Monday, March 21, 2011

Fiji Expedition: Seeking Shelter from Tsunamis in Nasavu Village

This is a guest post from Dr. Stacy Jupiter, Program Director for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Fiji. The photos are by frequent Global Explorers Blog contributor Keith Ellenbogen.

At 8 p.m. on Friday, March 11, I got a call from Rebecca, our postdoctoral research fellow, asking if I was going to evacuate.

"Evacuate from what?" I asked.

"Haven't you seen the news?" she replied. "There was just an 8.9 magnitude earthquake off Japan and they have been hit with a 10 meter tsunami. All of the Pacific is on alert."

We hadn't been paying attention. Keith and I were too busy packing up our gear to depart with the team at 5 a.m. to catch a ferry to remote Bua Province on the western side of Vanua Levu. The Pacific Tsunami Watch Center estimated that waves would arrive in Fiji by 3:27 a.m.

Since Rebecca and I both live directly on the coast in Suva, we began what became a four hour deliberation over text messages and phone calls. Leave and seek shelter on the higher ground and hardwood floors of the WCS office or enjoy a soft bed at home by the sea?

Nasavu villagers welcoming Keith and Stacy (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Keith and I dropped the gear at the office but I opted to watch some more news before sentencing myself to a sore back and stiff neck. As I'll be out in the field sleeping on floors for the next 6 weeks, I couldn't bear to give up one last night of real pillows and air conditioning. Still, I made sure that I was awake prior to 3 a.m. to confirm that the alarmist predictions of CNN had not come true and island nations closer to Japan were still intact.

Nasavu villagers (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

I breathed a sigh of relief after 4 a.m. when it appeared we were spared. By 5, we were at the office, bleary-eyed, but ready to hit the road in a mini-van to Natovi landing, from where we would catch a 3 hour ferry to Nabouwalu, and then a truck to Nasavu Village in Nadi District.

We have been conducting marine surveys in Bua Province since 2005, but this is the first time that we have ventured farther afield from Kubulau District, where WCS helped communities establish Fiji's first ridge-to-reef management plan and establish a network of 20 marine protected areas. After hearing about the success from Kubulau in terms of fish biomass reeled in and income earned from the sale of tourist dive tags, other nearby districts have asked us for assistance to initiate similar management schemes. This trip represents our first foray into the reefs of Nadi, Solevu, Wainunu and Wailevu districts to see just how much fishing has impacted their ecosystems.

Stacy Jupiter with  Nasavu villagers (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Nasavu village is located along a beautiful stretch of coastline with palm-tree and mangrove lined bays. It is one of only four villages in the districts, home to about 150 people and the district primary school. We had a rather quiet reception as most of the village residents were unaware of our impending arrival. Initially, Akuila, our logistics coordinator, arranged for us to stay in Solevu District, but plans were quickly shifted due to an outbreak of typhoid, a waterborne bacterial disease which appears to be increasingly plaguing rural Fijian communities, possibly due to human alteration of watersheds (something that WCS and collaborators are looking to investigate).

Nasavu villagers (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Instead, our newly typhoid-vaccinated staff were greeted with surprised smiles that soon gave way to extremely warm hospitality. A tanoa (kava bowl) was brought out and we drank bilo after bilo (cup after cup) of Fiji's signature brew. [As described in previous posts from the Joint Aquarium Fiji Expedition here and here] Keith took the opportunity to snap some shots of village life, while I developed a new fan club (Nasavu branch) after being encouraged by the kids to sing. As Fijians themselves seem to all be born gifted singers, they are always looking for someone with whom they can raise their voices in song.

Now that we have thoroughly dried out and avoided tsunami doom, we are looking forward to getting back into the water tomorrow to explore some new territory.

Moce mada.

-Stacy Jupiter, PhD

1 comment:

  1. Great Post! And happy to hear that Fiji dodged the brunt of tsunami impacts.

    And I know the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) Fiji Field Team would be excited to develop similar transparent and community-benefiting dive tourism tag systems for other marine protected areas throughout Fiji (as we did in developing the effective dive tag system in the Kubulau District's Namena Marine Reserve in Bua Province)!

    Rick MacPherson
    Conservation Programs Director
    Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL)