Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Mighty Mangroves

Before I applied to volunteer with the Projects Abroad Fiji Shark Conservation I can honestly say that I had not even heard of mangroves. I’m from the prairies located in the middle portion of Canada; a place where you definitely will not find a mangrove. When I signed up for the project I read that I would be working in a mangrove nursery, as well as going out and planting them. I didn’t look too far into the whole “mangrove thing,” because I was so focused on the shark aspect of the project. It was not until I arrived and had my mangrove workshop that I realized how vital mangroves are, not only to our marine ecosystem, but to us on land as well.

Mangrove forests can be found on the coasts of tropical climates throughout the world. They can be a nursery to various marine life, they also can help protect against tsunamis and storms, help keep the water cleaner by filtering debris and dirt sentiments through their roots, and they improve air quality by using carbon dioxide for the photosynthesis process. Just to name a few of the many qualities that not only marine life benefit from, but us as well when mangroves are around. The red mangroves are able to produce new plants that hang off of their leaves which are called “propagules.” They are so self-efficient that they eventually drop into the water where they float along upright until they reach a spot where they can plant themselves.  At Projects Abroad we go out during low tide to find propagules that have not rooted themselves in the sand yet and we bring them back to our nursery to plant them in recycled bottles. After a few months in the nursery we pull them out and plant them along the coastline.

Volunteering here with Projects Abroad I have had the opportunity to go out into the mangrove swamps and collect propagules, plant the propagules into recycled bottles at our nursery, and then go out and plant the propagules along the shore line. During the two months of my time here at the project I took part in planting 5000 propagules. I now realize how significant these plants are to both of our ecosystems and I think it is important that people become aware of their significance and how special they are. While being a part of the project here, working with mangroves was one of my favourite activities. I think this was the case, because I realized how much we need them and how much the marine ecosystem needs them as well. They have adapted to withstand the harshest of conditions and this is why I have given them the name: Mighty Mangroves. 

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Mangrove Monday!

If wading through murky water with legs knee deep in mud and your wet T-shirt bulging with plants sounds cool, then propagule collection in the mangroves is for you.
I had only been in Fiji a couple of days and was really looking forward to getting my hands dirty. I was not disappointed. On this day we were collecting not just for the mangrove nursery but also needed loads more for the upcoming Corona music festival at Uprising Resort, where we were setting up a stand to teach people about the valuable role of mangroves in Fiji’s coastal ecosystem.

The mangrove collection takes place near the small village of Vunibau near Pacific Harbour. To get to the mangroves we had to first walk through the village in our Projects T-shirts and sulus. where we were all welcomed with “bula” and friendly faces. Once down by the mouth of the Navua River we slipped off the sulus and got down into the mud. “You might have to crawl on your hands and knees,” said Sydney with a slightly wicked smile as we waded in. “Sometimes that’s easier.”

The mangrove propagules can be found on the muddy shore, in the water floating, or still attached to the branches ready to be picked. The high ones are for the tall people who haven’t sunk down too far into the mud.

Some people are happy going barefoot to avoid losing their flip flops or shoes. I kept my aqua shoes on, and seeing some of the rubbish in the mud and trees I would definitely advise having something on to protect your feet (dive booties worked well for others, too).

We collected hundreds. As we trudged back muddy, hot and carrying our bags of precious mangrove pups, the smiles on the faces of the children in the village tell a great story. Somehow I think they are grateful that we also care about their home, their livelihoods, their mangroves.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Mangrove Awareness!

   Mangrove Monday is a returning event at Ventura every week. An event where you can expect to get your hands dirty but for a reason that is worth all the sweat and all the hours.
The mangrove forests have during the last 20 years experienced a drastic fall which leads to a lot of concerns. This is because the forest not only serves as a shield from tsunamis and storms for coastal villages but also because the mangrove forest is the most important habitat for shark reproduction. The whole underwater worlds well-being and food chain depend on the mangroves.

     This is the reason why we at Project Abroad Fiji Shark Conservation not are afraid of getting our hands or volunteer t-shirts dirty. The Mangroves not only serve as a shield for humans but also for baby sharks and in that sense is the thing that connects land and sea, humans and the marine life.

