Yesterday we were contacted by Tom Helsby, UK Sales Coordinator for Aqualung Dive products, who had some great news for us. Tom had just been speaking to his colleagues at Apeks/Aqualung about the upcoming marine conservation project in Papua New Guinea and got in touch to let us know that they would like to make a donation. So next week we will be receiving ten new sets of Aqualung snorkelling equipment which I will be taking with me to Port Moresby next month.
The snorkelling gear is going to be used by local community members and students during in-water ID training sessions on the reefs surrounding the island. During this first phase of the project one of our tasks will be to compile a list of targeted fish and invertebrate species with local fishermen. This species list will be crucial when we begin our baseline assessment of targeted species biomass. We hope to incorporate the surveying during phase two of the project, alongside the existing cetacean research being overseen by Dr. Cara Miller of WDC. One of the project goals is to use the data gathered next month and in successive phases to collaborate with the Ministry of Environment and local community to create a marine park. This park would then help to protect the incredible marine biodiversity in the waters between Manus and Mbuke Islands, including many of the large charismatic species like Sperm whales, Killer whales, Spinner dolphins and Dugongs.
So a big thank you to Tom Helsby and all his colleagues at Apeks/Aqualung for helping us to broaden the spectrum of our work next month, we look forward to providing updates from Papua New Guinea in a couple of weeks time!
Fijian MSc student Samanunu Simpson, sponsored by The Sea Life London Aquarium, has updated SPP on her current research at Moon Reef.
“I’ve completed Fieldwork’s 1, 2, 3 (September 2012/January 2013/April 2013); however my advisors arranged an extra trip in July 2013 to help me gather more acoustic data. The data gathered is currently undergoing analyses; these include the coping of the Spinner dolphin click files, and the sorting and classifying of spinner dolphin whistles. My thesis will be stand-alone chapters therefore I’ve started my write ups on the study sites of each chapter along with their methodologies. Alongside these, I am currently reviewing more literature on spinner dolphin acoustic field studies conducted worldwide and plan to leave for my fourth field work early in the month of October 2013.
Whilst gathering data I faced a few difficulties whilst in the field, particularly with the calibration and failure of research equipment. There were a few hiccups with the C-PODs during the first week of survey in field work 1. The survey days were also weather dependent, so there was always a delay in survey trips to the reef due to rough seas and dolphin absence. During fieldwork 2 some of my research equipment failed to work as well, these include the (hydrophone, Go Pro camera donated by South Pacific Projects and a digital recorder). The hydrophone was sent abroad for repair after fieldwork 2, so the fieldwork in April 2013 involved photo Identification alone and the collection of spinner dolphin click samples using the CPOD. I’ve also had slight problems in analyzing the spinner dolphin clicks on the CPOD software; however more reading/research, consulting supervisors is needed to interpret data on the software. In spite of these challenges faced, I still managed to gather quite a fair amount of data and also assist with other ongoing projects at Moon Reef, Tailevu, Fiji.
On a personal note, I wish to express my sincere gratitude to The Sea Life London Aquarium for making my studies a success last semester. I wouldn’t have got this far academically if it wasn’t for this great investment. I promise to work hard, inspire others and give back to the local communities. I also hope to be able to help other students achieve their goals, just as you have helped me with this sponsorship.”
Samanunu Simpson – University of the South Pacific, Fiji
Having taken a break from Fiji recently in order to study in Australia and the UK to become a Personal Trainer and Nutritional Advisor, SPPs founder is now making preparations to go back to the Pacific in November. The aim is to support (and take part in) Dr. Cara Miller’s new cetacean conservation & research project in Papua New Guinea.
Sea Life London has provided some of the funding towards this new venture and other project partners include WDC and the Government Ministry of the Environment. The project may result in the establishment of a new MPA, part of a planned network of MPAs in PNG. More news on this new and ongoing conservation project will be posted here soon.
After a recent request from SPP, the Sea Life London Aquarium has kindly agreed to sponsor Fijian student Samanunu Simpson’s University fees in 2013. Samanunu is undertaking a Masters Degree at The University of the South Pacific, under the supervision of Dr. Cara Miller, Pacific Programme Manager for Whale & Dolphin Conservation.
I first met Samanunu in 2011 and later in 2012 she became an integral part of the team operating the Spinner dolphin research and conservation project at Moon Reef. SPP is now delighted to be able to assist her to continue her critical research at the the Moon Reef MPA. Samanunu’s research is focused on acoustic communication within the resident pod of dolphins at Moon Reef and her results will contribute to the long-term community Management Plan for the MPA.
