Jun 17, 2020

In a Virus Free Fiji - the Coral Work Resumes!

Sarah and Keleni and Friends with Super Corals
Sarah and Keleni and Friends with Super Corals

Virus Free Fiji--A Victory for Communities and the Corals

FINALLY we are able to get moving again.  With the COVID-19 virus now absent from Fiji, the shut down has at last been lifted. We are now back in our Fiji sites and working hard. These sites went through a bleaching and a hurricane during the lockdown, with no one to maintain them.  Fortunately, the nurseries did amazingly well; all five coral nurseries and reef restoration sites withstood this onslaught of Mother Nature, with relatively minor damage.  The coral nurseries now contain thousands of bleaching resistant “super corals”, which are trimmed periodically to produce seed fragments for use in replanting patches of coral reefs after major bleaching kills the corals.

Here's a fascinating Corals 101 Fact: When we made the five nurseries, we saw astounding numbers of baby corals appear in the coming months, which researchers now say is related to the coral larvae being attracted to the smell of corals, and so we apparently created a strong settlement signal with our nurseries!  So restoring the corals to a reef does not mean replanting the whole reef, but only to create a settlement signal with a few patches of concentrated corals.  

For these Mamanuca Island sites, Corals for Conservation has been in a partnership with Plantation Island Resort for five years now, and the reefs around the resort have over time become a model training site, with the resort assisting with transport to the island, boats for the coral work, budget accommodation, meals, and free training venues.  We have so far trained 38 Fijians to become professional coral gardeners, and two of these coral gardeners (Sarah and Merekelini), both University Marine Studies graduates, have worked as professional coral gardeners and guest marine educators at the resort for the past two years.  Unfortunately, these women were laid off without pay in March due to the temporary closing of the resort, as Fiji stopped all incoming flights and all tourism.  The resort was badly damaged by the cyclone, and all inter-island transport banned, so we were unable to do any coral related work.  Once the ban on transport was lifted in early May, the resort went into intense action to repair the damage, so we were not yet able to come back in.  When the major repairs were completed, the resort graciously invited me back, plus they brought the coral gardeners back on for two weeks of intensive coral work, which has just now been completed.  Amazing progress was made: 1,000 corals were moved to safer waters free from "killer algae" smothering. We are all exhausted and nursing coral cuts-- I even sustained  a bad toxic Crown of Thorns starfish poke to the finger. 

Even though the resort is closed and without income, Plantation Island Resort has nevertheless agreed to provide housing, meals, boats for the work, and bi-weekly transport to and from the main island for our coral gardeners, if C4C can pay these two hard working women their wages. These stewardship efforts are so essential for the progress of critical reef restoration and nursery sites.   We are writing up our results as a technical report and will be back soon, hopefully with a group of local trainees.   

Professional Coral Gardeners Key to Reef & Resort Partnerships

While every resort has gardeners for the land, our goal is that all reef using resorts will take on coral gardeners for the sea, to care for the natural resources and to help the coral reef survive into the future. The coral gardeners work to counter any negative impact that tourists might have, while educating the guests, and helping the coral reef adapt to the warming waters caused by climate change.  Our goal is for “Professional Coral Gardener” to become a certificate level profession and to create a hundred or more new jobs for bright young Pacific Islanders, so that pockets of coral reefs survive and thrive into the future under the care of loving and skilled hands. 

As part of this initiative, and parallel to the strategy with the resorts, we work with indigenous reef-owning communities, considering them as a major part of the solution.  We help by addressing poverty-driven overfishing of resources, and stimulating the restoration of fish and other marine resources, creating marine resource management plans, no fishing areas, and alternative livelihoods.  The chiefs are interested in working with the tourism industry and government to create a permanent marine park for conserving the area, and C4C is facilitating this process.    

Healthy coral reefs provide abundant fish, sandy beaches, and are a vital tourism resource.  The biggest threat to the survival of coral reefs is Global Warming, as the ocean is becoming hotter with each passing year.  Hot water causes the corals to become sick and to lose their colors- a process called bleaching.  However, some corals are resistant to this bleaching, and can tolerate the hotter water.  The reefs around Plantation Island Resort are very shallow, and have proven ideal for selecting hot water adapted, bleaching resistant  “super corals,” and our nurseries are filled with a diversity of these amazing corals. 

In partnership with the resort we have so far carried out three local workshops starting in 2016. Since 2019, we have run three international “Coral Gardening for Climate Change Adaptation” workshops, attracting over 75 people from as far away as Brazil, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Samoa, Hawaii, Guam, Australia, Israel, and New Zealand.  We are now going ahead and preparing to host our next series of Fiji-focused coral gardening training workshops at the resort, starting as early as July for Fiji. Then as flights reopen in the region, we plan to include regional trainees due to high demand for the program.  We are submitting proposals to raise additional funding for this work, and the resort is willing to lower their charges to  break-even cost, to help keep the resort functional.

During the Crisis Time an Opportunity to Re-invent Tourism Industry

This crisis is the best time to re-invent the tourism industry to become more sustainable and to better protect the environment. The tourism industry of the South Pacific greatly depends on the coral reefs, yet the old ways were damaging the environment.  Coral gardening, if it is done by properly trained professionals, and as part of a wider conservation plan (and of course using the super corals), can help the corals survive into the future, while providing meaningful livelihoods for Pacific islanders.

JULY 15TH IS GLOBAL GIVING'S NEXT BONUS DAY:  GIFTS FROM $250 TO $1,000 RECEIVE A 30% TO 50% MATCH.  

Every gift is precious at any time.  Your thoughtful donations continue to restore life to ensure a dynamic, thriving reef seascape--one of our planet's richest ecosystems.

Here's a link which includes a fun minute video from Northern Lau by Vatuvara Foundation:  Watch--it's just like being with us> https://www.vatuvara.org/blog/2020/6/8/coral-restoration-in-northern-lau-for-a-healthy-and-safe-ocean?fbclid=IwAR05rltlFqB0tkTyNAbd9BYvtwZJPSUBOUj__kxYlW5hCPWtZr1EZ3mVEHM  

Thanks for helping make this important work a reality,

Austin

Transporting corals to the new algae-free nursery
Transporting corals to the new algae-free nursery
Volunteer helpers: Beka, Jope, and Joni
Volunteer helpers: Beka, Jope, and Joni
Securing mother corals to the nursery table
Securing mother corals to the nursery table
Mother corals will be trimmed to restore reefs
Mother corals will be trimmed to restore reefs
Team Coral:  Keleni, Tevita, Austin, and Sarah
Team Coral: Keleni, Tevita, Austin, and Sarah
May 26, 2020

Roosters and Coconuts to the Rescue

Fiji Salusalu Rooster
Fiji Salusalu Rooster

The colorful roosters are coming into their own high season here at the Happy Chicken farm- time for rebuilding and improving the flock to meet the increasing need for baby chicks.  The country is shut down due to Corona virus and imported chicks can no longer be flown into the country from New Zealand. Fiji normally imports over 20 million fertile eggs and chicks per year, providing poultry and eggs to much of the South Pacific region, but this crisis is affecting air transport. 

If you've been following the hen and rooster tales recently, you'll recall our flock has taken some hard hits and suffered severe set-backs....so much so that we've had to sell off most of our six flocks and to rebuild the nucleus of our superior breeders from the chickens that were not affected.  In Fiji we call the foraging local chickens "jangli chickens" - a Hindi word, as we have a lot of people of Indian descent here. The word jangli means "wild"- the same word root as "jungle".

Breeding and then Choosing Mr. Right Rooster:

We tried for seven years to bring in heritage chicken breeds from overseas, but it proved impossible, so we worked to create our own productive dual purpose (for both eggs and meat), mixed breed of chickens.  We started by selecting the best local jangli roosters we could find and crossing them with imported shaver brown egg laying chickens, which were the only egg chickens allowed into the country from overseas.  Every year we raised up at least a hundred of these mixed breed chickens, and we sold off the smaller roosters and hens, and kept the biggest and the most beautiful.  So over the past ten years or so, we have produced a very productive mixed breed of chickens for the communities..... and the breed has gotten better with each passing year primarily through selecting the best roosters from each generation.

A good hen lays eggs for three years, but in mixed age flocks, (which most flocks are here), the farmers cannot tell how old each hen is, so it is just a guessing game for retiring hens from the flock.  So we are now trying to create specific breeds of chickens so that the farmers can know how old their hens are, and so they will know which ones to select for culling (those that are ~4 years old). That is what my grandmother taught me, and really the only way to manage a multi-year flock.

