Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!

by Corals for Conservation
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!

My Dear Friends, 

Progress has been made with a Happy Chicken manual being created for Vanuatu and the Pacific Region.  The planned Vanuatu trip and workshop has now been delayed due to super-cyclone Winston which hit Fiji in February with winds even stronger than Cyclone Pam which hit a year ago in Vanuatu- sustained winds were in excess of 250 km/hr, the strongest storm on record for the region and only 5km weaker than Typhoon Hainan which hit the Philippines two years back.   The focus for now has shifted to Fiji. 

I just returned from the Motuiki Island Fiji site.  I am still in shock. I got off the boat and rushed back for the big weekly disaster committee meeting that is coodinating the relief efforts of the various NGOs. Each org was taking turns telling what they had accomplished. I told the story of the destruction and suffering that I had seen and got all choked up and could not even finish. Houses I had stayed in and where I had eaten lunch and had coral workshop meetings were just GONE, or they only had one or two walls left standing. The waves washed over the three villages and reached far inland and the wind blasted the houses that were on higher ground. We know these people well on a first name basis and know the kids since they were babies and it was just so hard seeing this. Tai and Joe's house in Daku was smashed, Jone and Kasa's house is a pile of concrete rubble, Timoci and Kesaia's house in Uluibau has one standing wall but the kitchen where Kesa made donuts and delicious food for us somehow survived! The fisher woman who used to help us with the coral reef project every time (Lavenia) had her house completely erased by the waves, along with everything she owned.  Fortunately noone was killed- because the storm hit in the daytime, and even some village chickens survived!  But there are a lot of injuries and with clean water hard to come by, skin diseases and infections are becoming common. 

Four Fiji based NGOs have now expressed great interest in introducing the project into their community sites as a food security measure post cyclone, as free range chickens can find most of their food, unlike pigs; which we are advising people to sell now as they will eat food that humans will need in the coming months. Coconut trees are down or badly damaged and while there are plenty of fallen nuts, they will soon be used up.  All other food crops of the communities are badly damaged or destroyed, and so they are existing on donated food rations. 

So many trees down and brown piles of vegetation and very little rain so the danger of wildfire is inceasing as well. One thing I do know is that this is the site most needy of our efforts, and where we will implement all three projects. We delivered three chain saws and will return next week with some two week old Happy Chickens for the women to care for (good for mental health at this time as many need to focus on somethng positive), sweet potato cuttings, corn and pumpkin seeds, etc.

Another NGO, Global Vision International has set up on the lovely reef island of Caqalai, which escaped most of the damage and they are providing transport to and from the villages and a place to sleep and eat, so we are not a burden on the frail village infrastructure. They also will be head-starting the chickens for us and will only transfer them when they are 3-4 weeks old and when the communities have the chicken houses completed (built from the materials of former homes). 

We also will run a three-day wokshop in early April from our farm and hatchery in Sigatoka (which escaped most of the damage), plus visits to advanced Happy Chicken village sites, with selected women from Moturiki plus representatives from other organizations. Trainees will become community resources for the project.  I will personally invite the women mentioned above (Kasa and Levinia and Kesaia), to the workshop due to their leadeship skills and past volunteer spirit.  Thanks again for making all of this work possible!   

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Rangorango Chicken Farmers
Rangorango Chicken Farmers

The Happy Chicken Project is focused on improving the well-being of communities through focusing on chickens as a high quality protein food source, both for eggs and meat. Rural communities rely on wild caught fish, shellfish, birds, and stream fauna for much of their protein, and improving the productivity of chickens in rural communities can thus decrease this reliance on these wild-caught foods, helping nature recover from overfishing and overhunting.  For areas far from the sea, chickens are a particularly vital food security resource.  Chickens create new resources for communities, as free range village chickens are able to access feeds that otherwise cannot be used by people: worms, bugs, wild plants and grasses, etc., and converting them into usable high protein food.  The Vanuatu project is initiated in response to the severe category 5 Hurricane “Pam” which hit Tanna and Efate Islands in 2015.

