Our team on Fiji’s Caqalai island, works closely with the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area Network and other local NGOs to identify the best ways to assist the community to conserve and protect their marine resources, including corals. Together, we have identified the following research priorities, data collection on targeted fish and coral reef species, habitat mapping for coral reefs and marine environments, development of an environmental education and awareness program for local schools and communities, development of marine and terrestrial environmental best practice on Caqalai Island, and supporting community development initiatives on neighbouring islands. Our volunteers and interns, allow for a larger size and scope of all these objectives.
This project gives volunteers around the world an opportunity to contribute to key marine conservation objectives identified by local Fijian organisations. International volunteers do not have to have previous experience, simply a keen interest in marine conservation, snorkeling, and diving. The program starts with training provided by our team of scientists, research divers, dive instructors, and local Fijians. The engaging presentations and workshops are not only limited to coral studies but also other marine benthic life forms, like sponges, lobsters, and crabs, other organisms that live on the ocean floor. During the section of the training related to coral reefs, you will learn about the basic types of corals including branching, encrusting, and massive species, as well as their life cycles. You will also learn more about threats to coral reefs and how coral bleaching occurs. Once your training is complete, volunteers will carry out coral surveys to monitor recovery of the reef after Cyclone Winston and coral bleaching events. Volunteers don’t focus on identifying all coral species in Fijian waters, but specifically on noting the species under the Acropora genus, famous for their large branching forms that look much like horns. Acropora species are incredibly abundant in Fijian waters and all the other corals on the survey are defined as non-Acropora species.
The results of these reef surveys are collated by our Caqalai volunteers, interns, and staff, and then presented to the local community organisations. This data, along with alternative livelihood methods and marine management strategies can help local stakeholders to make informed decisions with regards to protecting their vital marine resources and by extension their economy and long-term food security. Depending on the needs of the local partner organisations at the time, you may also take part in other important marine conservation projects like beach cleans or ocean floor clean ups and environmental education programs in local schools or with community groups. In this way, this program allows volunteers to directly address United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #14, Life Below Water.