Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Preparing to return to Fiji

This post is written by Keith Ellenbogen, professional underwater photographer and frequent contributor to the New England Aquarium Global Explorers blog. His posts from the field will share his experiences as he returns to Fiji this month on a two-week expedition.

My apartment is a disaster zone. There are pelican cases littering the floors, camera parts strewn everywhere, and bits of dive equipment on every piece of furniture. I can no longer see the floor, but it doesn't bother me because in four days all of the equipment will be safely stowed in the baggage compartment of a 747 flying me back to Fiji.

Gear strewn around the apartment in preparation to leave (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

 As an addition to the 2010 New England Aquarium / Monterey Bay Aquarium expedition to Fiji and the start of a new project, I am headed on an assignment with Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and a team of marine scientists led by Dr. Stacy Jupiter.

Assembling underwater housing for a camera. (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

The first part of this WCS expedition will focus on conservation of Fiji's charismatic sharks and dolphins. In an effort to raise awareness of Fiji's rapidly declining shark populations, I will capture images that will be used in a campaign to halt shark finning (a subject covered by Brian Skerry in this previous post). Additionally both Stacy and I will travel to Moon Reef to photograph a resident population of spinner dolphins that the locals believe are the spirits of their ancestors.

Camera prepared for action in Fiji (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

As an effort to promote marine education and awareness, Stacy and I will take a group of Fijian high school students on a field trip to the Suva fish market and introduce them to the art of videography and storytelling to more effectively communicate coral reef conservation. This workshop is part of a project being led by WCS, The Field Museum in Chicago, and the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area Network, entitled: "Conservation Connection: From the West Side to the West Pacific." It was one of the 2010 winners of the MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning Competition.

For the second half of the expedition we will travel to the remote Bua and Cakaudrove provinces, on Fiji's northern main island of Vanua Levu, to explore new critical areas within the Vatu-i-Ra seascape region.

This area is a national priority for biodiversity conservation due to its relatively intact reefs, low fishing pressure and importance for critically threatened species such as humphead parrotfish. On site, I will visually document from an art and scientific point of view the coral reefs, mangroves, marine biodiversity, the health of the reef, and environmental threats (bleaching, pollution and climate change) that complement the research initiatives of Stacy and other WCS scientists.

On the water with gear assembled

Reaching remote parts of the world is a challenge. Often more exciting than simply traveling to a destination is the opportunity to live and integrate with people and cultures from far away places for an extended period of time. Although both Stacy and myself will miss life on the NAI'A, diver of the day presentations, and the camaraderie of the self proclaimed fish and coral geeks, I feel fortunate to have the chance to immerse myself in the daily routines of a Fijian village. Throughout our stay we will focus on communicating a human story that is aimed to inspire, and ultimately engage communities in a conservation-based dialogue that explores the interconnections between people and places.

Please join us as we share pictures and stories from in the field.

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