Each breed is based on a unique color or form.  On researching the internet, we found that for some breeds, the hens and roosters do not look anything like each other- so it's challenging, yet fun deciding which roosters to pair up with which sorts of hens, as I divide the chickens up into reasonable breeding groups, based on the closest heritage breeds.  We have some real beauties here at the farm, and I include some photos below from two of the new breeding groups.  From these groups we will soon collect the eggs and hatch the chicks and raise them up and then further select for size and color and egg production.  We hope that after three years, we will have created several good breeds for the country. 

I looked online yesterday at chicken breeds to try to figure out what some of my interesting chickens must be related to Norfolk Gray chickens, very rare breed, which seems to have somehow gotten to Fiji long ago. We are calling these gray/white fringed chickens "Saluasalu" chickens which means "flower lei".  Many of the happy chickens look somewhat like the Welsummer breed, and others.  In time we hope to produce breeds that look like Sussex, Australorp, Rhode Island Red, and Anconas.  One of the new breeding groups is a shiny greenish black rose comb chicken-some with small red markings around the neck, and with beautiful gold and red roosters with a glossy greenish black tail.  The Rose Comb birds are one of my best layers, but these hens also often hide their eggs in the bushes. The disappear for three weeks, only to reappear with a dozen fuzzy chicks following behind. For local farmers, these chickens will be important for hatching out their own chickens, and the rose comb eggs can be substituted for any eggs.

Addressing Impending Food Shortfalls Due to Covid-19 Import Restrictions:

Besides significant damage to the local farmers and village comunities from two cyclones since our last report, the most important development is that there is a developing shortage of imported egg laying chickens, which are required to maintain the egg industry of Fiji.  The imported chicks are no longer available, as the cargo flights are so few. In 6-9 months a shortage of eggs is expected to develop, and this situation might last for up to two years. W ithout egg producing chickens and abundant eggs, coral reef fish and river prawns will be targeted and could quickly become overfished. Our challenge now is how can we produce more high quality egg producing chickens in larger numbers- and quickly in the hatchery? 

With the culling of most of our hens last year, we are now getting only eight dozen eggs per week for hatching, not enough to scratch the surface of the needs.  So I called Pranil, a local egg and organic vegetable farmer on the coral coast, as he has 330 young brown egg layer hens, and I proposed to buy 20 of his hens for crossing with some of my best roosters, as I had five surplus breeding roosters.  What ended up happening is that I have given him five of my five best super roosters as barter, and he will give me ten dozen fertile eggs per each rooster, or a total of 50 dozen eggs, which I will hatch and begin distributing to the farmers as a 1/2 to 3/4 egg bird cross.  Subsequent eggs from Pranil's farm will be hatched in our incubators and the chicks will split 50/50 between Pranil and the Happy Chicken project.  The eggs produced from these Fiji egg layer chickens will be of mixed colors, as three of the breeding roosters hatched from a light blue egg, they will father hens which lay olive green eggs, as dark brown + blue = olive green.  I will grow up 100 or so of these chickens, to see how fast they grow and how many eggs they lay etc for comparison with imported egg layers.  Assuming that they do really well, we will then have multi colored layers available for free-range small egg farmers.  That would help give the poor farmers of Fiji a boost.  So fingers crossed that this will work out for maximum benefit for all.  The first eight dozen of these eggs went into the incubator just yesterday.

Coconuts as Chicken and Human Food: Another long term vision is finally coming true!

After placing an order and paying for improved coconut seedlings four years ago, the seedlings finally arrived at the farm just two weeks ago!  The 5,000 coconut seedlings came by boat and truck all the way from Taveuni Island, three hundred kilometers distant.   When the trees mature in only five or six years, the they will bear magnificent large coconuts the size of soccer balls.  So we are also giving out these wonderful coconut seedlings to communities and to farmers of our happy chickens. The coconuts make excellent chicken feed, as well as human food plus numerous useful products, such as virgin coconut oil, vegan coconut cheese, toddy sugar, toddy vinegar, and soap.  We have begun training communities in production of these products, using coconuts already growing at the farm.

