Saturday, February 28, 2009

#1: Landing in Fiji

Post by Steve Bailey

5:15 AM The humid fragrant Fijian air hits this weary band of divers, now emerging from Air Pacific's 747 Island of Vanua Levu. The simple beauty of the rising sun silhouetting distant volcanic peaks helps us forget about the not-so-restful, 11-hour, overnight flight from Los Angeles. Ahhhh, we're back in paradise.

Those of us who've been on Monterey Bay Aquarium/New England Aquarium Fiji Expeditions on four previous occasions now feel the excitement building. Soon we'll be boarding our impressively outfitted and capable home for 10 days, the 124-foot motorsailer Nai'a. Old, reacquainted friends explain to the 'Fiji freshmen' that within eight hours they will be diving on some of the finest reefs in the world.

The freshmen will be diving with people dedicated a diversity of projects and interests. On this trip, aquarium marine biologists, the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Dr. Steve Webster and New England Aquarium Curator of Fishes Steve Bailey, are assessing reef health, tracking changes to diversity and abundance, and as always, having an eye peeled for new species of critters. Keith Ellenbogen, Parsons School of Design photography professor, will be connecting his students back home in New York with the biology and art of Fijian reefs through innovative video/photographic approaches to interpreting life in this incredible habitat.

New subsurface gear will receive important field-testing by Senior Engineer John Larkin of Light & Motion, a California based manufacturer of underwater lighting and camera equipment. Past participants have included scientists such as noted reef fishes expert Dr. G.R. Allen of Conservation International and New England Aquarium Vice President of Global Marine Programs Dr. Greg Stone, as well as proficient filmmakers, photographers, authors and artists.

How do we attract people to these cruises? For one thing, we relentlessly sing the praises of this archipelago's astonishing, aquatic diversity. Our mission is to entice people who can help conserve Fijian waters, mainly by spending their diving dollars in Fiji while observing, learning, and sharing their experiences with others.

10:00 PM A marathonesque but productive and rewarding day is drawing to a close. Most have long since retired to their staterooms and are preparing for a full day tomorrow of exploring the reefs.


Monday, February 23, 2009

The 2009 Joint Aquarium Fiji Expedition

The Joint Aquarium Fiji Expedition combines the best fish minds from the New England Aquarium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Expedition members build working relationships with the people of Fiji and explore the complex biodiversity of the area.

Keith Ellenbogen, a member of the 2008 expedition took these amazing photographs of marine life. Part of the mission of the expedition is to build support with Fijians and people around the world to protect these ecosystems.

The 2008 expedition included participants from the New England Aquarium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The New England Aquarium's Curator of Fishes, Steve Bailey (Bailey), is a point person for this expedition, which has included many participants in the past: VP of Global Marine Programs Greg Stone, Senior Marine Biologist Steve Webster of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, New England Aquarium Board Members and long-time supporters Alan Dynner and Sandy Prescott and Dr. Gerry Allen, a revered marine biologist at Conservatin International. Here are some photos of those participants.

Some village chiefs in Fiji are attemptng to clearly establish a value for their culture that ensures long-term success of the tribe and village, as well as conservation of local resources. Members of the Joint Aquarium Fiji Expedition meet with villagers in Fiji in the burre, or community hall. These photos were taken during visits to villages:

Bookmark this page to stay connected to updates from the field from Bailey. The dives start this Friday, February 27.