By Katy Miller
[Note: this is the first in a series of blogs documenting a new scientific survey of the waters and islands comprising Fiji’s Northern Lau Group]
A team of made up of fish and coral experts recently set off for the untouched waters and lush limestone islands of the Northern Lau Group. Vatuvara Private Islands and the Vatuvara Foundation have partnered with WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) to conduct marine baseline surveys assessing the health of diverse coral reefs 12 months after the Category 5 Cyclone Winston passed through Fiji and caused wide-scale damage.
This will be the first scientific survey to be carried out by the Vatuvara Foundation in these waters. The team will diving from May 8 ‒ 16 on coral reefs around Kaibu, Kanacea, Vatuvara, Yacata, and Adavaci Islands in Lau and Cakaudrove Provinces.
On our first day, we flew 50 minutes to the far east of the Fiji Islands from the mainland of Viti Levu. If I could paint a picture of the paradise islands of the Lau Group, the canvas would be sprayed with azure waters every shade of blue, turquoise, and jade—glimmering in the sunlight, with shallow lagoon mirage-like limestone karsts and sandbanks floating in the distance.
The dive team will be collecting baseline data on the abundance and diversity of corals and fish species, as well as key invertebrates such as sea cucumbers that are an important source of livelihood for local communities.
A separate team—comprising representatives from the Ministry of Fisheries, Cakaudrove Provincial Office, WCS, and the Vatuvara Foundation—visited the community of Yacata last month to provide general awareness on natural resource management, conduct participatory mapping of community land and sea resources, and to learn more about their traditional knowledge.
This process of observing traditional practices has helped strengthen the Vatuvara Foundation’s understanding of how critical it is to protect and revive the ocean through marine protection and the empowerment of local communities as stewards of their natural resources.
Our first dive was off the leeward side of Yacata Island, which is known fishing grounds for the village and calm from the swift currents that flood through the lagoon. There is limited ecological data available for these islands and their surrounding waters, so it was exciting for us all to explore new reefs. We were delighted to find that they were healthy, thriving, and vibrant with growth—with little impact from Cyclone Winston.
Armed with an incredible team of Fijian scientists with inquisitive minds and an eagerness for knowledge, we embark on our diving expedition to safeguard these waters as safe havens for marine life for future generations.
Katy Miller is Director of the Vatuvara Foundation.