Howard Foster – Queensland, Australia
This is Samanunu response to her sponsor:
“It was an honor to be notified that London Sea Life Aquarium was willing to financially assist me with my Master of Science research at the University of the South Pacific, this year (Semester 1, 2013). I am currently pursuing a Masters degree in Marine Science with main emphasis on the “Acoustic Communication patterns of a relatively small pod of Spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) at Moon Reef, Tailevu in the Fiji Islands.
This project is the first of its kind in the South Pacific and I thank your organisation for generously supporting me and giving me an opportunity to carry out further studies in this field. The information gathered from this study will contribute to ongoing Spinner dolphin projects here in the Fiji Islands and facilitate further understanding on the protection and conservation of dolphins in the Pacific region. It will also inform the long-term management plan for the Moon Reef MPA. Receiving this scholarship will reduce my financial burdens and provide assistance for me as I continue pursuing higher education. Your generosity has also enabled me to move a step closer to my goal and inspired me to give back to the local communities. Once again, I would like to extend a great appreciation to your organisation for your generosity and kind spirit in providing me this scholarship.”
Samanunu Simpson – The University of the South Pacific, Fiji
SPP has now been working with the Ningaloo Turtle Programme (NTP), on the North West Cape of Western Australia, for over six weeks. The dedicated local community volunteers and the twelve external volunteers (one of whom has travelled here from Hong Kong) have been getting up at 05.00 to monitor the nesting success of the marine turtles that come up to lay their eggs each evening. The recently declared Ningaloo World Heritage Site easily earns its status, the almost pristine terrestrial and marine ecosystems here are home to an incredible wealth of biodiversity. As well as two species of the ubiquitous Kangaroo, there are endangered Black-Footed Rock Wallabies, Wedgetail Eagles, and several hundred species of reptile, including enormous Goanna’s that patrol the beaches. Ningaloo Reef is also one of the only places in the world that I am aware of that has a calendar for the different charismatic megafauna that visit the area. These include; three species of marine turtle (Loggerhead, Green and Hawksbill) that come to nest between October and April, then the Whale Sharks arrive, along with Humpback Whales that calve in the nearby Exmouth Gulf, as well as enormous Manta Rays and a lot of rather large sharks. It’s great to see so many sharks here as their populations in Fiji are have been decimated by shark-finning in the last couple of years.
Australian volunteer Lauren Green was lucky enough to spot this little fella/lady going hell for leather down the beach on New Year’s Eve to the (relative) safety of the ocean. It was running down the water’s edge with its siblings, in the state known as its ‘frenzy’. This is a super-energetic phase when the hatchling first emerges from the nest and has to dodge natural predators like seagulls and crabs on the beach, and then paddle like crazy to get through the breakwater and waves whilst also trying to avoid the big fish and sharks that are waiting to have it for breakfast. Lauren had this to say about her experience of watching the whole process:
“Today the 31st of December 2012 (New Years Eve), I was monitoring a stretch of beach in the Ningaloo World Heritage Site and saw some tiny Green Turtle hatchlings struggling to make it from their nest to the safety of the ocean. They must have just been born, having first broken out of their eggshells nearly a foot under the sand, and then digging their way out, before facing the dangers of the beach. They were no bigger than the palm of my hand and they didn’t even weigh enough to make a dent in the sand. Seeing turtle hatchlings in the first few minutes of life, rushing towards the ocean’s edge for their first touch of water is a euphoric experience and one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. If it wasn’t for the Ningaloo Turtle Program here in the Cape Range National Park, I would have never had this fantastic opportunity.”
The threats facing marine turtles globally are increasing every year. As well as having to dodge their natural predators when they are first born on the beaches, in Australia there are introduced predators like feral cats, dogs and foxes to contend with, and the myriad anthropomorphic threats that lead to massive turtle mortality. These include; boat-strike by propeller, getting caught in fishing gear and drowning, swallowing plastic rubbish and choking to death, being hunted for food or the souvenir trade and loss of habitat – tourism and oil and gas exploration being the main culprits. All seven species of marine turtle are now listed by CITES as Endangered, with the Hawksbill listed as Critically Endangered. As a result, it is now estimated by marine scientists that only one in ten thousand marine turtles survives to sexual maturity. That makes every single turtle you see in your lifetime a genuine miracle of survival.
