This summer I travelled to Fiji in order to assist in a Shark Tagging Conservation project run by the Beqa Adventure Divers in collaboration with marine biologists from the Fijian Government and the University of the South Pacific. Conservation and sustainable development are two areas within my Geography degree in which I am particularly interested and when the opportunity of this project was presented to me I was determined to go.
When I arrived on the Island of Viti Levu, I was blown away by the country – the incredible towering mountainous landscape, the picturesque beaches and the sandy desert islands. The day after I arrived I was thrown headfirst into the project by taking part in my first shark dive. Before travelling to Fiji I had my Open Water diving certification but had never witnessed anything as incredible as being in the open water, without a cage, surrounded by more than 40 Bull Sharks each more than 3m in length. The shark dive takes place on the Shark Reef Marine Reserve in Beqa Lagoon, an area identified by the project as key in the breeding patterns of Bull Sharks across the Pacific. As a result of the success of the project so far, fishing is prohibited and dive boats are strictly limited to research purposes only. This first dive was eye opening being in the water with such amazing and powerful animals and was a window into what the work and research I would be conducting over the next two weeks would protect.
The most important research tasks I was involved in was participating in daily survey dives. During these, we were required to identify and record all species of indicator fish which Bull Sharks prey on as the quantity of these fish species in the Beqa Lagoon forms a strong correlation with the number of Bull Sharks present and is closely monitored.
In addition to survey dives, I participated in community outreach projects to educate communities on the importance of conservation – most significant of these is the Mangroves for Fiji project. Mangroves are vital habitats. They form a nursery area for many important marine species and offer a critical barrier of protection for the land and coastline against tsunamis and sea-level change whilst also acting as an influential carbon sink – absorbing vast volumes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping to combat global warming. Through this project, I helped first hand to combat my own Carbon footprint by planting mangrove propagules in addition to visiting local schools and helping to educate children from a young age the importance of protecting these habitats.
My time in Fiji was unforgettable. I was able to explore many of the Islands that form Fiji, I greatly enhanced my knowledge of conservation and developed a passion to protect sharks and their habitats. The conservation projects that I participated in first hand indicated to me the difference even one individual can make, and has driven me to pursue further work in conservation and sustainable development.