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All too soon, I seem to be nearing the end of my stay here at Nukubulavu. Our letters will be going out with the last ration run to Savusavu, which will supply us with enough food and fuel for the last three weeks on the island. These promise to be very intense as on Monday 6th March the proper surveys start: 30 transects we need to follow in teams of 3, recording fish species and size, invertebrates and substrate. The data will then be processed by both Greenforce and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to assess whether the marine protection areas set up (preventing fishing in certain areas) are working to conserve biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem, as well as providing a breeding ground for fish, increasing the yield in areas where fishing is permitted.
The last few weeks have been quite eventful. A couple of Saturdays ago we finally got to play the Fijians at rugby. Touch rugby, that would be, as we value our lives. It seemed like the entire male population of Navatu joined us for a mammoth 2 hour game on the playing field of the district school, half hour's walk away on the mainland. I believe the final score was something like 65-60, probably to the Fijians, but as I got bored after 3/4 hour and wondered off to chat to people on the sidelines, I'm not quite sure; if only we had been playing something more interesting like football! Probably not a good idea to say that to the rugby-mad Fijians though.
Training is now complete. Having finished my EFR course, should I meet an injured person I'm now qualified to say, 'Hello my name is Neil. I'm an emergency first responder. May I help you?' I then may or may not be able to save their life. I've also had to learn the various types of coral and completed an exercise where I had to estimate the length of several pieces of plastic tubing strung on ropes beneath the water, meant to simulate fish size estimation.
The number of dogs on camp increased dramatically recently from 4 to 16, as Busty gave birth to 5 puppies in the corner of our bure (where they remained for a day before we moved them out due to the smell) and another dog - three legged Peggy - came down from the village to give birth to a further 6 puppies behind one of the staff bures. At the moment they all have their eyes shut and never stumble more than a few yards from their nest, but soon they'll be trotting around camp, tripping people up and annoying everyone by being overly inquisitive. But we'll love them and then they'll be taken to the village to be disposed of as we can't have any more dogs on camp.
Another fundraiser was held recently at the village of Nakorrou, which was an hour's truck ride in to the mainland (plus 2 and a half hours sitting on the shore waiting for the truck to arrive - Fiji time in full force). We were greeted by what seemed to be the entire village in their huge community hall for a great night of dancing, kava and, wait for it....cold beer!! This had been brought in an ice box from Savusavu, especially for us. We also managed to raise $321.20 to go to the local school.
Just about all of us have now been diving in Namera, a marine protection area a couple of miles across the sea which is supposedly one of the top ten dive sites in the world. On my visit there I saw several big fish of all varieties and swam next to a stunning coral wall but compared to the 2m Giant Manta Ray, turtles and bull sharks that have been seen on subsequent dives, this feels a bit lame.
On the way back from setting up a transect at Namera a couple of days ago, Wayne (a guy from WCS) and Heidi (our stunning assistant scientist) went fishing and surprised us all by arriving back and heaving a huge 1.5m great barracuda over the side of the boat. This went to the village to be eaten, but we kept the two 70cm yellow fin tuna that had also been caught (which by our reckoning would have fetched about £200 in the UK) and baked them in a fire. From being caught to on our plate in less than 5 hours - absolutely delicious.
On two consecutive nights this week, Adam and I decided to go on a night dive. We can go shore diving whenever we want - just grab a buddy, kit up and write your name on the dive board. However, the reef just in front of our camp is rather poor with sparse, mainly dead coral and little fish life. At night, however, it's a different matter. Just swimming out to one of the dives we saw a small blue spotted ribbon tail ray in the shallows and underwater we came across a black blotched porcupine fish just sleeping on a ledge, a 70cm blue spined unicorn fish asleep in the coral (I got so close I could have reached out and tweaked the scalpal-sharp spines at the base of his tail) and to top it all two iridescent cuttle fish - transluscent purple with electric blue spots, they were quite a sight to see swimming through the dark ocean.