     Two days ago we finished the biggest mangrove nursery in the South Pacific and maybe in the whole world. We planted 250 Propagules so the nursery now houses around 18.000 mangroves. A big moment for Mangroves for Fiji which includes all the volunteers that have come and gone and have put a lot of effort into helping the mangrove replanting project as well as current volunteers.

    This nursery has created a foundation for many mangroves to come and therefore we are also working on making all of our nurseries bigger. During the last weeks we have visited different schools where we in different ways are trying to create awareness about the mangroves. Last Monday we went to Pacific Harbour Multicultural School where we replanted around 300 propagules. It was rainy and muddy but you could feel the teamwork between the volunteers and you could see within two weeks how the Propagules planted had exploded with green leaves.  You realize that the work you have done actually makes a difference and will stay and help Fiji when you leave.

     We also gave the local children an insight into the reasons we need to protect, replant and conserve the mangroves.  We had the honor of visiting a local primary school for an hour to talk about the mangrove forest and the sharks. We prepared a presentation and the pupils were very interested and quick learners. We left the school with a good feeling and working together with locals is the most important part in saving the mangroves on Fiji. At the same school we also took a whole day off and went to the school all volunteers to paint a white wall which became a wonderful day for both us and the volunteers!

VINAKA VAKALEVU to everyone around the project and in Fiji!!!

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Mangrove Mania!!!

Mangrove Mania!

It was Monday afternoon at the beginning of lunch when I saw the volunteers troop in from the Mangroves; dirty, sweaty and exhausted. Panic struck me when I started to realized how hard maintaining the nursery must be. It was 1.55pm when I prepared myself for an absolutely draining activity and slowly made my way down to the nursery. How wrong was I! Although two and a half hours seemed like 24 hours of laborious weeding – the activity itself was quite enjoyable, especially with the people we were working with. 2016 chart music was blasted from the boys’ phones and the weirdest and most wonderful conversations took place. Either way we all ended up in hysterics.

Even though I hadn’t been scheduled into the environment workshop yet, seeing as there was an obvious equal divide on the project focused on diving and mangroves it didn’t take much time for anyone to realize that Mangroves had a massive impact on the conservation of sharks. This was slightly embarrassing seeing how quite a big majority of the world’s population think they know all about protecting marine life – they really didn’t!

My next activity involving mangroves was collecting propagules (mangrove seeds) and rubbish on the beach in Sulu’s and our Projects Abroad t-shirts which did bring a huge sense of pride knowing we were helping out the community. Our work was definitely greatly appreciated by the locals as we walked up the beach while they happily beamed out “Bula! Vinaka!” In this heat the job at first was quite hard at first since I couldn’t identify the propagules; after getting really excited that I finally found one but then realizing it was dead was a massive let down. After an hour or so on the beach I was extremely happy with my big black bag breaking from the weight of propagules I had picked up. We then trekked into the humid forest towered over by multiple types of trees, being me; the first thing that clouded my mind was spiders. A standard phobia but after hearing stories about how big they are here it caused me to be a lot more alert.

We hopped over barbed wire and pushed through bushes finding piles and piles of propagules, it got to the point where phobias had fled my mind and my main worry was if my bag was going to break as I started having trouble carrying the hundreds of seeds. It was fascinating watching our leader, a local Fijian, rip through the bushes and trees with a machete. I’ve never seen this before and I’m so used to the lazy 1st world countries using electricity to do everything for them. During the collection I saw fully grown mangroves, in the flesh you realise the structure, strength and rigidity of them and it then made perfect sense as to how they protect the village and marine life against natural disasters.

My most recent activity involving the mangroves was a full day of weeding by the whole team; volunteers and staff. We all put 110% effort in to make sure the nursery was weed-free and all the mangroves were happy and healthy. It was brilliant to see everyone enjoying themselves although the heat was powerful the music was booming and sun was shining. After a very satisfied feeling of ripping the weeds from the soil and getting covered in head to toe with mud the nursery was in a great condition, knowing that the mangroves would be a home for juvenile marines species or protect a village from potential natural disasters.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Mangrove Monday!!

