Dec 15, 2020

Happy Chickens Are Saving Coral Reefs! Communities Harvest Coral-Killers for Use as Chicken Feed!

rocks prevent tipping & chicks from drowning
rocks prevent tipping & chicks from drowning

Because of patrons responding to #GivingTuesday, and with the sizable bonuses awarded by GlobalGiving, an urgent program to both protect endangered coral reefs and also to provide a necessary addition to scarce chicken feed was launched.

2020 continues to be a year of crisis all over the world.  Fiji’s border is sealed, and tourism, our largest industry, has closed down.  Tens of thousands of families have lost their primary source of income.  Families are struggling to make ends meet and to feed their children.  Shipping into the country has also been disrupted, impacting the commercial poultry industry, as shipments of baby chicks and fertile eggs from New Zealand stopped for several months, and now have resumed at a lower level, so prices for eggs and chicken in the stores have gone up, at a time when people have less money to spend.  We have responded by doubling the size of our breeding flocks, with the goal of producing 300 chicks per week, to meet the increased demand from the many small family farmers and those newly unemployed who have turned to farming.  However, the cost of chicken feed has also increased by 12%, affecting our base costs of production.  These problems of shipping during the pandemic are stretching the supply chain thin.  A simple thing like procuring chicken feed has become a complex exercise in spending more money and more time searching for an increasingly scarce commodity.  Fortunately, coconut trees planted in years past are now producing and so the chickens are fed coconuts in addition to their forging. We have also in recent months helped plant 5,000 coconuts in surrounding communities, and have provided fencing to protect them from stray cows, horses, and goats.

While in the past chicks were provided as a donation to families in greatest need, the majority of chicks in recent months were sold at cost of production to poor family farmers, with the goal of these farmers hatching chicks of their own and becoming self-sufficient, and spreading prosperity in the wider community.  We have also begun lending out small incubators to the best farmers. One small farmer has proven particularly exceptional, and so we have given him the machine.  We also gave nine roosters to a commercial egg producer and he paid us back in fertile eggs- a cross between our super roosters and his imported super layers.   

While these efforts in self sufficiency for small farmers continue, the New Zealand Government recently awarded us a grant to purchase a wood chipper, and so we plan to begin worm farming as a way of lowering feed costs, while producing valuable potting soil.  The wood chips and dry compost will also be used as litter in the hen houses and under the roosts, providing a cleaner environment for the happy chickens, especially needed now, as it is the rainy season.   

We also are sourcing another free source of chicken feed, harvested from the ocean- the crown of thorns starfish (COTS).  This is part of our coral reef conservation project, where we are funding the removal of a horrific plague of these venomous animals, which eat nothing but live corals, digesting the coral tissues and leaving behind the white skeletons. The COTS removal program is an emergency response leading up to a severe hot water coral bleaching event, which is predicted to hit our reefs from February until April.  Each adult COTS kills a saucer-sized bit of coral every day, and can live for years. Conservatively estimated, removing a single COTS saves 250 corals per year.  Last week we collected 450 COTS from Votua village, for use as chicken feed, paying a bounty of 25 cents USD for each.  Our goal is to remove at least ten thousand in the next six months, at a cost of US $2,500, saving over 2.5 million corals, providing a high protein, high calcium chicken food, and providing a much-needed cash income to the villagers.  We are encouraging the Fiji Government and other NGOs to support this effort for other communities during this coral bleaching crisis, in order to save the bleaching-resistant corals that do survive, helping the coral reefs adapt to the increasing temperatures caused by climate change.  

The villagers know how dangerous the toxic starfish are, as the local name is “Vula Walu” or “eight months”, as that is how long a COTS wound can last before healing.  So the program is helping make the waters safer for children to swim in again.  Each COTS has over a dozen arms covered in venomous spines.  The fishers load them into their canoes or used kayaks, bought from the closed resorts, and then spread them out on the shore to dry, until we come to collect them.  Their sharp thorns fortunately become dull on drying. They also lose their poisonous power, and so they can be more easily handled and ready to be eaten by the hungry chickens, eager for a nutrient rich natural supplement.  Dried COTS, stacked up like pancakes, are smashed before feeding to the chickens.  If they are not yet dry when we bring them in, we lay them out on the hill to dry at the farm.  

A gift of $25 towards this effort will remove 100 COTS, thereby saving 25,000 corals, while translating into joy for cash strapped families, and savings on happy chickens poultry feed, passed on to the farmers.  We will also begin offering baby chicks for trading in-kind for dried COTS, as a way of coastal communities becoming more more self-sufficient. 

