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.