When I first arrived on the Shark Conservation Project, I was a little skeptical about the connection between mangroves and the survival of the shark population; however after taking part in the eye-opening environmental workshop the link was made clear.

Mangroves are carbon sinks, better carbon stores per square km than rainforests, the storage of carbon helps prevent the increasing effect of global warming. As the earth’s temperature increases, so does the ocean temperature, when this happens quickly corals can’t adapt to the changing conditions and consequently die. Many prey species for sharks live around these coral structures, so without them the shark’s food supply reduces. Mangroves also provide perfect nurseries for juvenile sharks to live in until they are strong enough to survive in the open ocean. Around Fiji there are known shark nurseries in large rivers like the Rewa and Navua, these are both surrounded by mangroves. But there are also shark nurseries which have not yet discovered so it is important to conserve all mangrove environments to ensure these nurseries aren’t unknowingly destroyed.

After being inspired by the workshop, it was not hard to get stuck into working in the onsite mangrove nursery at Projects Abroad, which is the largest in the South Pacific. My first experience in the mangrove nursery was planting propagules. Recycled plastic bottles are cut in half and used as plant pots, this is a small thing which helps prevent plastic entering the ocean. The team of 8 I was a part of worked like a machine and we planted the majority of the propagules we had in one morning. The job was swiftly finished by other volunteers in the afternoon.

As a result of the hard work, the propagule store needed to be replenished, so when out on the beach cleanup that week, it wasn’t just plastic we were picking up but also propagules that had been washed up onto the beach. We left the beach with 2 full sacks ready to be planted.

However it’s not just planting in the nursery that needs to occur to conserve the mangroves, once they have grown to a substantial size and have started growing leaves they can be harvested and planted in the community. We were given a target of 1100 propagules to harvest and tie into bundles of 10. This seemed like an unachievable target in one afternoon; however it was quickly reached by the group of tireless volunteers. These propagules were then taken to a local village and planted, hopefully in a few years they will still be growing into adult mangrove trees.

1100 propagules had been removed from the nursery, so 1100 more propagules had to be planted to replace them. The beach cleanup had provided the propagules, and the volunteers provided the man power to plant them. Again the team worked well together, replacing all the propagules that had been harvested and planting most of the propagules that had been collected.

In order to give the propagules the best chance of survival in the nursery, they need to be regularly weeded and watered. Weeding was surprisingly therapeutic and by the end of the session there wasn’t a weed in sight, so hopefully soon these propagules will have matured enough so they too can be harvested and planted in the community.

I have grown to love working in the mangrove nursery, it is hard not to feel a sense of achievement when we plant all the propagules, or when you see them growing successfully. Projects Abroad are hoping to extend the nursery on sight, and the one at the local resort Uprising in order to try and make the resort carbon neutral. I am proud to be part of the work towards a bigger, healthier mangrove habitat in Fiji. 

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Mangroves For Fiji!!!

Before joining the team here at Projects Abroad in Fiji, I’ll admit that I knew very little about mangroves, never mind that they are a habitat in their own right. It therefore came as a surprise to find out that the habitat and niches that they create are critical for supporting many juvenile marine species, of which sharks are the major focus of this particular conservation effort.

My very first ‘Mangrove Monday’ threw me straight into the mix. I found myself out in the purpose built nursery at the back of the Projects Abroad villa, barefoot, muddy, sweaty and loving life. My first introduction to a mangrove propagule confronted me with half a soil-filled Fanta bottle housing a delicate plant with brilliant green leaves. My arrival had been at a climactic point of a large ongoing project, current volunteers, and some now gone, had been working tirelessly towards. This Mangrove Monday required us to harvest 5000 mangrove propagules from our nursery. These seedlings had been collected previously and cultured in the nursery for 8-12 weeks to maximize the chance of growing a robust propagule with an established root system most likely to survive the planting process and reach a mature tree. The afternoon was hard work, especially in the midday sun, but the atmosphere was excited and everyone knew that their efforts would be fruitful in the form of the Big Plant the following week. With the music and conversation, the time flew by and before long we had our five-hundredth bundles of 10 mangroves signifying that we had reached our target of 5000 propagules.

