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

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Mangrove Monday!!!

Some of you may have a pretty good idea of what mangroves are, some of you may not. In this blog I will tell you about my experiences with the mangroves and about the importance of these forests, because they are pretty damn cool!

At the shark conservation project we work in the mangrove nursery every Monday. Mangroves are plants that you can spot in shallow coastal areas in tropical environments. They grow mainly in salty water along coastlines and in rivers. At the nursery we recycle plastic bottles and use them as the base of our mangrove seeds called propagules. The tasks we get vary in many ways: cutting the bottles in two, making small holes in the halves, digging up dirt, filling up the bottle halves with dirt, plant the propagules in the dirt, and water them from time to time. I have to admit: cutting bottles for hours or digging up dirt when its 35°C are not my favourite tasks, but they are necessary.


We give the propagules in our nursery a few months to grow stronger and bigger before we plant them in the river beds.





There they will become big trees, forming a safe haven for lots of animals like fish, crustaceans, insects, reptiles, birds, etc. We are particularly interested in sharks breeding near the mangroves, like Bullsharks, Sicklefin Lemon sharks and the Scalloped Hammerhead Shark.



When we are out of propagules we have to go collect them in the river. If its high tide, we can just pick them up out of the water our climb the trees. I had to collect them during low tide, so the boat couldn’t reach the forest. We had to walk through the mud. Every step we took, our legs sunk deeper and deeper in the bottom. This released smelly gases, being stuck in the mud for who knows how long. Very pleasant … But we were determined to overcome every obstacle. Because of the dense vegetation, we had to move acrobatically along the branches. It was so much fun! We came back with two full bags of propagules and they nicknamed us ‘the mangrove warriors’.



But why are we doing this? The mangrove forms a unique ecosystem that is of great importance for biodiversity. It’s a habitat where animals come to feed, breed and hide. It also traps sediment, provides a buffer against tsunamis, and filters pollution out of the air we breathe. The more mangroves there are, the healthier the environment, which is also an advantage for the economy.

Unfortunately each year about 1% of the mangroves disappear. In 30 years more than 30% of the mangrove forests got destroyed because of human development. Lots of people prefer beaches, ocean view, and high buildings to attract tourism. The consequences are more pollution and less biodiversity. We’re trying to prevent this from happening.


“Laws change, people die, the land remains” – Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Mangrove Monday!!!!



We’ve been really busy with the Mangroves this last couple of weeks and our nursery has grown too. We started filling more and more recycled plastic bottles with soil ready to plant new Mangrove Propagules. The recycled plastic bottles have been collected and donated to the project by members of the local communities and villages.
Once our new pots were filled and ready we needed to head out and find new Propagules to the plant in them. The Propagules are shaped in such a way that allows them to fall from the branches of the Mangrove and travel straight down to the bed of the river where they embed themselves in the sand and mud at the bottom. Here they grow as a new plant and eventually their stem and leaves can be seen above the water level. If the water is too deep, the Propagule can float and drift with the current for up to one year. It will most likely be washed up onto a beach or shallower water and can change its buoyancy to fall to the river bed once more.
A few of us were split into two groups and each group went out with a local on a boat to collects lots of propagules. One of the locals dogs, Rusty, decided to join us on this journey and swam to the middle of the river were we were to join us on the boat. Once we reached the mangroves we were all ready to get to work and start collecting the propagules. To be honest it was the most fun and rewarding day, simply because we as a team had so much fun hanging off the boat and helping each other trying to reach the ones far and high up in the branches and it was rewarding because we collected three big bags of propagules.
The most humble experience was the day when we went out to do community work in a village by a school.  I think it’s amazing when we learn something new and interesting and go to share it with the kids in the village. So the day before we prepared presentations in three groups, about mangroves, their current status and uses; in construction, fishing and as firewood. Their threats; from deforestation and water pollution as well as how we can help to protect them. We encouraged the kids to collect plastic bottles and bring them to our nurseries. So that they could be a part of the project too.
We made posters which included all of the information so when we were finished we could pin them up on the classroom wall so the kids could look at them and remember us from Projects Abroad and what we taught them. When we arrived at the school it was the most amazing feeling ever. Every single one of them had a huge smile on their face and they were just so happy to see us. We started to introduce ourselves and told them what part of the world we came from after that we started our presentation. It was incredible to see how passionate they were about learning and how engaged they were in what we were saying. We as a group made it even more fun by getting them involved, sending a propagule around the class which they had to introduce themselves and had to tell us what they wanted to become when they all grow up. Fiji should be proud that the local village kids have so much ambition and big dreams to change the world into a better and amazing place. Some examples were Teachers, Nurses, Soldiers, a Pilot, a president and so much more. We got them involved by drawing different kinds of species they thought were living in the mangroves. It was so much fun helping them and especially seeing them helping each other. We were impressed with the artistic skills. With pretty accurate drawings of crabs and birds and reptiles and, in particular, sharks. Some of the class went even further in the creativity and drew a whole Mangrove scene with all the animals on the picture and the root structure and branches too.
Tomorrow, on the 21 March, its World Planting Day. We at Projects Abroad are getting involved by planting mangroves the whole day.  We’re ready to put long hours and hard work into this day and it’s an amazing feeling to know that were making a change, starting with Pacific Harbour and in a few years the whole of Fiji and hopefully all around the world. Our nursery here at the Projects Abroad house is the largest Mangrove nursery on the whole of Fiji. We also have another nursery at the Beqa Adventure Dive shop. Their company wanted to become completely carbon neutral and the Mangrove nursery allows them to achieve this. The local hotel (Uprising) also has plans to become carbon neutral and work to build a new nursery will start their very soon. 


Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Mangroves for Fiji Baby!!!!

It's Mangrove Monday and our task for today is to fill all the empty bottles with fresh soil and new mangrove propagules. 

We are nine volunteers and everyone is super motivated! 

The strong boys started to build a cage to place all the bottles and they did a great job! It's separated in two spaces for bottle bottoms and bottle tops. The purpose of the cage is to make the separation process easier, keep the nursery neat, tidy and organised, and to prevent bottles blowing all over the place when the wind picks up.  

The other part of the group filled up over 600 new bottles with soil and propagules. After a month or so when they have 2 - 4 leaves, but more importantly a established root system, we take all the little mangroves to plant them along the beach as we did three weeks ago. The purpose of growing them in a nursery is to allow the root system to develop so that when we plant them in the wild they have a greater chance of survival and are more stable in the fine sediments found in mangrove swamps.

To be honest it can be really hard sometimes to work in the mangroves nursery the whole day. It's hot and sweaty and you just want to jump in the pool to freshen up but at the end of the day it's a great feeling to know that you are part of a team who helps to make a little change in the world, this is marine conservation at a grass roots level. 

Mangroves are amazing and they are so important for the environment and our whole ecological system. We care about the ocean and we care about the animals who live in that ocean and that's why we don't care if we get dirty or sweaty. It's for Fiji Baby! 


By Isabella Zschaler, 18, Germany