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Frontier’s Reef Saving Campaign on Beqa Island

- By ERIN LAWLOR Photos SUPPLIED

Beqa is the island home of men who possess the inexplicab­le ability to walk barefoot on hot stones. The island is also famous for having some of the world’s best dive sites and an incredible variety of marine species from whales and sharks to rays and turtles and tiny, brilliant reef fish. It is not surprising that the primary sources of income for the island are therefore tourism, mostly scuba diving, and fishing. But with environmen­tal degradatio­n and the adverse effects of climate change, the island’s marine ecosystem, as that of other parts of Fiji, face a dreadful reality. In an effort to conserve the island’s pristine marine ecosystem Beqa has been playing host to a small camp run by Frontier. Frontier is a UK-based non-profit organisati­on driven by a desire to change the world for the better and we’re committed to helping the neediest peoples. Frontier projects, which focus on community developmen­t,

environmen­tal education, training and sustainabl­e livelihood­s, are designed to transfer maximum benefit to host communitie­s in terms of economic and welfare gains, ecosystem regenerati­on and skills transfer. The Frontier camp on Beqa is made up of a group of volunteers from all over the world working on a Fiji Marine Conservati­on project to investigat­e the status of coral reefs around Beqa as a result of human activities, among other effects. These volunteers assess the status of the island’s coral reef systems and collect data such as the variety of species present or whether climate change is affecting the coral reef. They also educate and promote training that will help local communitie­s better manage their marine resources. To achieve this mission, volunteers conduct scientific baseline data surveys of reef areas, mapping the sea grass beds and mangrove fringes of the region. Once a longterm data set is obtained, patterns of resource use can be identified and work with local communitie­s can

begin to build awareness of the value and vulnerabil­ity of their marine environmen­t. They also aim to locate turtle nesting beaches on Beqa and help to create seasonally protected areas. Apart from other species, sharks will benefit from the research, especially as Beqa is popular for underwater shark viewing and feeding. Sharks have more than 500 different species in the world and everyday they are facing threats including being harvested for their meat, liver, oil, cartilage and fins. According to statistics up to 100 million sharks are killed globally by fisheries each year. Even though Fijian locals do not target sharks where they are viewed as sacred these marine animals may still be vulnerable to foreign fishing fleets. Local communitie­s may be driven to hunt the venerated animals as prices for shark parts increase. For example, a shark’s fin can sell up to $135 per kilogram in Hong Kong. Without the sharks, the middle predators will take control and feed on smaller fish that live off the micro-organisms that attack and smother the coral. The death of the coral means the death of the islands, so we must do everything we can to protect the sharks and their environmen­t. Frontier sends their data to the Reef Check organisati­on. The informatio­n they gather on the sea is put in a global database which helps them visualise what’s happening to coral reefs all over the world. The reason for focusing so much on coral reefs is that they protect up to 20% of world’s coast from wave erosion. When volunteers aren’t in the water, they are helping keep beaches clean by spending one day a week at different sites around Beqa and collect washed up rubbish. The camp neighbours the village Nasusu where they help out when they can. Volunteers are currently raising money for the village to help buy a new generator to replace the one damaged by a cyclone in February. Not having a generator means villagers have no electricit­y at all, which means they have to sit in the dark at night. The Frontier team is led by Abbie Dosell, who is the senior research officer and used to be a Reef Check eco diver. Abbie and the team rearrange the dive sites and transect lines, meaning that they can get more specified data. On a positive note the Marine Conservati­on team have found that the levels of recently killed coral were low and was averaging out at 2% per quadrant. Bleaching, disease and damage were completely absent from Preliminar­y Quadrants with a percentage of 0. The Marine Conservati­on team are superheroe­s for the ocean and have done an amazing job so far to look after our precious coral reefs.

 ??  ?? Beqa’s underwater world is the subject of Frontier’s marine conservati­on efforts.
Beqa’s underwater world is the subject of Frontier’s marine conservati­on efforts.
 ??  ?? Reef hazard…Crown of Thorns starfish collected and measured
Reef hazard…Crown of Thorns starfish collected and measured
 ??  ?? Divers remove Crown of Thorns from Beqa reef.
Divers remove Crown of Thorns from Beqa reef.
 ??  ?? A Frontier diver on marine research work.
A Frontier diver on marine research work.
 ??  ?? Mangrove planting on Beqa mudflats
Mangrove planting on Beqa mudflats

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