The NTP is a superb example of a successful collaboration between Government, the local community, external volunteers and the Corporations, in this case oil & gas companies, which provide the funding for projects like these. Marine turtles are Ancient Mariners, that have been making their annual journeys of thousands of kilometres around the World’s oceans for millennia, and it is not too late to protect them if action is taken now. South Pacific Projects has decided to focus its efforts on supporting more community-based marine turtle conservation initiatives in 2013, whilst continuing our successful collaboration with Dr. Cara Miller of Whale & Dolphin Conservation.
Howard Foster – Exmouth, Western Australia
South Pacific Projects Director Howard Foster is currently visiting the Ningaloo Turtle Programme in Exmouth, Western Australia. He is assisting with the annual nesting survey, whilst developing links with the local community and Department of Environment & Conservation (DEC). Yesterday was spent training with one of their Nature Conservation Rangers and today was for some on-site training at one of the beaches where turtle rookeries are found. Despite not seeing any new nesting activity from last night, the Team Leader and local volunteers were lucky enough to come across five viable nests that were used to learn recognisable characteristics.
Howard originally visited Exmouth to volunteer on the turtle conservation programme back in 2006 and his experiences indirectly led to the creation of South Pacific Projects. So it was with some excitement that he came back to participate this season, yesterday meeting up with some Rangers and locals that he met during his previous visit. One thing that became immediately apparent was the commitment from the local community to actively particpate in the programme and manage it in collaboration with DEC to protect the turtle population.
Exmouth is a haven for eco-tourism, with large numbers of Whale Sharks visiting the fringing Ningaloo Reef from Easter onwards, then migrating Humpback Whales, followed by the turtle nesting season. The Ningaloo Reef is renowned for its healthy condition and incredible biodiversity, partly because it is 1,400km from Perth so not that many backpackers or tourists visit it, unlike the Great Barrier Reef which hosts huge numbers of visitors each year. There will be regular updates coming from Ningaloo and the turtle programme over the coming weeks and plenty of marine turtle stories, photos and information.
South Pacific Projects (SPP) and The Sea Life London Aquarium have lent their support to the Fiji Shark Sanctuary campaign that aims to stop the trade in shark products and hopefully protect sharks from the increasing threat of shark-finning in Fijian waters. Please visit the website and add your name to the pledge
The Sea Life London Aquarium has added an incredible new shark reef encounter and is committed to supporting shark conservation projects around the world. In collaboration with SPP, Sea Life has donated funds to help provide shark awareness workshops in schools and local communities in Fiji. We are partnering Global Vision International and the Blue Lagoon Beach Resort on this initiative and SPPs spokesperson is Alisi Rabukawaqa, current Miss Fiji and reigning Miss South Pacific.
Alisi is a Postgraduate student at The University of the South Pacific and her current studies in Conservation Biology are being funded by Sea Life and SPP. She understands the importance of raising awareness about shark conservation in schools so that the youngsters can re-connect with one of their cultural icons. One of the most famous traditional beliefs about sharks in Fiji is the story of the Shark-God, Dakuwaqa
We will be posting updates aboutour progress as Alisi travels to the Yasawa Islands to represent SPP and Sea Life in this new collaboration with GVI and the local community.
Yesterday we picked up the new Marine Protected Area (MPA) signboard which is to be installed at Moon Reef and unveiled by His Excellency, The President of Fiji. The sign was funded by the Sea Life London Aquarium, as was the marker beacon that was installed out on the reef several weeks ago. Underwater engineers installed a 5m high post into the sandy bottom of the reef to hold the new signboard which will inform boat user who visit the reef the rules of the new MPA.
The rules of the MPA have been printed in both English and Fijian so Fijian fishermen who are not form the local area understand that there is no fishing allowed within the MPA.
Yesterday was very rewarding as once again I was inspired by the kindness of strangers. I visited Charles and Wayne at Dive Centre Fiji, who have recently installed two permanent moorings for snorkellers at Moon Reef to stop any anchor damage from boats. Those mooring were very kindly funded by the Australian Government as part of their committment to Development Aid.
In addition, Wayne and his team had engineered and installed a marine beacon at the main entrance to Moon Reef, the beacon was funded by the SEA LIFE London Aquariumand WDCS International. We want to mount a sign on the top of the beacon that has information about the Marine Protected Area (MPA) and the behavioural guidelines for visitors to the reef, which is critical resting habitat for the resident Spinner dolphins.
