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!!!

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Mangrove Monday!!

Being a new volunteer, clocking in at just two weeks on this Project, I have only participated in two Mangrove Mondays so far, and both have been hard but rewarding work.

The first Mangrove Monday we spent the entire morning at a local village called Vunibau, building an extension to the already-existing nursery to expand the area available for propagule planting by another thousand. Holes were dug, bamboo pillars erected, beams latched on to the pillars, and netting spread across the new structure to provide shade and protection for the mangroves. Then came the actual planting, just as equally methodical: holes were cut into the bottom halves of plastic bottles repurposed as pots to allow drainage and filled with soil brought from the nearby river, and propagules were planted and arranged in neat ten by ten rows under the new nursery wing.

Everyone pitched in, even the little village children who were off from school, who helped around with odd jobs and went to collect more propagules for us along the river. And while the task may sound arduous, it was in fact punctuated with laughter, casual chit-chatter, and lots of fun. It was quite a sight to see volunteers on each other’s shoulders struggling to maintain their balance as they worked to tie off the beams to the pillars. During our brief moments of rest, we engaged in games with the children, which involved a lot of singing and excited shrieking.

Having planted the entirety of our propagules, we moved on in the afternoon to an area across the river, carrying two large bucketfuls of five hundred grown propagules each. These ones were grown at the Project nursery, and had successfully sprouted a sturdy root system which we were now to plant a metre apart alongside the muddy bank in hopes of growing a mangrove forest. As expected, we all ended up a little muddy, but nonetheless got the job done in record time!

My second Mangrove Monday was a more relaxed affair. This time, with a smaller group of volunteers, we worked at the Project nursery. I was on weeding with two others, and we moved our way down row upon row of sprouting propagules, pulling out the grasses which have carpeted the pot soil with great fervour. Meanwhile, the others formed an efficient chain of movement where one sorted and tossed plastic halves to volunteers who filled them up with earth, who then passed it on to two others who brought the bring the newly-filled pots to the back of the nursery where they awaited planting.

When that was all and done, we loaded up a set of 147 planted propagules in pretty Fiji Water bottles and brought them over to Uprising, the nearby resort. Having partnered up in an effort to make them a carbon-neutral business, the first stage was finally ready to kick off. We arranged them in an attractive manner on a shaded table along the main walkway so that they would be visible to patrons as they walked past, giving them the knowledge that they are supporting an eco-conscious business. Of course, having just a little over a hundred mangroves is not enough to offset the pollution of a resort- we still have 191 more to go!

All in all, Mangrove Mondays serve as a critical aspect of the conservation we are currently doing here in Fiji. As it is with gardening, it does tend to get messy, but the results are priceless- lower carbon emissions, fish population growth, coastal line protection- all of which lead to a better ocean and a better environment. 

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Mangrove Monday!!!

‘Mangrove Monday’ the words that bring terror into the minds of the Projects Abroad volunteers, guaranteed to leave you sweaty faced, sunburnt, reeking of the smell of rotting organic matter, and absolutely exhausted. But it’s also the most rewarding day of the week, you can really see the impact of the work you are doing. Whether it’s wading through waist deep water and rotting soil to find that one extra propagule, erecting new nurseries in the local villages or floating down the rivers masses of work gets achieved. In my 4 weeks in Fiji I’ve so collected hundreds of Propagules, built a nursery, planted and replanted our nursery and de-weeded an extortionate amount of bottle pots.

Building the Nursery

In the last Mangrove Monday we were sent to the local village Vunibau whose nursery was tragically destroyed by cyclone Winston. Our task for the day was to rip down the remaining flimsy structure and assemble a new bigger stronger nursery. It was in a sorry state, dead propagules scattered everywhere in a mix with our repurposed half-bottle-pots.

We first emptied all the bottle pots and moved them out of the area, ridded the ground of the weeds of which were covering what was going to be our construction site then vaguely flattened the ground and pulled down the remaining rickety structure. We hatched a plan of the new structure, and with the help of a few villagers the boys proceeded to hack up bamboo to equal lengths and dig the new deeper foundations for the bamboo poles to be firmly placed into.  The girls were giving the laborious task of filling the now empty bottle pots with fresh soil and new living propagules.

