My Internship with South Pacific Projects
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