We spent the last two days on the small island of Ovalau, located north-east of the main island Viti Levu. Of volcanic origin, Ovalau has a rugged interior and a scenic coastline. It also has a long history of foreign contact – in the 19th century, the town of Levuka was a South Pacific version of a Wild West bordertown, with saloons and a raucous nightlife. Today is has fallen back into a sort of slumber, but it retains a very enchanting atmosphere.
After a day of preparations, we (Sonia, Amanda and Sebastian) left our house before sunrise on Thursday morning to catch our 12 minute flight from Nausori airport over to Ovalau. Flying low over the shallow reefs between the two islands, we had a great view of the maze of small patch reefs, channels and mangroves in this extensive coastal habitat. After a short while, the small airstrip of Ovalau’s airport became visible through the pilot’s window in front of us. The eight-seater plane provided a very intimate flight experience.
Upon arriving at the tiny airport of Ovalau, we were picked up by Mesake, our local contact on the island. Mesake is a charismatic member of the chiefly line of Natokalau village. He also is the representative of the Fijian Locally Managed Marine Areas (FLMMA) network of Lomaiviti province, and a leader in the efforts to establish community-based tabu areas around Ovalau. After meeting us at the airport, he brought us to his community where we briefly met Janne before heading over to Levuka to make our formal introductions to the local leaders with a present of Kava. We briefly stopped in the old town to stock up on provisions (bread, sugar etc) for our stay in the village and to meet with the provincial office. The old wooden buildings on the main street of Levuka have a rustic charm, and the town has recently been added to the UNESCO’s list of cultural heritages.
Historically, Ovalau saw a lot of agriculture (such as copra and cotton), and this legacy is still visible today. While fishing is practiced around the island, farming is very important in the livelihoods of islanders. A stroll through the village showed a rich variety of fruits and vegetables grown behind houses and in small gardens, such as cassava, eggplant, taro, chillies, Chinese cabbage (pak choi), ginger, lemongrass and kava. Thus, we did not buy vegetables and fish in the town, but bought them directly from the community we stayed with.
Back in Natokalau, Mesake explained the history of the tabus and FLMMAs engagement in the province to us. Communities on the island have reported increasing amounts of algae in their local reefs and want to know what could be the causes and how to best address this in the management of their tabu areas. This is one of the points we aim to work on over the next months. Mesake told us of a number of initiatives undertaken in his village to improve the reef environment – one of them was to remove the pig sties that traditionally were close to the water and apply for funding for a new pig sty using composting of the waste. Later on, we were shown this new structure overlooking the village on a hill further inland.
Following this introduction, we took a boat out to the lagoon together with Mesake to have a look at a number of reefs north of Levuka that will serve as potential research sites for Amanda and Sonia. In the evening, we sat with several of the men of the village with a bowl of Kava. We discussed what we observed during the day, and the men were eager to hear about the different places we had visited in the past and how they compared to their local reefs. As we had gotten up at five in the morning to catch our flight, however, we all went off to bed after a delicious dinner, while the men continued to chat and play guitar until the wee hours of the morning.Watch movie online The Transporter Refueled (2015)
After a short breakfast, we got ready to explore more reefs on Friday morning. Janne had already been very busy meeting people and conducting interviews in the previous days, and went off to talk with additional respondents throughout the day with her assistant from our partner, the Wildlife Conservation Society Fiji. As a death had occurred in the chiefly family on the day of our arrival, people were getting busy with preparations for a funeral, to be held the following week, and thus would not have much time to spare for interviews in the coming days. The ecologists spent the morning surveying different spots within and outside of tabu areas throughout the lagoon. We were lucky with the weather – for the first time since our arrival, we had a sunny day. While crossing the turquoise waters of the lagoon, a small group of young spinner dolphins approached our boat and accompanied us for a few minutes, playfully breaking the surface next to the boat.