The Vanuatu host and partner organization was the newly registered Vanuatu NGO, Human Capacity Development International (HDCI), which arranged all field visits, meetings with government, airport pickups and drop offs, and Efate transport. Housing at Port Vila was kindly provided by Caren Bough, board member of HDCI and the Bough family.

Ministry of Agriculture 5th November:  Met with Acting Director of Livestock, and Senior Livestock Officer. The purpose of the meeting was to share the vision of the project and to get their input as far as how we might proceed in accessing more highly productive chicken breeds.  They expressed support for the project and offered the names of people and companies who we should contact.

Farmers Support Association 6th November: Met with administrators of FSA. The organization runs a store to supply seeds and farming supplies, as well as imported chicken feeds etc.  They also provide chicks to farmers.  They are very much interested in local feed sources and feel it is a very important objective of the project.   They also might be interested in accessing improved local breeds and Muscovy ducks from Fiji should we become certified for export.  FSA has a poultry project through Live and Learn Foundation.  FSA provides chicks every two months to farmers.  They are brought in by Pepe’s Farm as fertile eggs from New Zealand and New Caledonia and are then purchased as day-olds and raised for two weeks (the most critical time for the birds).  At two weeks, they are subsequently sold on to the farmers.  Breeds provided are:  Shaver sex-linked egg birds- the females are brown and males are white.   The cost to the farmer at two weeks is 500VT for females and 350VT for the males. 

Pepe’s Farm 15th November:  We met with the owners of the only Vanuatu Hatchery, which brings in fertile eggs from New Zealand and New Caledonia.   Day-old Shaver egg producing chickens are 360VT for females and 150VT for males.  Cob meat birds are 180VT each for day-old unsexed chicks.  Three dual purpose (for both meat and eggs) heritage breeds are also being brought in: Sussex, Plymouth Barred Rocks, and brown Naked Necks, available for 270VT each as day-olds.  These heritage breeds are brought in from Ferme de Koe, New Caledonia.  An inspection of the farm indicate that Marek’s disease may be present, with several paralyzed adult chickens observed in the pens.  It is possible to vaccinate against Marek’s disease by adding vaccine to the chick’s water.

Efate Communities

We visited Waden’s farm in the Rangorango community. We produced a mobile rearing pen and gave the materials for the production of an additional one to Ms Waden.  The main problem of dog and cat and hawk and rat predation can be solved by using this simple technology, greatly increasing chicken numbers.  We were very pleased to see a rooster among the chickens of Rangorango that appears to be nearly full blood White Leghorn, an extremely productive chicken, a “heritage breed” that was the mainstay of egg production up until two decades ago.  We encouraged the farmers to breed this rooster with the hyline hens that they are keeping, and to hatch the fertile eggs under some local broody hens.

Care Office and Agriculture Station, Tanna 11th November:  Met with the staff in the Care office, followed by a visit to the Agriculture Station to view the chickens.

In partnership with Agriculture, Care has brought in the three heritage breeds plus the standard commercial breeds through Pepe’s Farm, and they have distributed thousands of chicks plus feed to the communities, with the concept being that the chickens would be eaten when the feed ran out. A pen with about a hundred heritage chickens of the three breeds are housed at the Agriculture station in Lanakel.  

We discussed with Care staff the value of the heritage breeds as genetic resources and how they were well adapted to the village free-range life, while being vastly more productive than the local breeds. We stressed the importance of not killing the heritage breeds for food, but rather to encourage the communities to use them as breeding stock to cross with the local chickens to greatly improve the productivity: both egg laying and meat production.  This was much appreciated, as the plan was for communities to eat the chickens rather than improve the local stock.   There is no plan for the long term maintenance of the heritage breeds as pure stock, nor any plans to set up a hatchery on Tanna, nor to continue with the chickens over the long term, the project was designed as a short term food security measure.  

