After a second evening filled with Kava, the exchange of stories and curious inquiries, and a lot of laughter, the REPICORE ecologists got ready to return to Suva. Janne will stay behind for another week of interviews and focus group discussions before joining us for a meeting with the Fijian Fisheries Department at the end of the week. Following another short flight, we were back on the rainy main island. We spent the afternoon going over our impressions from the first two sites we visited (Navakavu and Ovalau), discussing potential research designs and schedules.
In the evening, our three ISATEC MSc students (Ryan, Steven and Andreas) finally arrived at our house in Lami. The REPICORE team for the next few months is now complete! Ryan will work with Sonia on herbivorous fishes and their role in controlling different types of algae in reefs, combined with an assessment of fishing preferences and catchability by conducting market surveys and interviews with fishers. Andy is working with Amanda, looking at palatability of macroalgae under different nutrient regimes and in contact with stony corals. Steven, also working with Amanda, will study the effects of different densities of sea cucumbers on benthic parameters to assess the ecological impacts of sea cucumber fishing, which is a widespread activity of high economic importance to communities throughout the South Pacific.
From the students, we also heard that our emergency oxygen kit, which we had to leave behind in a locker in Brisbane on our way from Germany because the onward airline refused to take it on board, was successfully retrieved and handed over to a shipping company that would transport it onwards to Fiji as dangerous goods. We spent Sunday with going over each of the student’s work plans and research ideas, and getting materials for surveys and experiments from a number of hardware stores. In the evening, we met up with our counterparts Sangeeta Mangubhai and Stacy Jupiter from Wildlife Conservation Society for an informal introduction of the team.
Monday morning was very busy with organizing the work for the week and administrative things. We obtained the remaining research permits and visas, organized bank accounts and local phone numbers, met with WCS for a lengthy discussion of research plans, arranged for Steven’s trip north to his research location, worked on getting a customs clearance for our oxygen kit, arranged logistics for the boat ride over to Beqa Island and a stay in the village there, and met with the Roko Tui (head of the provincial council) for Suva and Beqa. In the afternoon, Akuila and Sebastian went for a Sevu-Sevu ceremony with the supreme chief of the two villages we are going to visit on Beqa. In the end, all arrangements are in place now for the visit to our last site, this time together with Akuila and the three MSc students. At 7am tomorrow morning, we will leave for the island of the firewalkers – Beqa!