U.S. donors, because of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed last spring by Congress, you may make up to a $300 cash donation to your favorite non-profit, and claim as a tax deduction next year, even if you don't itemize.  The IRS is encouraging citizens to utilize this special provision to benefit charities worldwide.

We're preparing for Yasa, a hurricane thought to arrive here in Fiji as a Category 4 within two days.  Yasa, in Fijian means sandalwood, and we grow some here at our permaculture farm. 

Godspeed to one and all during the holidays, Austin

Apakuki and Natanieli are excited about the catch!
Apakuki and Natanieli are excited about the catch!
Chickens enjoy picking coconut out of the shell
Chickens enjoy picking coconut out of the shell
Village Children Planting Hybrid Coconuts
Village Children Planting Hybrid Coconuts
Chicks one week apart in age
Chicks one week apart in age
Oct 13, 2020

Super Corals Replanted the Most Bleaching Impacted Reefs on Earth: Christmas Atoll, Kiribati

Making coral fragment leis for out-planting
Making coral fragment leis for out-planting

In spite of a spreading pandemic, I was able to travel to Christmas Island Kiribati with our C4C board member Simi Koto in early March.  While I focused on the coral nurseries, Koto focused on land-based livelihoods and agricultural self sufficiency as we work with communities to increase prosperity through better managment of natural resources and nature, including proposed no-fishing areas to help restore the coral reefs.

The coral reefs of Christmas Atoll experienced extremely hot water and an associated mass coral bleaching event that lasted for 14 months in 2015-2016, and that killed 95% of all corals and >>99% of branching corals.  The reefs are now dominated by dead coral rock, and a toxic microalgae has covered the rocks, working its way into the food chain, so that most reef fish have now become too poisonous to eat.  This fish flesh toxin is called "ciguatera", and it can be deadly or debilitating.  I ate reef fish on the atoll only once back in November, and became extremely ill. Taratau Kirata, the head of Fisheries, our major partner on the island, providing assistance with boats etc, was hospitalized last year from severe ciguatera poisoning, as have increasing numbers on the island. Many people have learned to avoid the problem by eating milkfish and deep ocean fish like Tuna, which are safe, however, an entire island community is at risk, and food security has certainly been compromised.  The long-term solution to this problem is to work to get corals back as the dominant species on the coral reefs of Christmas Island, and this is our long-term goal, working in partnership with mother nature, the island communities, and government. 

While it is impossible to replant the whole reef, it is possible to help re-boot and enhance natural recovery processes.  I will attach a document that has our Pacific-wide strategy, for any who might want more scientific information.  The strategy works to create small patches of "super corals" by planting small second generation branches trimmed from the nursery,  Within two years the corals grow to adult size and will begin spawning to produce coral larvae, sending them out into the water.  The coral patches in theory also serve as a strong settlement signal to any incoming coral larvae, and it has been proven that they share their resistant micro algae with the newcomers, spreading their resistance to future bleaching events.  

Our blaching resistant "super corals" have grown big within the coral nursery and we are at the stage where we must trim the mother corals and use the resulting branches to replant patches of corals back onto the reef.  Indeed the corals are becoming crowded, and trimming them also helps avoid competition in the nursery.  Each of the small 3-10cm coral fragments that result from this trimming are woven into the strands of thin ropes to creat a lei of corals, and then the lei is nailed to the dead reef, where each coral fragment grows, self-attach, and flourish on the reef.  We have replanted one coral patch on the reef where the corals are now adult-sized, and additional new patches were replanted in March at two sites.  Parrotfish bites are the worse problem we are facing, and so we are focusing on outplanting to increase the corals around the nursery, so that the parrotfish will have more corals to chew on - and so that hopefully there will be relatively less damage to each coral colony.  In addition to five Fisheries staff, six youth volunteers joined us in the work, and so the sessions became local capacity building sessions, creating positive vision for the future.    

Thanks to GlobalGiving, I have been able to return to the island twice per year since 2016, for a total of nine trips of 1-3 weeks each, accomplishing quite a lot.  The airplane only comes once a week- or it did until the pandemic began.  We were on the very last plane to leave the island in mid March, and flights have not yet resumed.  Others who stayed behind are still waiting.  As Kiribati has not has a single case of COVID-19, and as Fiji has had no community spread of the virus for over four months, there is talk of re-opening flights, so we look forward to returning soon.  

On returning, we are planning to upscale the work, focusing on more shallow reef sites acessible from shore, and involving more youth from each of the four villages of the island in the coral work, building understanding of coral reefs, the impacts of climate change, and the importance of the work on Christmas Island, as these humble efforts are now part of the leading edge of combatting the extinction of coral reefs globally.

Thanks again for your support and interest in this vital work. 