In the meantime, the following Monday saw us revisiting a school where on a previous trip we had begun constructing a small nursery housing approximately one hectare of seedlings. Due to expansion of the school, the nursery had been dismantled and therefore required rebuilding and replenishing the propagule population.

Thursday the 16th of June was the big day. We set off at 9am and journeyed to the decided location to plant the 5000 propagules that had been so carefully propagated and nurtured in our nursery. The work was made light due to the collective enthusiasm of the locals that turned out to help us. At the end of the day, the gravity of our achievement was obvious due to the vast area of beach that was now speckled with ordered rows of newly planted Mangrove trees. I would love to return one day a few years from now to see how the landscape and wildlife will have adapted, hopefully for the better, with a new mangrove rain forest.

The next stage in our Big Plant operation was repopulating the Projects Abroad Mangrove nursery. In order to achieve this we had to venture out to the forest near Rampur School with sacks to collect as many seedlings as possible. The staff had taught us well, holding a seminar explaining the basic biology and the species of Mangroves that are found along the coastal regions. We were specifically after as many seedlings from the Black or Red Mangrove species, as these trees are able to populate the salt-rich soil found along coastal estuaries. Much of the morning was spent hanging out of trees and wading in small estuaries trying to reach that elusive seedling. The satisfaction came at the moment you realized that it was no longer possible to lift your sack-full of seedlings. The grand total came in the region of 7000 picked seedlings – enough to replenish those lost by the Big Plant, and then some! Once we had returned to Ventura the biggest struggle was sourcing enough empty containers to hold and store the massive seedling haul!

Over the course of the next week, the nursery needed a huge overhaul to reorganize the propagule tables. To make life as easy as possible, it was decided to organize the tables progressively from oldest to yougest. The oldest propagules that would be needed on the next planting trips were grouped together at the front of the nursery, with the younger towards the back of the nursery with finally empty pots and free space to make sure time is used efficiently on the next seedling cultivation. This was tiring but it was the first time in years I’ve had a good excuse to crawl around in the mud.
I sit here at the start of my fourth week here at Ventura, part of this crazy shark-obsessed family, shocked at how fast my time has flown. Tomorrow will likely be my last dig-in down in the Mangrove nursery which is a sad thought, but I also can’t believe how much I have been involved with solely related to Mangrove conservation in this same time. I signed up to this project with the slightly selfish goal of becoming a better scuba diver; never did I think that my whole outlook on how my actions affect the health of the environment would be so radically altered. One person’s choices really can make a difference and their passion for conservation is contagious.

The Project’s long-term plan to turn Pacific Harbor into a carbon-neutral town, in collaboration with Mangroves for Fiji and other organizations really is achievable based on what I’ve witnessed and been a part of. In fact, at the rate the enthusiasm is growing and the amount of propagules that are being planted; I won’t be surprised if years from now I read somewhere that Projects Abroad has made Fiji the first carbon-neutral country.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Mangrove Monday!!!

Mangrove Blog

The main purpose of our Shark Conservation project here in Fiji is to study and protect sharks in the region. No surprises there. However to protect the sharks we must also protect their environment and mangroves play a huge role in both the lives of sharks and the health of the marine environment as a whole. Most people don’t realize just how important mangroves are. I certainly didn’t before arriving here. As a result the world’s mangrove forests are disappearing at an alarming rate for various reasons, construction of hotels and resorts for tourists being one. Therefore mangrove conservation is an important part of our work here at the project.

Every week Monday and Tuesday afternoon is set aside to work on various aspects of our mangrove project. This includes collecting propagules (mangrove seeds), planting them, maintaining our mangrove nurseries, both here at the project and in the local community, and replanting the young mangroves back into their natural environment. We also visit local schools at least twice a month to raise awareness of our project and teach the students about the importance of mangroves to the marine environment and also how important they are to their lives.

