Long-term protection of Whales & Dolphins in Fiji

by Action Change (Formerly GVI Trust)
Long-term protection of Whales & Dolphins in Fiji
Long-term protection of Whales & Dolphins in Fiji
Long-term protection of Whales & Dolphins in Fiji
Long-term protection of Whales & Dolphins in Fiji
Long-term protection of Whales & Dolphins in Fiji
Long-term protection of Whales & Dolphins in Fiji

The GVI marine research team here on the Tovoto base in the Yasawa’s have had a great couple of weeks. On top of our regular activities of training and surveying, the unusually calm sea conditions have meant that we’ve been able to go on some excellent fun dives. In the past two weeks we’ve seen sharks, turtles, sea snakes, lobsters and eels, as well as the usual hundreds of brightly coloured fish and coral.

So far the best two (though there are lots to choose from) have been at the dive sites called Bonzai and Cathedral. Bonzai is a deep dive site where whales have recently been spotted. It is a beautiful wall dive 7km straight out into the ocean. To the right is a colourful reef wall while to the left and below is the deep blue ocean. Because of the depth below and good visibility the feeling of flying is particularly strong here. Before getting in the water we spotted something whale-like near the surface so the anticipation on the dive itself was almost overwhelming. Sadly we didn’t see any whales, but it was still an amazing dive. While we’re on the subject of amazing dives, Cathedral has to get a mention. We’ve been twice in the past two weeks and it is without doubt the best dive site I have ever been to. The abundance, size and variety of the fish there surpass all others I’ve seen. On top of that it’s a shark feeding site which means it literally is shark infested! On our first dive there we must have seen about 30 sharks: black tips, white tips, grey reef sharks and two 3 metre bull sharks. After diving there, the name becomes clear – just as the massive cathedrals of old would inspire people to believe in God, coming face to face with an adult bull shark suddenly makes prayer seem like a much more appealing pastime.
In spite of all these fun dives, the marine team has still found the time to do plenty of work. The team has been split into two with Andrea, Jacson and Phoebe doing rescue diver training and Nicola and I collecting data on surveys. The rescue training has been taking place on the picturesque blue lagoon beach under the supervision of our training and safety officer Ron. With his stage name of Alice, Ron seems to particularly enjoy his role as panicked diver. I’m still doubtful whether there’s ever been such a merciless panicked diver as Alice. Her devastatingly precise flailing limbs rarely leave the rescuer with a mask or a regulator by the end, but in their place is a newly found sense of caution when diving near Ron. Nevertheless, the rescuers usually manage to subdue Alice and still have time to relax on the beach before heading back to base.
Surveying has been equally exciting. Surveying usually consists of laying down a tape measure and recording what sort of life is around. On one memorable survey, I was tapped on the shoulder by my buddy Nicola, only to look up and find myself eye to eye with a large Moray Eel. After doing a small panicked diver impersonation of my own I managed to continue with the survey, albeit from a distance. Unfortunately the eel seemed to have a black sense of humour and took particular joy in disappearing for long stretches of the survey, only to reappear out of an unlikely hole that was invariably somewhere close to my head.
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On route to Dawasamu, the anticipation of viewing the acrobatic Spinner Dolphin's in their natural habitat was written across the GVI volunteers faces. This would be a trip to remember. Here is an update straight from the field, by one of our volunteers Jack: 

On arrival we were shown to our accommodation by the wonderful staff at Nataleira Lodge – because it is owned by the local community all funds directly benefit the local people and their appreciation really shows. I can’t begin to explain how warm, friendly and inviting they are and how much they care for their local pod of resident Spinner Dolphins located at Moon Reef. Having set up the Dawasamu Environment Movement (DEM) and inviting GVI to help carry out research conservation is a key goal and our presence is really appreciated.

Having the opportunity to meet and work alongside Dr Cara Miller was a real privilege. Currently working for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) as the South Pacific Regional Manager as well at the University of the South Pacific (USP) she is an expert in her field and would be our mentor for the next 2 weeks. On our first day Dr Miller presented her previous findings on her Spinner Dolphin research and introduced how GVI was going to help. This included carrying out three main research methods to collect data that would be used to create a conservation management plan for the Spinner Dolphins of Moon Reef.

On our first day on the research boat we were met by Junior and Phillipe two local DEM members who Dr Miller and GVI were going to help train in the research methods that we would carry out so they could continue in our absence. They were also our vessel's captains.