Salusalu Hens- Real Beauties
Salusalu Hens- Real Beauties
Fiji Rosecomb Rooster and Hens
Fiji Rosecomb Rooster and Hens
Pranil and brother and their organic farm
Pranil and brother and their organic farm
Happy Rooster and Imported Egg Layer Hens
Happy Rooster and Imported Egg Layer Hens
Coconut Seedlings by the Truck-load
Coconut Seedlings by the Truck-load
May 26, 2020

Rooster Tales: Resplendent Chickens Food for Fiji

Fiji Rose Comb
Fiji Rose Comb

The colorful roosters are coming into their own high season here at the Happy Chicken farm.  It is a time for rebuilding and improving the flock to meet community needs for baby chicks, as the country is shut down due to Corona virus and imported chicks are not being flown into the country from New Zealand.  Fiji normally imports over 20 million fertile eggs and day-old chicks and provides poultry and eggs to the South Pacific region.

If you've been following the hen and rooster tales recently, you'll recall our flock has taken some hard hits and suffered severe set-backs....so much so that we've had to sell off most of our six flocks and to rebuild the nucleus of our superior breeders from the chickens that were not affected.

In Fiji we call the foraging chickens "jangli chickens" - a Hindi word, as we have a lot of people of Indian descent here. The word jangli means "wild", and wildlands in India are known as "jungle".  Everyone  says that jungli chicken tastes so good, not like the mass produced (unhappy) ones raised on big poultry farms. The fresh eggs are also wonderful and of all colors- cream, brown, green and even light blue! 
Choosing Mr. Right Rooster:
We tried for seven years to bring in heritage chicken breeds from overseas, but it proved impossible, so we worked to create a productive dual purpose (for both eggs and meat), mixed breed of chickens.  We started by selecting the best local roosters we could find and crossing them with imported shaver brown egg laying chickens, which were one of two types of chickens allowed into the country from overseas (the other breed proved unusable).  Every year we raised up at least a hundred mixed breed chickens, and from that we sold off the smaller roosters and hens, and kept the biggest and the most beautiful.  So we produced a very productive mixed breed of chickens for the communities over time and it got better with each passing year.  
A good hen lays eggs for three years, but in mixed age flocks, (which most are), the farmer usually can not tell how old each hen is, so it is just a guessing game for retiring hens from the flock.  So we are now trying to create specific breeds of chickens, so that the farmers can know how old their hens are. That way they will know which ones to select for culling (4+ year olds).  Researching on the Internet, we found that for some breeds, the hens and roosters do not look anything like each other- so it's challenging, yet fun.  I am now dividing the chickens up into reasonable breeding groups, based on the closest heritage breeds I can find photos of.  We have some real beauties here at the farm, and I include some photos below of the new breeding groups I have created.  From these groups we will collect the eggs and hatch the chicks and raise them up and then further select for size and color and egg production, and after three years, we might get some very good breeds for the country.  
That is what my grandmother taught me, and really the only way to manage a multi-year flock.  I looked online yesterday at chicken breeds to try to figure out what some of my interesting chickens must be related to.  Norflok Gray, a very rare breed, seems to have somehow gotten to Fiji long ago, also Welsummer.  I can get Sussex and Australorps and Rhode Island Reds, and Anconas, or something that looks similar. One of the breeds is a black rose comb chicken with small red markings around the neck.  With these beautiful mostly gold and red roosters, I get what seems to be one of my best layer birds, but these hens often want to set and hatch their eggs. I need to take some good photos of each group. 
The hardest thing is to choose the right rooster for the hens of a particular sort, because the hens and roosters do not look anything like each other in many breeds.
  
If I create the breeds, will people keep them true to form? Or does it fall apart when I am gone?
 
