Fiji for the future #YasawaIslandsHolidays
Dramatic coral reefs have made the Yasawa Islands their home for thousands of years. These unique environments play host to a vast collection of fascinating and striking marine creatures. Snorkelling or diving to explore this world is often the highlight of any Yasawa Island holiday.
We recognise that the reefs are a treasured resource and we want to make sure they're preserved for future generations to enjoy.
So, in 2010 we established the Vinaka Fiji Trust, which went on to create a successful 'Marine Conservation' program. We continue to work very closely with this program. Here's a bit of a run down on our involvement:
Planting Mangrove Nurseries
Mangrove forests are crucial to reef productivity, with fish and invertebrates relying on these areas as safe zones for their offspring. The shallow, tranquil waters around mangroves offer plenty of protection from predators and rough weather. With such widespread root systems, mangroves are able to steady shorelines, minimize erosion and even accrete land in the form of mud flats and wetlands because they collect loose sediments.
Vinaka Fiji plant mangroves in a nursery at Barefoot Manta and once they've grown 6 leaves they're transplanted to areas where mangroves have been damaged or destroyed.
Manta Ray Study
Manta rays visit the offshore channel of Nanuya Balavu and Drawaqa Islands every year between the months of May to October. They feed on plankton, clean, and carry out courtship behavior while in the region. They are most frequently sighted during the high tide and as many as fourteen individuals can appear at one time. The Marine Conservation Team and a representative of the "Manta Trust" have set-up an official identification and behavioral study to monitor these captivating sea inhabitants.
The ongoing study will establish if the same population is returning each year, how many individuals are using this area, if their behavior is consistent with other manta rays around the world, whether their environment is suitable, where they go during the day during manta ray season, where they reside outside of manta ray season, and what distinctive aspects of the channel bring them to the channel in the first place.
Coral Planting and Reef Rejuvenation
How to plant a coral garden: First, tiny fragments of coral are gathered from the reef and rooted onto a metal framework. Then, they're left to mature for approximately 6 months and then relocated onto any damaged zones of the reef.
And so, you have more coral and additional habitats for reef dwellers. An extensive rejuvenation project has also been conducted on South Sea Island in the Mamanucas.
Giant Clam Farming
Clams are one of the most striking things to come across while snorkelling or diving on a coral reef. Along with their magnificence, they play a fundamental role in the reef ecosystem because they're the natural strainers of the ocean.
Corals need clean, nutrient free water to grow. Fiji's clam population is quite low due to overharvesting. In the 1960's the Giant Clam even became extinct to Fiji. It has now been successfully re-introduced into Fijian waters and Makogai Island is culturing this clam along with others, in an attempt to re-establish and disperse them throughout Fiji.
The Marine Conservation Team at Barefoot Island has joined this national project and hosts 3 distinctive clam species, including the Giant Clam with the potential to grow to 1.5 metres!
The Crown-of-Thorn Seastar (COTS) is a predatory seastar natural to coral reefs. It preys on the polyps of coral and has an important role on the reef by pruning fast developing corals, allowing room for other coral species to colonise and grow.
However in abnormally high populations, seastars can have a negative impact on a coral reef. Many areas in Fiji are currently confronting a COTS infestation. Scientists believe this overpopulation is due to a mixture of contributing factors comprising of over-fishing (lowering the number of natural COTS predators), warming sea temperatures and raised nutrient levels in the water.
The Marine Conservation Team monitor COTS numbers methodically. By regularly monitoring the reef, they are able to react quickly if a problem arises. If they find an unsustainable number on the reef, they remove them to avoid potential damage. They can also use the information gathered to share knowledge about COTS outbreaks with interested parties.
Sea Cucumber Breeding
Sea cucumbers are fascinating creatures. At first, they may only look like a large slug, but they merit another look. Sea cucumbers play a vital role in the ecosystem. Like earthworms, they recycle the nutrients in the sediment that would otherwise be lost to the rest of the food chain.
Despite their ungainly appearance, they've made their way on to many menus around the world. Such a large demand has led to severe population decline. The Marine Conservation team at Vinaka Fiji hopes to reduce fishing pressures on the ecosystem and minimise loss of life by setting up a breeding program. Three species have also been selected to investigate the possibilities of asexual and sexual reproduction.
Reef Check Fiji
Reef check surveys help:
- Compare sites within and without Marine Protected Areas
- Evaluate the relative abundance and size distribution of target species
- Establish how newly proposed protected areas will react to recovery efforts
- Identify if the reef is in need of support
- Provide valuable continuing information into general patterns and coral reef history.