After our initial daydream it was time to get to work, weather conditions were recorded and we were good to go. Armed with 3 SLR cameras our first task was to assess the site fidelity of Spinner Dolphins frequenting Moon Reef. The most effective and easiest method is to take photo identification of individual dolphin dorsal fins; GVI volunteers got a lot of practice. Each dorsal fin is unique and acts as a fingerprint. However, trying to take pictures of such a fast moving wild animal is not easy but after a few
hours we had it down.

Second on our agenda was to witness and record group and social behavior using behavioral scan sampling techniques. This was a great way to see these animals in action performing majestic spins up to 7 times whilst also throwing in a back flip if they felt like it. Boat trips would be made 6-10am, 10am –2pm and 2-6pm to record and analyze the Spinner Dolphins daily behavioral cycle.

Our third research method was looking into the acoustic repertoire of these creatures and analyzing what whistles were made during different times of the day.

Two weeks of this exciting research was combined with some really great trips and fun times. A real highlight shared throughout the group was visiting Dawasamu secondary school to educate the pupils on marine conservation covering plastics to shark fining. Two USP students Nunu and Sophie accompanied us throughout the project carrying out their thesis on Spinner acoustics. With their help plus Junior’s, Phillipe’s and Tim’s (playing guitar) we were able to deliver a conservation song which was enthusiastically received.

Once our data had been collated it was reviewed, entered into Dr Miller’s database and forwarded to DEM and FLMMA (Fijian Locally Managed Marine Area network). This will go on to aid the management plan designed future conserve these beautiful creatures. It was a real achievement and extremely rewarding.



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Last week Candice, GVI Marine Science Coordinator, Dan, Country Director, and Howard, South Pacific Projects Director, volunteered to carry out initial biodiversity surveys of Moon Reef in Dawasamu, home to the Spinner Dolphins and our project. In addition to surveying the site, marking GPS points, and installing marker buoys on the sea bed, the team helped to train two local divers in Benthic Identification and survey techniques. The project was funded by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) and part of the overall initiative to protect Moon Reef through local community support.

The team will be returning to the site to conduct further surveys around the entire circumference of Moon Reef and to continue training local divers in Survey techniques and ID. Worryingly there has been a growing number of Crown of. Thorn Starfish sighted in the area at infestation levels. GVI and SPP will be looking into the possibilities of a mass eradication project later this year.

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On February 7th, we met Ratu Epeli, the High Chief of the Takina (kingdom), at Oarsmans Bay lodge to present a Sevu Sevu (traditional ceremony in which an offering is made in exchange for a blessing).

A discussion followed in which Ratu Epeli charted the history of his time as chief and the changing state of attitudes towards the implementation and enforcement of the Tabu zones (no fishing grounds) in the region. Ratu Epeli explained that he was fully committed to the preservation of the local environment and had been engaged in the active enforcement of the Nacula Tabu zone for many years. `

Ratu Epeli Explained that he was on the verge of lifting the Tabu and ending all enforcement of reef protection in the region as it had become too difficult to manage and enforce and most villages had lifted their own Tabu's over the years.

After hearing the strategies presented by us, the community based focus of the initiative, and the intention to interweave our work with the education program, Ratu Epeli happily passed on his blessings and full support of our research in the region and confirmed that with this new support he would continue to enforce the few remaining tabu areas in the district.

In addition to this, Ratu, has offered the research team exclusive access to dive the few remaining tabu areas and use the protected areas to run base line surveys. This will enable us to form a base line from which to compare the difference in fish stocks and biodiversity between protected areas and open fishing grounds.

Ratu Epeli, invited the team for lunch and said that he would look forward to hearing frequent updates from the us as the program progresses and the initiative evolves.

This was an incredibly positive meeting that confirmed the validity of our conservation efforts and the presence of the community support needed to make it successful.

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We would like to share the most recent trustee report from the GVI Charitable Trust. This report covers the six month period from July to December 2011.

We are delighted to share that this has been by far our most successful period, raising in six months nearly as much as we did the whole of the previous year. This increase in funding has brought a corresponding increase in the impact we have been able to create on our programs around the world.

During this period we have invested in sustainable education across Latin America including support for the elderly in Guatemala and income generation schemes to support education in Honduras and Ecuador. In Mexico we have worked with a community to establish a recycling centre and in Kenya our partners in Mombasa will now realise their goal of seeing impoverished students through to completion of the primary education earning recognised qualifications for the first time.  

These are just a few highlights of an amazing, productive and rewarding six months. Thank you to everyone who has supported us and played a crucial role in these achievements.

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Organization Information

Action Change (Formerly GVI Trust)

Location: London - United Kingdom
Facebook: Facebook Page
Project Leader:
Sophie Birkett
GVI Charitable Trust Manager
London, London United Kingdom

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