Feb 6, 2019

Another Milestone Achieved

Rahul with his happy chickens on a rainy day.
Rahul with his happy chickens on a rainy day.

The Happy Chicken project reached another milestone in January, with over thirty thousand chicks produced and distributed over the past six years.  In 2018 we conducted happy chicken workshops at the training centre for communties from the remote islands of Taveuni, Kadavu, and Beqa, and from two communities from the province of Naitasiri.  

Our first workshop of 2019 started yesterday, with seven youth coming five hours by bus and carrier from the remote interior village of Nandelei in Tavua.  As always we have head-started chicks to the two-month old stage, so they have a high probability of survival and will begin laying in only four more months.  The community will take over a hundred of these back with them to grow into their own breeding flock.

Our hatchery is closed for two months as we are installing solar power thanks to a grant from New Zealand. Also the number of eggs laid is down to a tenth of what we get in the high season, as most of the hens are undergoing their annual molt, changing their feathers and building up resources for another year of laying.  All the hens free-range and have constant access to forage, their pen doors are open all day, which can be a problem at times with chicken poo on the doorstep or hens sometimes trying to hide a nest and hatch their own chicks.  We had three such renegade nests thatch last year, only seen when the mother hen parades her chicks into full view.  We quickly put the hen with her brood into a mobile rearing pen to protect the chicks from hawks and mongooses.   

We continue to be improve our diverse mixed breed by rearing up a hundred or so chicks every year, and then selecting the largest roosters, and changing the older roosters for the younger males, selling off the older roosters to the neighbors during the New Year holiday when relatives come calling.  The hens lay for 3-4 years, and are retired only when they begin stop laying well.  Our eggs are distinctively diverse in color, ranging from dark brown, to tan, to white, to cream, and even to light blue and green, and we have seen these eggs for sale manay times in the Sigatoka market this past year, which is a good indicator off project success. 

I will close with a story of Rahul, pictured below with his Happy Chickens.  This is the boy who became the head of the house when he was just 14- caring for his younger sister and unmarried aunt.   His mother died of cancer in 2015, and his father, a bus driver, was shortly afterwards imprisoned for five years, all because a young teenage passenger on his bus jumped from the bus unexpectedly and as killed.  Without going into detail on this injustice, we have been helping Rahul in several ways, including happy chickens.  Two years ago, Rahul successfully raised up several dozen chickens, selling the eggs.  He recently he sold off the older birds to help support the family, and he is now is raising up another lot of chckens as he continues developing his small business.  His father wil be released in January, 2020.  Which will be a big relief, and Rahul will graduate from secondary school in 2021.

Thank you all for making these works of love possible.

Junia teaching the trainees
Junia teaching the trainees
Pausing for reflection during the lessons
Pausing for reflection during the lessons
Feb 5, 2019

Happy Chicken Workshop for Nadelei, Ba Province

Participants at breakfast this morning
Participants at breakfast this morning

Greetings to all of our donors and supporters.  Just yesterday, 4th February, 2019 we began our lastest workshop for the communities affected by Cyclone Winston.  Seven youth came by bus and carrier from remote Nandelei Village, in Ba province to our Teitei Livelihoods Centre and happy chicken farm, about five hours distant.  US Peace Corps volunteer, Glenn Hall, organized the Nadelei youth group and found additional support funds. 

Many of the participants lost their homes during the cyclone, and one of the participants had been badly injured as well, while others had family members who were badly injured as their homes crashed down on them-  in the southern hemisphere's strongest ever recorded cyclone. While fortunately none were killed in the village, everyone suffered great material loss. The good news is that almost three years later, reconstruction is nearing completion, crops are now thriving, and most homes have been rebuilt.

The village had previously been known for its many chickens, but most ot the chickens were killed in the cyclone, as the huricane hit at night while the chickens slept in the trees.  The goal now is to improve the local chicken farming methods, so that the chickens sleep in cyclone resistant houses, while continuing to be free-range, while also improving the size and egg laying ability of the breeds through crossing the surviving chickens with our improved Happy Chicken mixed breed.    

The youth are very excited to be learning the happy chicken methods, while also learning about the bigger picture and facilitating the wider development of the village.  For example, as coconut is so important to the food security of the community and as animal feed, and as there are so few coconut trees remaining, the planting of coconut trees must receive a major focus and so we plan on sending coconut seedings back with the group, along with the six-week old chicks we are also sending.  

As electricity has now been restored to the village, we have promised to send a small incubator to the youth group, once the chickens are laying, so that the project can grow under local inititive. We will continure to follow up with the Nadelei community for the next 2-3 years, through our project officer Simi Koto and the Peace Corps volunteer and his replacement.

