The SEA LIFE London Aquarium funds reigning Miss Fiji to carry out research at Moon Reef
It is the second to last day of our two weeks here in Nataleira on the Moon Reef Spinner Dolphin Project and with most of the research completed; I have had a bit of time to reflect on the work that we have been doing here. I remember the initial coffee meeting with Howard Foster in Suva when Howard did a great job of explaining South Pacific Projects and the donations provided by the SEA LIFE London Aquarium to sponsor marine conservation in my home country of Fiji. Through Howard, I met Dr. Cara Miller who is the Pacific Programme Manager for the International Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and also Josefa Bau, the Manager of the Eco-lodge in Natalei. So when I arrived at Nataleira I was quite at ease as I knew most of the team already and I had no qualms about meeting the International Volunteers who had come from all over the world to support this project. I knew that like me, they were volunteers with a passion for the environment and we would all get along just fine, and that we did.
From the first day it was just a blur of great company, great food and coming from a local it may seem biased but the beauty of the environment here in Fiji never ceases to amaze and inspire me. We had training conducted by Dr Cara Miller explaining the finer details of what we were trying to obtain observing these dolphins, their behavior, acoustics and photo identification and what I really enjoyed was how she was determined to teach us practically, so from the beginning she had the volunteers out on the boat at Moon Reef doing the work rather than just learning it in a room.
Each day brought its own excitement because while the dolphins were our main objective we got side tracked a few times by pods of Minke whales travelling past the Moon Reef MPA. After observations were done we usually had about half an hour to snorkel at the outer fringes of the reef and the rich biodiversity had me craving for more each time we made our way back to the Eco-lodge and I personally got a little thrill out of spotting the reef sharks that made a home on the outskirts of Moon Reef. Every evening was an opportunity to sit together and talk about the excitement of the surveying work and learn a bit more about each other and I may have mentioned it already but the amazing food was always a plus and would have us sitting at the table way before it was ready. For all we came to do and all that we saw and learnt for me the most fulfilling part was the day we visited Navunisea District School to speak to the children. I always feel that any work as such being done needs to start from the grass roots and involve the entire demographic in particular young people. We spoke about the conservation efforts being undertaken, the research being done and explaining the importance of all this work for them. Although we were there to teach them I was happily surprised to see that they already knew quite a fair bit. They are the ones who would be continuing the work long after we were gone and the knowledge and passion they already had encouraged me greatly.
I must thank the SEA LIFE London Aquarium for the funding that allowed me to take part in this research opportunity and a thank you to Howard Foster for allowing me to be a part of this project. An added bonus for me which I feel I must add is that I am doing my post graduate studies at the University of the South Pacific in Conservation and Biodiversity, specifically on Advanced Islands Biogeography and through this I was able to get a study site and focus my research. So, this experience has done more for me and I hope that I can reciprocate and give as much if not more than what I have gained. Natalei, Tikina Dawasamu of Tailevu will always hold a very special place in my heart and I look forward to returning.
Alisi Rabukawaqa – Reigning Miss Fiji and current Miss South Pacific, Fiji