Site Visit to Isila Village Chicken Project

Agriculture has provided this interior village with chickens and feed as a post-cyclone food security measure. 60+ birds have survived but many have reportedly died.  The chickens are housed in a large local materials house, and it looks like only recently a smallish chicken yard has been added to allow for some free-range foraging.  The feed provided is chick starter, one bag for two weeks and it is nearly finished.  The managers are still feeding them the original ration advised by Agriculture- far less feed than a growing chicken requires.  The deaths are likely related to poor nutrition or to starvation.  The roosts are of sharp spilt bamboo, and need improvement, the water source is a half bamboo and with low capacity, so that it would have to be refilled several times each day, with potential for times of lack of access to water.  The breed provided to the community is white meat birds, a breed with low capacity for foraging and with too high a feed requirement.  We advised that all of the birds be eaten and change to egg producing heritage chickens and local chickens if they want to continue with the project. We also gave our recommendation to increase the feed by triple, using local foods (leaves, kumala, compost, mile a minute vines, copra meal, etc), and to increase the water available, plus change the roosts to larger poles.  The chickens also need a source of small stones for their digestion, and access to coral gravel or sand as a calcium source.

Community Discussions

Many discussions with small groups and individuals regarding chickens and chicken farming took place during the trip and this information was included in the recommendations and findings below.

Summary of Findings

Village free range chickens on Tanna and Efate fared surprisingly well during the hurricane, as the storm hit during the daytime, and as people knew the storm was coming well in advance. Many of the chickens were protected or were able to find shelter on their own and to thereby survive.  Local chickens are smallish, but there is a lot of diversity present, with some obviously of mixed introduced breeds in the distant past.  Frizzy chickens, with up-curled feathers are very common, as are small short-legged chickens. 

The main chick predators are feral cats and two species of hawks, the smaller hawk being the worse of the two. Dogs can also sometimes be a problem, as well as rats.  Mobile rearing pens, built as a demonstration on Efate, would greatly increase chick survival in areas with high predation rates.  An increase in chick survival will be the most effective way to increase poultry production in the communities.  Improvements in nesting (and thus hatching) may also be in order, to protect the clutches of eggs from heavy rain and predators, especially rats.

Feed is a major limiting factor for increasing chicken productivity, and so active focus on feed sources needs attention. Free range raising of adult chickens is recommended, rather than cage culture, to allow for access to forging foods.  However, even free range chickens require supplemental feed in order to grow quickly and to breed effectively.  Coconut and starchy roots or corn would be the most important supplemental food sources to provide to the chickens daily, at the ration of at least two cups per adult animal per day (2-3 times that for caged or penned chickens- plus the vital green matter).  The coconut cream can be extracted beforehand as a human food, or for virgin oil production, before feeding the waste coconut to the chickens. 

To improve the foraging of the chickens, all leaves and grass clippings etc should be composted rather than burned, to produce worms and insects. The compost piles should be opened once mature to allow for easy access buy the chickens.  Papayas should be grown and the skins and seeds used as chicken feed, which greatly helps the chickens utilize protein in their food.  Papaya leaves stems etc can also be added to large compost piles to accelerate the rate of decomposition and compost formation.  Fences should have mile a minute vine or passion fruit vines planted on them, the leaves of both of which are eaten by the chickens.  If gravel is not present in the soil, as is the case for many areas on Tanna dominate by volcanic ash soil, pea sized gravel must be brought in and provided for the chickens.  Chickens have no teeth and so the gizzard requires small stones to grind the food.  Coral grit and gravel can serve this purpose and also can provide a calcium source for the growth of bones and the production of strong egg shells.

The Way Forward for the Happy Chicken Project

We are planning a second trip for the end of February, to conduct workshops on Tanna and Efate communities focusing on the production of chicken feed through composting, the use of wild plant feeds, and production of coconut waste from virgin coconut oil production. A second focus will be increasing chick survival through the production and use of mobile rearing pens, plus the production of worms as a feed supplement.  A selective breeding program, using the heritage breeds crossed with local chickens will also be encouraged.

As no development agency is yet planning on breeding superior village adapted chickens to increase the productivity of eggs and meat, there is an opportunity to advance this for Vanuatu, and at the community level. We are ow planning to import small Styrofoam “Hovabator” type incubators that have a capacity of 60 eggs each, for use by farmers with electricity, to hatch chicks to improve their flocks, with more emphasis on cross breeding and selecting the largest local roosters and crossing with imported egg birds or of possible with the heritage breeds ready in country, and then to select the best from this offspring for additional crossing and improvements in the chickens.