As the disaster response is coming to a close at three years, and as we are coming close to our original goal, we are now planning to merge the disaster project into the main "Happy Chickens for Food Secirity and Environment" project on Global Giving.  If you wish to continue supporting our work, please give to the main project. 

Vinaka vakalevu - thank you for making this important work of love possible.

Nicole Raivoka teaching about the chickens
Nicole Raivoka teaching about the chickens
Jan 28, 2019

Update on the Mass Coral Bleaching and Our Urgent Response

Super Corals moved from hot pockets to cool water
Super Corals moved from hot pockets to cool water

The mass bleaching continues unabated for the Gilbert Island chain, Kiribati, with the deep ocean waters over 35C or 95F since September, and most of the corals will now likely have died.  But the sad thing is that no one has checked- there is no program- there is no plan.  This is a natural disaster hidden below the waves and out of sight.  We hope to do something, but are focusing on saving corals at this time, not on recording dead ones- it is so frustrating- like being a single medic in the midst of a massive battle. 

The Line Islands, also part of Kiribati, experienced a 14-month bleaching in 2015-16, and >95% of their corals died, and we are the only ones working to bring those corals back.  We last travelled there in December, on our fifth trip, and wonderful things are beginning to happen with the nursery work there.  I will report on that work next time, and perhaps some on the Fiji work as well, or maybe write some extra reports. But for this report, I report on something even more important.  

In September, I begin the coral adaptation work on Funafuti Atoll, funded by the government of Tuvalu.  Afterwards, in October, reports of bleaching began to come in.  However, the government budget was all spent, so they could not pay my way back so soon.  In November, funded by you through GlobalGiving, I travelled once more to Tuvalu, to the great surprise of government officials, who willingly provided boats and materials.  The Ministry of Fisheries and the traditional Kapule chiefs sent helpers for training, and it was a alot of fun.  Wonderful lunches were provided by the Ridge to Reef program, while GlobalGiving covered the airfare from Fiji and helped with accommodation costs.  Corals for Conservation, as always, provided the leadership and traing at no cost. 

The coral reefs are indeed badly stressed with hot water, with temperatures of 33C recorded for the main lagoon, but fortunately most corals remained in a state of less severe bleaching, with most only partially bleached. But the bleaching since November has gotten worse, as expected based on reports.  Local capacity has been built. 

The emergency work on Funafuti focused on identifying hot pockets of water in the shallowest parts of the lagoon, and collecting samples of each unbleached coral found there, for re-loaction to cooler water nurseries. 

Our experience on Christmas Island taught us that despite these corals located in the the hot pockets being the most bleaching resistant of all the corals, surviving in temperatures of 37-38 unbleached, the mass bleaching event can bring temperatures over 40C = 104F in the shallows, which is too hot for even the most resistant of the corals to survive.  So the trip was a coral rescue mission.  We were able to secure about 400 genotypes of branching corals in this manner.  

Fortunately there are no Crown of Thorns starfish to worry about on these atolls, only some coral-eating Drupella snails, which can not reach the nursery ropes.

A second objective of the trip was to trial iron treatments- as a way of raising bleaching thresholds, as atoll environments are extremely low in iron, which weakens the corals.  Two sections of reef were treated with slow-release iron chelate. The corals brought in to the nurseries were also treated in an iron chelate solution for an hour, as recommended by aquarium experts as a means of lessening bleaching caused by the stress of moving the corals during a period of warm waters and high uv.  

The government has refilled their coffers and have now promiosed to pay my way back to Tuvalu in March for two weeks of follow up on Funafuti and expanding the nurseries to three additional atolls.  I am eager to get back and to see how the nurseries are faring in the bleaching, and if the iron treatments have helped reduce coral mortality. 

It is obvious that we greatly need traing in these countries for monitoring and coral adaptation programs, as well as a well funded multi-decade coral focused adaptation program.  If these waters were USA or French territories, I can imagine that at the very least, monitoring would be taking place, and the seriousness of the bleaching and mass coral death would be reported.  

But on the positive side, I was on BBC radio last week, and also on ABC TV Australia and Radio Australia- speaking about this work and the seriousness of the bleaching- and all in one week!   I have added the links below. 

The mass bleaching is now predicted to hit Samoa and Fiji by late March and April, and it is frustrating and scary, and I am feeling far too alone.  But please know this: what we are doing is paving the way- proving methods and strategies that will one day benefit the coral reefs everywhere.  I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your assistance. 

Austin

Cooler water nursery filled with super corals
Cooler water nursery filled with super corals
Tuvalu's first 'super coral' nursery
Tuvalu's first 'super coral' nursery
Big staghorn coral thickets beginning to bleach
Big staghorn coral thickets beginning to bleach
Bright blue colors, a sign of bleaching
Bright blue colors, a sign of bleaching
SEEKING OUT SUPER CORALS
SEEKING OUT SUPER CORALS

Links:

 
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