We left for Beqa with one day delay, as the weather did not allow for a safe boat passage on Tuesday morning. At this time of the year, the winds blow from the south-east and directly hit the deep passage between Viti Levu and Beqa. Fortunately, the wind patterns will change over the next weeks as the season shifts, so fieldwork on Beqa will not be as affected. On the morning of our trip, Akuila picked the rest of us up from our house on the outskirts of Suva at 6 in the morning, and we drove to Pacific Harbour to catch the boat over to Beqa. As the winds blow less strong in the mornings, this way we could make sure that the passage was as smooth as possible. Still, the wind was strong and quite cold, and we were happy when we reached Dakuibeqa village on Beqa after two hours.
The villagers had been expecting us, and the elders received us in the community hall for the introductory Sevu-sevu ceremony. For Ryan and Andreas, this was the first ceremony of this kind, and they were introduced to the proper way of receiving and drinking Kava. After the formalities were done, we were invited to a delicious meal prepared by the community – Dakuibeqa is a highly self-sufficient village, and almost all of the ingredients of our lunch (clams, seaweed, cassava, chillies, lemons) came from the village gardens and waters.
Following lunch, we arranged for a boat trip to a number of lagoon reefs in the community fishing ground (Qoli-qoli). We were planning to look at a number of traditionally-managed areas (tabu areas). However, after a short discussion it turned out that a number of the sites we had previously marked on a map based on information from our counterparts in Suva were no longer enforced. We thus decided to focus on a few sites inside and outside the two remaining tabu areas in existence, one on the inner side of the barrier reef and one on the inner fringing reef of Beqa.
While the water quality out on Beqa, besides some turbidity caused by the strong winds and water movement, appeared very good compared to the reefs closer to Suva, we found a surprising amount of dead hard coral. Apparently these were killed a few years ago, but what exactly caused this mortality was not clear. To the delight of Sonia and Ryan, however, fish abundance and diversity were quite high, particularly of herbivores. On the fringing reef, we even found a large school of juvenile barracudas and a small reef shark. Back in front of Dakuibeqa, there again appeared to be quite a high amount of local eutrophication and sedimentation, likely caused by the small creek running through the village which was lined with showers, outhouses and farm plots.
In the evening, we were asked by the village elders to explain what we had observed, and to comment on the status of their tabu areas. We discussed our impressions and, on request, talked at some length on the effects of land-based activities on reefs and on ridge-to-reefs approaches to coastal management. The exchange was very interactive, and the villagers emphasized that they were very interested in the work we were planning and the results we would produce. We promised to report back on our findings and to discuss them with the community during our upcoming field work. The Roko Tui, or head of the provincial council, for the province covering Beqa had kindly accompanied us on this visit, and was keen to see the interaction with the community.
On the next morning, strong winds and rain seemed to promise a rough ride back to the mainland. However, after breakfast and the goodbye ceremony, winds had calmed down a bit, and on the way back the rain front stayed steadily before us, so that we reached Pacific Harbour relatively dry. Back at the house, Janne was waiting for us, who had come back from Ovalau a few hours ago. And something else was waiting for us when we arrived – the oxygen kit we had left behind in Brisbane! It was delivered just as we pulled into our driveway. Finally, all our equipment and team members have arrived safely in Suva!
In the afternoon, Sonia, Amanda and Sebastian had a first recap discussion of the different sites we had visited over the past weeks, and of the design for the fieldwork which is going to start in earnest next week.
This morning, we had a meeting of the entire team with the Fisheries Department of the Eastern Division. Sebastian started with an overview presentation of the REPICORE project, and each team member then presented their planned work in detail. We had a lively and interesting discussion with the Fisheries staff, who were keen to learn about our work plan, ask about specifics of our approaches, and suggest aspects of interest to them we should look into. Of particular interest was our planned work on herbivore ecology, as well as on livelihood vulnerability of fishing communities. We agreed to keep in close contact, exchange information, and engage Fisheries staff in our field work.
We ended the day with a goodbye dinner at Akuila’s place, who had prepared a traditional Fijian feast (a Lovo, or earth oven) for us. As Sonia and Sebastian will fly back to Bremen tomorrow, this was a great way to end our initial time in Fiji and to start off the field work time that is now ahead.