Happy Chicken: Fiji versus Vanuatu

There has emerged an amazing contrast between Vanuatu and Fiji. In spite of the severe cyclone, Vanuatu is filled with chickens abundantly foraging around village compounds, plus a great abundance of wild chickens in the forest, while in Fiji, where mongoose were introduced decades ago, chickens are not at all common in the villages, and the once abundant wild forest chickens “jungle fowl” have become completely extinct on Fiji’s two major islands, only surviving on the smaller islands where mongoose were not released. The Happy Chicken work in Fiji, especially with the mobile rearing pens, appears to be of far greater importance over the long term to food security and nature conservation than it is for Vanuatu, where local methods can certainly be improved on, but where the environment is much more stable and where chickens continue to thrive.  

The work is continuing in Fiji, with over eight thousand chicks distributed to farmers and communities since 2015, and with mobile rearing pens sent out or built on the islands of Taveuni, Vanua Levu, Kadavu, and in at least three villages on Viti Levu Island. This work must now be expanded, and workshops carried out to train communities in raising poultry successfully in conditions of severe predation. 

Exciting Developments!

We received a visit from the New Zealand Overseas Volunteer Organization in December, and they have a great need in Tonga and potentially other nations for the improved village appropriate chicks that we are breeding and producing in our hatchery. We are working on getting approved for exporting chicks to these worthy development projects. 

We just broke ground today on our much needed new breeding facility, funded in part by the Ford Motor Company. 

Stay tuned for more developments!

Rangorango Chicken Farmers
Rangorango Chicken Farmers
Tanna: Mother Hen with Chicks
Tanna: Mother Hen with Chicks
Mother Hen With Only Three Chicks Surviving
Mother Hen With Only Three Chicks Surviving
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Dear Friends and supporters of the Happy Chickens!

I leave for Vanuatu on November 4th!  The airfares were surprisingly inexpensive (US $320.), as my dates were flexible, and so this two week trip promises to be the first of several trips throughout the comng months. 

The communities on Efate and Tanna islands are prepared and have been patiently waiting for the commencement of the project.  We have had several local ni-Vanuatu volunteers arise to help, and our local NGO contacts will also be assisting on the ground with logistics. 

A primary goal of this first trip will be meeting the farmers and assessing the existing chicken flocks which have survived the hurricane and then making a work plan for meeting the specific community needs.  Other activities envisioned will be rooster exchanges between farmers to improve local breeding focks and the demonstration of Happy Chicken methods that strengthen the weak areas of traditional methods.  

Based on the knowledge gathered thus far, the chicken farming methods used in Vanuatu appear to be identical to those used by Fijian communities, with the major weak points being the survival of newly hatched chicks in the face of predators, the lack of shelter from heavy tropical rains, and the lack of a proper secure laying areas for the adult chickens. 

The major activity at this first point of introduction will be construction of mobile rearing cages to increase chick survival.  These secure pens are bottomless and allow acess to the ground for scratching and foraging, with the pens moved several times each day over grass and weeds.  The mother hens are allowed to keep their chicks in the pen, and remain with them for the first 2-3 weeks.  If chicks from an incubator are being raised, they must be put in a box at night for warmth for that initial period.  The mobile rearing cages are quite revolutionary in that they can quickly increase the productivity of chickens in the community, easily doubling chicken numbers within a year. The 1x2 meter pens are durible and can be used year after year and shared within the community. 

After struggling for months with Vanuatu and Fiji Biosecurity regulations and red tape, trying to get the chicks from our Fiji hatchery into Vanuautu, we have decided to work on long-term sustainability of the project by establishing improved breeding flocks in Vanuatu, just like we have done in Fiji.  We have been assured that we will eventually be successful in bringing in the improved Fiji chicks, but official protocols have to first be developed, which may take several more months.  I will meet directly with Vanuatu Officials while in country to try to speed up this process.