In a short period of time great feet’s had been made with the building work and we had transformed a rickety structure into the beginnings of a Herculean monument. As all structural engineers know the best building material available to man is the trusty zip-tie, capable of holding huge weights this was chosen to be the main component in making sure the nursery would have a much greater chance of surviving the next cyclone!

            After the new structure was raised and secured, we started to cover the roof and north facing side in perforated netting which would protect the new mangrove propagules from the sizzling Fiji sun. This required a fair bit of balancing, as one volunteer wasn’t tall enough to reach over the upper poles. I being the lightest was thrown onto the shoulders of the tallest in order to zip tie the netting to the bamboo.

            As the day was coming to a close and motivation was falling, we had some reinforcements… The local children were coming home from school! The girls had been filling the pots at an incredible pace and we soon had over 800 propagules planted! The children, a tad confused and very excited to see what had been built in their village ran out to start putting the now perfectly filled bottle pots with the new propagules into the nursery. Darting in and out they helped us to place the bottle pots into 10 by 10 squares, until the 800 were in place.

It’s incredible to see what can be achieved when we git our teeth and work together. I loved to see the kids so enthusiastic about their new nursery, as its them who will be growing up in the new Fiji which if is going to prosper needs the help of the mangroves to protect against the Cyclones, and over fishing which is occurring in there waters.

Collecting Propagules

            Every few weeks we have to restock our mangrove propagule supply. This is either via walking up the rivers and beaches, plucking them from the trees, or the best wading through the stink and collecting them from the water and mud. We collect about 8 bags a time which last us about a week, and is vital for the continuation of the planting around our nurseries and the ones in the villages and schools around us. We also try to collect as many bottles as possible from the beaches on the clean ups to repurpose into the bottle pots. We try and get as many of the locals involved in the clean ups to show them firsthand the damage that the plastic’s do to the environment (it’s also nice to have a few extra hands here and there!).

Work in our Nursery

            At our very own Ventura apartments we have our very own, very large nursery which has managed to pump out over 66,000 healthy developed mangrove propagules set with a root system and leaves into the wild. We have a near factory system of planting -> weeding -> return to the wild. This is very effective. We have a doubled layered nursery to maximise our production, which is kept in check by our mangrove enthusiast Chris.

We spend a lot of time making the half-bottle-pots which we’ve collected from our beach clean ups and local businesses such as Uprising who saves all there plastic’s for us. Having the local businesses support on these matters in vital in the protection of the mangroves in the area. The most time consuming and back breaking is the weeding, the fresh, moist, perfectly sun lit soil which is perfect for growing mangroves is unfortunately perfect for all the weeds and grasses. So we remove these competitors as quickly as possible from their environment to give the mangroves the greatest chance of survival.

Teaching in the Schools

Every few weeks we go to some of the local schools to teach them about the importance of mangroves and how they are crucial to the survival of huge amounts aquatic life which the Fijians need for both as a source of food and tourism. This in my opinion is the most important work we do. For this project to work we need the support of the people who live here as they are they maintain the safety and growth of mangroves. It’s hard for a child to comprehend the long term effects of destroying the mangroves which we try and illiterate in an interesting way. Cut down a mangrove tree -> No home for birds, fish, insects, sharks -> Predation on the young species increases as there is less space to hide, populations of the juvenile fish and sharks decreases -> therefore less fish make it into their seas -> less food, fewer divers -> prices of fish go up due to less supply and greater imports + fewer divers leads to less money for the towns, villages and city’s which they come to visit -> then fewer jobs and on and on… And that’s just a few reasons why mangroves are massively important. And teaching the children who will grow up to be the divers, fisherman, politicians of Fiji it’s nice to think they may think back and consider the impacts of things they do on the environment.

“The mangrove forest sustains the people who sustain the mangrove forest…”

Pisit Charnsanoh, Yadfon Association, Trang, Thailan