Out-planted coral lei- note the parrotfish bites!
Out-planted coral lei- note the parrotfish bites!
Kiritimati Super Coral Nursery
Kiritimati Super Coral Nursery
Corals are trimmed by parrotfish and grow rounded
Corals are trimmed by parrotfish and grow rounded
Planting mother corals onto an A-frame
Planting mother corals onto an A-frame

Attachments:
Sep 17, 2020

Happy Chickens Re-Imagined for Fiji Food Crisis!

Free-roaming kids & animals with Austin in shade
Free-roaming kids & animals with Austin in shade

Happy Chickens has been re-branded & re-imagined to meet the demands of the growing food crisis in Fiji.  We are still your favorite chicken project on GlobalGiving that you have known and supported these past five years, but now our mission has expanded to answer the need during the pandemic.  The world is at a standstill here in much of the South Pacific--island nations that we have helped with coral & food security workshops have halted ties to keep safe from the still spreading contagion.  Kiribati, New Caledonia, Samoa, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, for the most part Papua New Guinea and French Polynesia have closed off air traffic and shipping.  This is necessary because these nations have severely limited hospital capacity and historically the villages have no way to stop the spread.  There are no closed houses for quarantine isolation, only the traditional communal living which has afforded survival for generations.

Happy Chickens is ramping up to answer the call for food security in Fiji.  Even though our hatchery program has provided over 30,000 free or at-cost chickens, our yield must be increased to supplement the diets of so many.  No one knows when the high volume poultry shipments from New Zealand can resume.

Before I detail our newest developments at the sustainable, permaculture farm, let me show some of our happy scenes photographed by my son Akka and shared via blog by my wife Kim:

 These cocks squaring off:

Feathers are about to fly.

Looks like a big fight was about to happen. But what really happened is that one rooster chose to de-escalate matters by pretending to eat. ha ha.

Akka shot over this photo which he identified as “two white ducks that are always together.”

 

Best buds – whatever species they are.

I’m pretty sure that it is a pair of ganders.

Right now Austin is getting quotes from businesses with diggers because he landed a government grant for fish ponds! Akka and wife Monica are going to be raising some gigantic tilapia – as high quality Fish Food is part of the grant. The idea is that people raise the first batch of tilapia with government help, and then reserve part of the fish sales to pay for the high quality food for the next batch of fish. Grow, sell, repeat. If we can make this work, we can pass it on!

 

2015-09-04 avocado flower  Cr

 

The avocado tree is making flowers.  Akka adds this photo which shows some of the flora of our farm.  Woot woot – I guess we may be getting our own avocados soon.

Now returning to our re-branding to meet today's emergency situation in Fiji, here are some key elements from our GlobalGiving project page:

Challenge

Tourism, Fiji's biggest employer, has collapsed, forcing tens of thousands of unemployed to return to their villages. Many have resorted to farming and fishing, but lack skills and resources for sustainable practices. Coral reefs, already stressed by climate change, are becoming over-fished. Free range village chickens integrated into farming are a good alternative, but Fiji is dependent on imported chicks, and airfreight has slowed, resulting in a critical shortfall of baby chickens.

Solution

We have crossed local chicken breeds with imported breeds to produce highly productive birds well-adapted to local tropical conditions. Our answer to the crisis has been to ramp-up our Happy Chicken hatchery to >300 chicks/week and to train farmers to produce their own chicks, as well as to train communities in organic farming, with chickens integrated as a key element. With an alternative protein source, some coral reef areas can then be set aside within no-fishing "tabu" recovery zones.

Long-Term Impact

The cyclones destroy important traditional food sources. Improved island-type chickens are excellent foragers and reproduce well on their own, resulting in restored chicken flocks and lasting change. By offering housing & training for youth at our permaculture farm, we are starting a positive chain with our improved island-type chickens. As the world crisis tightens its grip on Fiji, we share seeds, root crop cuttings, and superior coconut seedlings, resulting in feeding >30,000 rural poor.

What began as a partnership and a shared vision with local farmers, indigenous communities throughout the South Pacific, and plain hard work by my extended family, has become one of the key components of addressing the food crisis in Fiji.  Our methods are inspired by the wisdom of my North Carolina ancestors regarding free-ranging chickens and breeding, and are enhanced by local tropically suited practices.  Happy Chickens is now achieving governmental recognition and may one day build upon that international humanitarian attention from agencies like the United Nations and the disaster relief arm of GlobalGiving.

All of this progress and the vision of a better future is sponsored by you!

Sincere thanks for believing we all can make a difference,

Austin Bowden-Kerby and my entire family here at Happy Chickens

 

 

 

 
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