If we are able to access imported brown layer chicks in the capital, we will begin rearing this highy productive yet poorly adapted breed to adulthood, in preparation for our crossbreeding program that is focused on producing well adapted highly productive local chicken breeds.  We will also be on the lookout for unique local breeds that might be especially adapted to local conditions, for use in crossbreeding trials but also focusing on conserving them as unique heritage breeds, to be conserved as unmixed stock by particuar families and communities. 

I will post another report on the outcomes of this exciting trip next month, after I return from the field.  Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.  

Thank you again for your kind, generous, and loving support!


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Yokimi and chickens for Kadavu!
Yokimi and chickens for Kadavu!

Hi Everyone! 

Last week was a major milestone for the project;  We were able to send ten dozen chicks to Taveuni Island by air, four dozen chicks to Kadavu island by sea, and seven dozen chicks by sea to Natewa Bay, Vanua Levu.  We also sent along mobile rearing pens with the two seaborne shipments.  

The person recieving the chicks for Kadavu is Chief Yokimi, the paramount chief of Ono Island Kadavu.  Yokimi was instrumental in the establishment of Fiji's first legally gazetted no-fishing marine protected area back in the year 2000.  Yokimi wants to introduce community-scale poultry farming to all seven of his villages, in order to provide an alternative to reef fish, which in turn will help conserve the reef balance.  Happy chickens- Healthy reefs!  

On Taveuni island, a remote volcanic island 200 miles to the North, the Gaiatree Sanctuary brought the ten dozen chicks in and distributed them to four farmers who are very excited to have the improved "super jungli" free ranging chickens.  They share the same vision and will be facilitating the project onTaveuni.  So we are on the way to poultry self-sufficiency in some rural comunities, and all the farmers are planning to breed the chickens for themselves, creating independence, self sufficiency, and food security, rather than purchasing eggs from shops, which all come from laying hens imported to Fiji as chicks from New Zealand!  

In the Sigatoka market, farmers are reporting that their chickens have begun laying and some got a big surprize:  green eggs!   Yes, some of the chicks we provide are of a strain that produces light blue and green eggs!  The children are over the moon at something so cool!  The number of farmers coming back to buy more chicks at cost has increased, and the scale of the project has increeased as well.  Chicks are being donated discretely to needy farming families.  Ideally the farmer pays for one dozen at cost (US $7.50/doz), and the particularly needy farmers get a second dozen free- to their great surprise!  But sometimes a farming family can not afford to pay for the chicks and they give some discreet signs of their situation, by their clothes or asking us if we will be selling the chicks in the future, as they need to save the funds.  How many can I get for four dollars?  Or family discussions on whether they can afford them or not, etc..  We strike up a conversation to find out if the farmer has a job or if he is living entirely off the farm. Gifts are discreet and give the impression to the pubic that the farmers are paying for their chicks. 

The next phase of the project in Fiji will target entire communities that are practicing good environmental stewardship, setting aside large areas of their coral reef into no take "tabu" zones.  The first of thee workshops will involve Votua Village, where Luisa has successfully raised up two dozen chickens, and where more women have asked for help getting started.  The mobile rearing pens and a small model roosting and laying house will be used in this community to good effect. From Votua, the adjacent villages or Tagage and Vatukarasa will the be next.

Vanuatu:  The Vanuatu communities in the cyclone affected areas have organized themselves and many farmers have been identified with experience in poultry farming and these farmers will be given special focus for restoring their focks.  However last week we reached a major snag:  Vanuatu Biosecurity will not issue us with a permit to carry the chicks to Vanuatu on the plane, as they do not yet have a "formal protocol" for importing day-old chicks from Fiji!  There is no risk, as Fiji has no diseases that are not already in Vanuatu, but the regulations are strict nevertheless. 

They say it could take several months to approve a protocol, so in the mean time we have found a source of imported egg-producing chicks in Vanuatu.  We now plan to purchase these and to use them in the workshops and to grow them up and to then breed these chooks with the best local roosters, to be able to produce high quality hybrid chickens.  We will purchase small 75-egg incubtors for areas with dependible electricity. This will help build local capacity even further.  On the positive side, there is no time frame limiting the project, so we will indeed get what needs to be done completed in spite of all obstacles! 