The most direct way to conserve mangroves is to plant new mangrove forests and this is the primary aim of our mangrove project. To plant a forest of any type of tree you first need to get the seeds so that’s the first step. My first experience of Mangrove Monday here at the project was floating slowly through the mangrove forest on Navua River on a beautiful sunny Fijian morning in a small fishing boat with three other volunteers and a fisherman from the nearby Vunibau village collecting propagules. Propagules, the scientific name for mangrove seeds, can be found hanging from the branches of the mangrove trees or floating in the water and our aim for the day was to fill as many of the sacks we’d brought with us as possible. After about two and a half hours in one of the most tranquil places I’ve ever been we’d filled just over two sacks and it was time to return to Vunibau for lunch and kava.

We make these propagule collecting trips once every week or so depending on how many propagules we’ve planted and how much space there is in our nurseries. They are not always as easy as drifting along in a boat picking them as we go past. When the tide goes out and the river level drops and no boats are available the only way to get to the propagules is to wade out into knee deep mud and collect the bunches that have got stuck in the mud or are floating in the river.

Once we have collected the propagules the next step is to plant them. However we do not want to plant them in the wild straight away. Instead we take them to one of our mangrove nurseries and plant them in makeshift pots which are in fact recycled plastic bottles which have been cut in half and filled with soil. This guarantees the propagules nutrients and space to grow and takes away the stress of being flooded by the incoming tide every day. This gives the propagules a much higher chance of survival. We have our main mangrove nursery at our apartments but we also have a smaller one which we recently built in Vunibau

village with the enthusiastic assistance of the village children. In the last few weeks we have also constructed a small nursery at Uprising Beach Resort who have recently agreed to join us on the project. This is another step forward towards our goal of getting the support of all the small businesses in and around Pacific Harbour.

Planting propagules is actually simple to do and using a simple system we can plant hundreds per day. In front of our mangrove nursery there are cages filled with plastic bottles which have been collected from local businesses as well as from volunteer’s apartments. Some volunteers cut the bottles in half. Some fill the half bottles with soil and pass them on to others who then place the top halves on the specially made tables and the bottom halves on the ground beneath them. Finally other volunteers take the propagules from the sacks and push them into the soil filled bottles, one or two to a bottle depending on the size of the bottle. Propagules are hardy seeds which can float for up to a year in the ocean before finding land so this procedure is not a problem for them. Once in the soil they pretty much take care of themselves. The only maintenance they need is to remove some of the bigger weeds which join them in the bottles. Working out in the nursery is hot, hard work but at the end of the day it is satisfying to look at what was empty tables at the beginning of the day and see them now filled with planted propagules.

After a few months it is easy to see the progress the seedlings have made. They have grown taller and green leaves are sprouting from the top. Underneath in the bottles their root systems have started to develop. This is the sign that they are ready to be replanted back into the wild. Recently I took part in a replanting day when we replanted a thousand mangrove plants along the banks of the Navua river opposite Vunibau village. With the help of some of the children from the village we planted them in rows along the sandy shore adding to the mangroves that had been planted the month before. The children were excited and keen to help which was good to see although some of the mangrove plants had a rough time being pushed into the ground a little harder than they would have liked.

Replanting mangrove forests is important for mangrove conservation but what is also important is getting awareness and support from the local community and in particular the younger generations. Mangroves take thirty five years to fully grow so by the time our new mangrove forests grow the children in school now will be the adults in charge. Therefore on at least two Thursdays a month we spend the day in a local school, normally Rampur Primary School which is the biggest school in the area, to teach the students about sharks, marine life and mangroves and how important they are and why it is worth protecting them. We explain what we do on our projects and we also tell them what they can do to help. This can be something as small as throwing their plastic bottles and wrappers in the bin and not on the ground or into the rivers. The days in the schools are possibly one of the most rewarding parts of the project. The sea is a big part of life in Fiji so many of the children are interested to learn more about the things that live in and around it. While they are shy at first soon they are anxious to answer questions and learn more.

Working on the mangroves project has been an enjoyable experience. It also feels like we are actually making a difference whether by replanting lost mangrove forests or by educating the next generation so that the good work can continue.

Mangroves for Fiji baby!!!