs for their livelihood, as their primary source of income is tourism (mostly recreational scuba diving). Although no large-scale commercial fishing takes place on the island, the locals also depend on the reefs for food security and nutrition, and the reefs are culturally and socially significant.

In addition, Beqa is highly vulnerable to the impacts of human activity and climate change. Extreme weather events and changing sea levels will be devasting for marine biodiversity and will require serious coral restoration efforts. Meanwhile, human pollution and ‘slash and burn’ practices in Mangrove forests also threaten the coastline, while the harvesting of ‘live rock’ for aquariums is removing spawning sites for important marine species.

 

 

Research and Conservation Aims

The main aim of our Frontier Fiji Team is to establish long-term trends and changes within coral reefs and collect data that will feed into global coral reef databases.

This involves tracking the resilience of the reefs in response to climactic events, using biological surveys and dives to establish fish populations, and monitoring the reef shark populations in the Lagoon.

The team also engage in practical conservation efforts by helping to restore and rehabilitate areas of Mangrove forest on the island. Mangrove trees are vital for stabilising coastlines and mitigating the effects of climate change.

The Fiji team have also recently begun using Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV) technology to document the behaviour and number of reef sharks

 

What Were Our Key Findings?

 

  • The dynamics of the reef appear to have remained relatively stable

 

  • BRUV technology is working well, and the team have caught sight of both bull sharks and tiger sharks. This has enabled us to record information on species, depth of sighting, size, and behaviours, which is not always possible when a diver is present

 

  • Sharks were more present when divers had vacated the water, especially white-tip reef sharks

 

  • FJM has seen 792 mangrove propagules planted in its nursery sites in 2020

 

  • A new mangrove nursery has been established, and we have mapped 12,600m2 of mangrove forest in Beqa

 

  • Full Reef Check surveys were conducted to gather valuable data on benthic cover, fish biodiversity, and invertebrate biodiversity

 

 

The Role of Frontier Volunteers

All volunteers are brief in general marine ecology and taught how to conduct underwater biological surveys, such as reef transects, to a high standard. They are also shown how to identify fish, turtles and sharks.

As Antonia Yue discovered, mangrove conservation is also an enjoyable and fulfilling part of the role:

‘During the 2 weeks on Beqa, I had the opportunity to plant my very own mangroves, help monitor their health (by measuring their height and number of leaves and removing unwanted sea snails who eat them!) and also snorkel off the beach to perform surveys on various coral reef communities’

Other perks of volunteering in Fiji including participating in local kava ceremonies, experiencing shark dives, meeting the camp pets, watching beautiful sunsets and snorkelling in the crystal clear waters around the island.  

'The wildlife on display during a dive is guaranteed to amaze. Asides from the numerous beautiful species of tropical fish inhabiting the teeming coral reefs, I have been lucky enough to have seen Whitetip Reef sharks; squid; octopi and both Green and Hawksbill sea turtles up close… I even participated in a world-famous Tiger Shark dive with Beqa Lagoon Resort’ – Mike Cooper, Frontier Fiji Volunteer (Autumn 2019).

 

 

Want to find out more about our Fiji conservation projects? Take a look here.

 

Read the full science report here. 

 

By Ella T Smith - Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs terrestrial and marine conservationcommunity and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!