During my visit, Charles asked me if I’d found anyone to make the MPA sign for us and I told him that we’d been given an astronomical quote from one Company so far. Charles then very kindly called a friend of his, Tony Philp who owns a fibreglass manufacturing and boat-building business. To my utter surprise, Tony told Charles that as it was for conservation and a good cause, he’d make us something for no charge! After I got over the shock and having thanked Charles profusely, I went straight round to Tony’s factory where he met me, with his Brother David. After we went over the specifications and design, none of which phased Tony in the slightest, he told me we’d have the piece by tomorrow!
So on behalf of South Pacific Projects, WDCS International and the community of Dawasamu in Tailevu, we’d like to say a huge thank you to Tony and David (and Charles!) for your kindness and generousity.
Howard Foster, Suva
I came to Fiji to complete a two-week volunteer Spinner dolphin research project at Moon Reef. Howard Foster (founder of South Pacific Projects) and Dr. Cara Miller (Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society International) had designed the project and are now collaborating with Global Vision International to provide volunteer opportunities. After a few days of working on this project, Howard learned that I wished to stay in Fiji for a longer period and he then mentioned the possibility of some additional work for me following the dolphin project. In the final days at Moon Reef, Howard offered me an internship with South Pacific Projects and gave me some examples of the work we might be doing during my time with the organisation. This was exactly what I had hoped for, as I had over two months left in Fiji and wanted to further my skills and experience in conservation work.
The first task of my internship was to help organise and map out the ‘Whale of a Ride 2’ cycling fundraiser which is to be completed around the coastline of Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu. We travelled the cycling route, mapping out every incline, decline, gravel section, bridge and suitable lunch or water stop area along the way. We also had to check out all viable accommodation options for the cyclists whilst we travelled along. Accommodation had to be suitable for a weary cyclist to recover enough for the next day of riding, so a certain level of comfort was a must. One of these accommodation stops provided us with a more than comfortable experience as well as two amazing scuba dives in the new Vatu-i-Ra Passage MPA. The Resort was called Volivoli and the owner, Nick darling, was really helpful and interested in supporting the bike ride. Whilst diving, we met some lovely Americans who were staying at Volivoli on a dive holiday. All of them had in excess of a thousand dives under their (weight) belts. They were very friendly and more than willing to give a novice such as myself, some highly valuable tips towards improving my diving skills.
Whilst continuing to map the cycling route, we returned to Suva with a pile of catch up work to be completed and spent a long day getting ourselves organised and back on track. Part of this included organising a meeting with His Excellency the President’s Chief Secretary. If anyone had told me that I would be organising to meet with the President of Fiji and being associated with numerous newspaper articles before I had left Australia, I’m sure I wouldn’t have believed them. Still here I am, still a little unable to believe it, or the amount I have achieved in so short a time in Fiji.
From Suva we travelled back to Nadi, making many a stop, meeting some great people, trying to spread the word about our cause and getting people interested and behind the cycling fundraiser. I seemed as though we had successfully roped some people in without much effort. We got back to Nadi and so completed our circuit of Viti Levu and the route notes for the bike ride. Four hundred and ninety seven kilometres worth of cycling to be completed over seven days! I am very interested in taking part in the ride myself, however having seen the route in person, I will admit it appeared a little daunting. As I am due home in May, the timing of the ride is yet to tell whether I will be able to commit to it.
After completing this route, we stayed in Nadi for a couple of days, compiling information, posting and updating websites and photos on Facebook to let the world know about our efforts and the successful and great work just completed during the Spinner dolphin project at Moon Reef. We were also coming to grips with the logistics of the bike ride ensuring the days were spread as evenly as possible exertion wise. I will certainly need some training up if I am to complete it! After what seemed like a long stay in Nadi, we were off on the Flyer ferry to the Yasawas. This was a very welcome change of scenery. Whilst getting onto the ferry was a bit hectic and left me frazzled, the journey was very relaxed and our arrival at the Blue Lagoon Beach Resort blew my mind. The scenery was very beautiful, postcard beautiful. It was what one thinks of when you picture Fiji- white sandy beaches, coconut trees and deck chairs welcoming you to swim and sunbathe. But we were here to work, honest! We were at the Resort to check out one of two shark dives available to tourists in Fiji. Our aim was to determine the conservational and educational benefits that were currently being gained from the activity, as well as gauge tourist perception of it and see whether this could be improved. I created a feedback form for guests who completed the dive to fill out, leaving any additional comments they thought were necessary. We sat down after the dive and discussed our purpose for being there and got everyone to fill out the feedback forms. Most people were very interested in our work and more than happy to help us out by providing their opinions. More positively, most of them gave out their emails to receive further information and updates on our progress. The results were very interesting, most of them revolving around the want for an increase in shark information provision prior to the dive. Personally, I very much favoured this as I believe it would highly improve the dive experience as I had not really known what I was looking at and therefore had encountered the same situation on my first dive with the sharks. On my second shark dive, I knew much better what I was seeing which made it a lot more rewarding.