Addressing Looming Food Shortfall Due to Covid-19 Import Restrictions:
Even more important development is that the chicks of the egg chickens that are needed to maintain the egg industry in Fiji are no longer available in Fiji as the cargo flights are so few. Thus in 9-12 months a shortage of eggs might develop.  We do not know how long this situation will hold, but it might be for two years?  Without chickens and eggs the poor coral reef fish will have no chance, so our time has come.  How can we produce more high quality egg birds in larger numbers?  
At the moment, we culled out 75% of our chickens late last year, as we had 
had diseases and I was too involved with the corals, plus the hatchery manager resigned as she has a baby. So I am only getting about two dozen eggs a day, up from one dozen last week and only half a dozen the week before that.  I have about 70 hens, and so I will be getting 4-6 dozen eggs per day by the end of June.  
I called Pranil, a local egg farmer on the coast who I know, as he has 330 young brown egg layer hens. I had wanted to buy 20 of them for crossing with some of my best roosters, but what ended up happening is that I have given him five of my best super roosters as barter. Next he will give me ten dozen fertile eggs per each rooster, or a total of 50 dozen eggs, which I will hatch and begin distributing to the farmers as a 1/2 to 3/4 egg bird cross.  Three of ten roosters hatched from a green egg, so I expect some olive egg layers. 
Out of the cross, which is the result of dark brown + blue color gene, I will also grow up 50 or so of the chickens. That way I can see how fast they grow and how many eggs they lay etc. for comparison. If they do really well, then we will have layers of 3-4 colors available for free-range small egg farmers.  That would really help give the poor farmers a boost.  
So fingers crossed that this will work out for maximum benefit for all.
We are also giving out the wonderful coconuts to the farmers and especially those with happy chickens. 5,000 coconut seedlings (back-ordered from 2 years ago & when mature will boast magnificent coconuts) is a lot to deal with.
The chickens all seem healthy now and we sold off 60 of the smallest roosters as they were fighting. At least 7 of the best ones went into breeding on other farms- I could not see people eating those good ones. I still have too many, but how to part with such good stock?  Saving them for when I find a farmer like Pranil with some good hens to cross them with sounds like a plan.

Our Reigning Super Star Rooster:

Let me introduce our prince of a rooster, Salusalu, so named because his showy neck rings give him the appearance of wearing a flower lei.  He's plump, he's feisty, he's LOUD, he's irresistible, and I find him to be a spirit lifter and interesting company when I go about my morning seed scattering chores.  He's so dominant that he gives me confidence the stock will gain increased hardiness during his reign.

Now there have been some mysterious happenings out at the chicken yard.  For starters, Hurricane Harold blew through Fiji with a force not foreseen by anyone.  The rain was pelting us for days prior and the wind was steadily becoming stronger.  I had made my way out to board up the chicken keeper's house, as an extra precaution, and found I could not make headway back to my house.  I retreated to shelter with the chickens and our three geese.  Who knew what might happen, when POW, the neighbor's roof blew off.  Even the tree where the horse was tethered teetered and fell, but the horse had enough sense to get clear.  In all the commotion, it was difficult to assess damage.

Next followed nine days without main power, and our cistern of stored water was running down.  Luckily, our hatchery has solar power, and that's where we recharged our phone batteries to stay in touch with the outside world.  

Last week, I lost two roosters.  I thought they had been stolen, but turned out this was not the case.  The crafty fellows had ducked under a tear in the fence.  Often I use what's on hand for repairs, so I proceeded to fix the spot.  Why not re-enforce with the thorns of a bougainvillea?  It soon became evident that what started out as a good idea, lacked a great deal in application.  Yes, the fence was fixed, but I came away with my hands and face pierced and considerably worse for wear.  In one of my better moves, I hired some neighbors to help with the bigger hurricane clean-up tasks.

Happy Chicken land is disease free and gearing up to a return of full chicken levels of 300 chicks per week.  A big unknown in the food security of Fiji is whether New Zealand will become Covid-19 free.  This is critical because factory bred chickens from there account for 20 million per year.  We know these imported standard chickens are not well suited to our tropical climate, but for the present they account for a huge portion of the market.  Our methods using natural foraging and supplementing with some other nutrition from unused parts of the coconuts is far superior, but the scale is small.  Our plan is to continue breeding and sharing heat hardy, more self-sufficient chickens suitable for supplying villages and culturally the best way to go.

We are ever grateful to all you have done to make this vision of tropical happy chickens a reality.  Your generosity has kept the breeding program alive during some bumps and now your help is bringing the production levels safely back up to capacity.  

Salusalu (Flower Lei) Rooster
Salusalu (Flower Lei) Rooster
Salusalu Hens
Salusalu Hens
Salusalu Chickens - Creating a New Breed for Fiji
Salusalu Chickens - Creating a New Breed for Fiji
Fiji Rosecomb Chickens Make Excellent Mother Hens
Fiji Rosecomb Chickens Make Excellent Mother Hens
 
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