This July/August a group of 14 students spent 15 days taking part in conservation work and learning about the ecosystems of Natewa, Fiji, the newest research site of Operation Wallacea. The local people have ambitions to establish a national park on the Natewa Peninsula which skirts one side of Natewa Bay, the largest bay in the South Pacific. This would be the first of its kind in Fiji. In order to gather political and financial support for the project, Operation Wallacea are supporting the initiative by establishing various university-based survey work to identify and quantify the flora and fauna of the region.
Our students took part in a variety of land-based surveys, including mist-netting to catch, identify, photograph and measure native birds, butterfly netting, searching dense forests for invertebrates such as indigenous and invasive snails. Each evening, a member of the academic staff presented on specific aspect of island ecology, contextualising their daily activities.
The group spent 2 nights hosted by the nearby village of Vusa Ratu in home-stays. Whilst there, they were taught how to husk and scrap coconuts and crack them with an axe, to weave grass mats, and to produce the local fabric (Tapa). They were treated to incredible hospitality and more food than it was possible to eat, as well as a traditional Fijian dance, previously performed on the occasion of a visit by the President of Fiji.
After an emotional farewell, it was time to move on to the Marine site. After completing PADI Open Water qualifications, we carried out dives, identifying species of fish, coral, invertebrates etc as well as a treasure hunt. Some of the group were lucky enough to swim with a black tipped reef shark. Again, each evening we were treated to a lecture on marine ecology.
The whole experience was incredible. And, though an over-used phrase, it is one that the group will never forget. Miss Lawrence would like to thank the students for making the trip so memorable, as well as Miss Esswood for her unwavering support.
The next OpWall trip will take place in 2019 and will be to the Great Rift Valley (Malawi/Tanzania).