The shark dive from my perspective is a great thing. Although there are several negatives associated with feeding sharks for tourism purposes, I think it will be beneficial overall to shark conservation in the area to change the negative perception so many people have of sharks. I saw areas for improvement, but with the very strong interest the Dive staff at Blue Lagoon Beach Resort exhibited, I don’t see any issues with such improvements being implemented and quickly at that. Still, the success of such a project is very much determined by local community participation and cooperation. In order to ensure the locals were on board with this shark conservation, we were aiming to set up an account where some of the funds from the diving payments would be deposited and then be used to educate the local school towards shark and marine conservation. To formalise this interest, we met with the paramount Chief. He was very positive towards this idea and was more than willing to give his assistance to make it happen.
Much as it sounds it, the time spent in the Yasawas wasn’t all hard work. When not working on the shark dive, time was spent snorkelling, diving and relaxing by the sea. This lifestyle was endured a little longer than planned as our stay was extended by a day not once but twice and eventually we spent six days on the island. Unfortunately, as all good things have to come to an end in what seemed like no time at all, we were back on the Flyer and headed back to Nadi. The time had come again collect together all the information we had gained, put pen to paper and get stuck into some real work to get things going. I am really looking forward to seeing the positive outcomes from our collaboration on the shark dive and will be happy to return in a couple of week’s time to launch this exciting new conservation project.
Sarah Cordell, Melbourne
Since getting to know the Managing Director of South Pacific Projects earlier this year, I agreed to support various Fiji-based conservation initiatives, not only in my capacity as Miss Fiji and Miss South Pacific, but also because I have a background in Marine Science from the University of the South Pacific.
I was recently given the opportunity to go out to Moon Reef in Tailevu with Howard, the Global Vision International volunteers, and Dr Cara Miller of the Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society International to work on the Spinner Dolphin Project for two weeks. This was a huge boost for me as I am currently doing my postgraduate studies at the University of the South Pacific in Conservation and Biodiversity, specifically Advanced Biogeography and this gave me a lot of research experience and material to work with.
After speaking with Howard again I was presented with the possibility for The SEA LIFE London Aquarium to sponsor my further studies at the University of the South Pacific while I carry out my Postgraduate Diploma. I am very grateful for this opportunity and this is a clear indication of the SEA LIFE London Aquarium’s commitment to marine conservation and capacity building in small island nations such as Fiji. I look forward to working closely with the London Aquarium and South Pacific Projects on future marine conservation and research initiatives in Fiji and elsewhere in the Pacific region.
Alisi Rabukawaqa, Fiji
SPP’s Managing Director had a meeting with Vagi Rei yesterday to discuss the possibility of establishing a new whale and dolphin conservation project in Papua New Guinea (PNG) later this year. Vagi is Ecosystems Manager for the PNG Government Department of Environment and Conservation, a position he has held for nearly eighteen years. His role involves working with local communities to establish Marine Protected Areas and his main areas of focus are species conservation of whales and dolphins, marine turtles and dugongs. SPP was introduced to Vagi by Dr. Cara Miller, our project partner in Fiji on the recent Spinner dolphin research and conservation project. Dr. Miller has already successfully run a pilot community-based cetacean research project in Papua New Guinea in collaboration with Vagi and the Government and has now asked SPP for assistance in putting together a groundbreaking new style of project later this year.
Papua New Guinea is widely considered by marine scientists to be the biodiversity hotspot in the Pacific region. As well as many species of cetacean, the remote coral reefs and incredibly diverse marine life of Papua New Guinea draw researchers and recreational divers from all over the world. Dr. Miller and SPP will visit the island of Manus in May this year with Vagi to plan logistics for the new initiative. The best time of year for observing cetaceans around Manus Island is between October and January, which also happens to be the time of year for good weather and calm seas, crucial when conducting boat-based research. SPP will keep you updated with progress on new developments and is already very excited that most of the recent participants in our pilot Spinner dolphin project in Fiji have already agreed to sign up for the new Papua New Guinea project, showing that Sarah, Charlotte, Isabelle, Mary and Kavi all have a commitment to adventuring off the beaten track in the name of whale and dolphin conservation!
Howard Foster – Yasawa Islands, Fiji