The plan now is to land in Vanuatu in mid September and to meet with the communities and to begin the work as much as it is possible.  Building the mobile rearing pens and small chicken houses, working to create a local breeding flock, and building increased capacity among the farmers, etc. 

More Good News!  Last Thursday a team from the South Pacific Community (SPC) and Fiji Ministry of Agriculture came on a fact-finding visit to the farm.  They were very impresed, and we will be writing a joint submission to the Green Climate Fund for January, focusing on developing hot weather adapted breeds of chickens that can be bred with ease in Fiji and the region.  Poverty alleviation, food security, and import substitution are integral parts of the concept. 

The potential for greatly increasing the scope and efffectiveness of the project is only possible because we are operational and not just talking- we are acting!  Thanks to each of our donors for helping make this happen... it means so much!  

We have surpassed the half way point to the project goal on Global Giving, with over $7,500. raised through your generous donations.  We received an additional check of $7,700. just last week by mail from the Ruth DuPont Lord Charitile Trust. We had been a bit worried that the ongoing Fiji work or several trips to Vanuatu would use up much of the Vanuatu funding due to the delays, but no more!  This additional gift is very exciting and encouraging.

If you have any questions or comments, please write me at: abowdenkerby@gmail.com

I thank each and every one of you.


Ten Dozen Two-week old Chicks for Taveuni
Ten Dozen Two-week old Chicks for Taveuni
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Greetings to all our donors and circle of interest. 

News:  We have made real progress with upgrading our breeding pens in order to pass Biosecurity requirements for approval to send the chicks to Vanuatu.  The improvements are also making the pens much safer for trainees and the many children who "help" with the feeding and egg gathering!  The work, funded by a small grant from Ford Motors, was overdue.  The pens were unsafe because of a large colony of rats that had created a maze of burrows under the pen's dirt floors.  The rats had evaded all attempts at control.  I contracted the rat-borne disease leptospirosis, and our neighbor died of the disease a few years back.  We have now cemented the chicken house floors and sealed off the labrinth of rat tunnels.... and without their hiding places the rats have either died or have moved out!  The mistake of allowing left over feed to remain in the pens over night has also been corrected, so future rat problems will be kept to a minimum.  Once Biosecurity gives us the green light, the Vanuatu work will commence, which should be in late July. 

In the mean time here in Fiji we have begun the groundwork for a Happy Chicken workshop to take place in Votua Village on Fiji's Coral Coast, where the community has set aside a large reef area as a communty managed no-fishing conservation area.  Luisa, the wife of the village chief, is one of our most active Happy Chicken participants, and we envision a woman-focused project.  We will provide mobile rearing pens and training support, and the women will purchase the chicks at cost, and will build (with our input) the small chicken houses from local materials.  As the village is a major coconut producing area, training in virgin coconut oil production will also be conducted, with the waste coconut serving as a major feed for the chickens.     

Chicken News:  Summer vacation is over!  The summer molt, the two month period where the hens "go on vacation"- stop laying to rest and repair their bodies and change their feathers, started in late February and ended in early May.  We began setting eggs into the incubator just three weeks ago, and our first hatch took place this week. We sold nine dozen chicks to the community at cost in the Sigatoka Market on Saturday.  The hatch rate this time was only 60%, but we have since purchased a new humidity monitor.  We then discovered that the humidity was far too low in the incubator, and so we have been able to add pans of water and increase the humidity to the required 50%.  We have also added a hatcher, with a humidity of 75%, and so with better control of the incubation and hatching process we expect that subsequent hatches will be much improved. Lessons learned- don't trust faulty gages!    

Lastly, the UK NGO Just World Partnerships will be supporting me with a stipend this year, allowing full time focus on the Happy Chicken work.  We can assure you that all of the funds donated will go towards actual project costs, not personnel.

Thanks again for your part in making this work an emerging and growing success,

Austin Bowden-Kerby

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Corals for Conservation

Location: Samabula - Fiji
Facebook: Facebook Page
Project Leader:
Austin Bowden-Kerby
Samabula, Fiji
$42,106 raised of $55,500 goal
403 donations
$13,394 to go
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