The Inaugural Kia Eco Festival

In the spirit of marine conservation awareness, and in having a plain ole fashioned good time, the interns of C3 organized the first ever Kia Eco Festival.  The festival was aimed at generating awareness about marine conservation issues and the importance of preserving coral reef ecosystems in Fiji.  The event was a wonderful success and received heartfelt support from Kia islanders, especially the members of Yaro village, where we have been living.  The festival meandered throughout a Saturday afternoon and included sundry activities.  Booths were set up with different themes and manned by C3 interns eager to talk about their stations and answer questions.  For adults there were posters, brochures, diagrams and pamphlets to read as well as stalls on alternative livelihoods and recycling.  For children there were games and interactive activities, a character parade, an art contest, a marine-themed quiz, a talent competition, and lots of all around fun. 
 A sea snake, reading his poem about coral reefs
 Entries for the sulu design competition
 Awarding Reef Ranger participation certificates
 The Macuata district provincial officer attended to support the event
 Kids coloring for the art contest
 The childrens character parade
Girls with costumes and their message to Kians

Qoli on the menu

All the different fish we eat on Kia and the sundry ways they are prepared…

 Ocean-fresh parrot fish (these guys get sold to high-paying buyers)
 Herring...enjoy smoked or deep fried...bones and all!
 Triggerfish...served boiled
 Barbecued barracuda head with a side of cassava
 Grilled baby barracuda
 Snails and crab in lolo (coconut milk)...with a lemon tree thorn for plucking
 Surgeon fish ready for boiling
 Smoked drau drau
 A sundry assortment of battered and fried fish
 Smoked herring...a solution to no refrigeration
 A massive pot of fish curry on community day

Kia Goings-on

The children had a day off from school and we took that opportunity to conduct a beach-cleanup on the island.  We collected several bags of trash and separated it all into types: plastics, metal, wrappers, glass, etc.  After we sorted all the rubbish we got creative and made some art…
 On the final day of the training some women from the neighboring village came over with hand-made garlands for the workshop participants who completed the training; they were absolutely beautiful!
After 5 long, dry weeks without rain, the rainy season is finally upon us.  Tanks were dry and people were coming from neighboring villages to get water from Yaro’s emergency tanks.  Now that the rainy season has descended upon us water abounds.  The once-dry streams are flowing, the wells are full, and new flowers are blossoming around the island.  Gives new meaning to the phrase ‘life-giving rain.’

Community Leadership Training

Life on Kia is swell; I am currently basking in the success of my magnum opus here on the island.  As of last week, I successfully designed, planned, organized, budgeted, and conducted a workshop for the fishermen and women of the island.  The workshop spanned 3 days and focused on marine conservation and the scientific principles that influence marine resource harvest.  The workshop was entitled: ‘Community Leadership Training’ and promoted our conservation mantra for Kia: ‘Preserving Sustainable Life.’  The fishermen and women here depend on marine resources.  Fishing is a source of protein and sustenance for families, a source of income, and most importantly, a way of life.  Preserving sustainable life encompasses conserving populations of marine organisms to maintain biodiversity and healthy ecosystems as well as preserving a harvestable resource to support a culture and a livelihood.  Workshop participants were christened as ‘Community Conservation Ambassadors’ and were tasked with sharing the message of what they learned to their respective demographic groups within their communities.    

 Day 1 was an introduction to marine conservation.  I talked about the world’s oceans, the people that depend on them, and the current issues and problems plaguing marine ecosystems worldwide: overfishing, coral bleaching, pollution, and climate change.  We talked about the causes of these problems, their impacts on marine ecosystems, and how humans can alter their behavior to reduce the intensity of those impacts. 

Day 2 focused on biodiversity- its meaning, importance, and the natural and human-induced factors that limit its presence and distribution.  We talked about endangered and endemic species in Fiji, the role of producers, consumers and decomposers in ecosystems, the importance of keystone species and indicator species and how everything in natural systems are connected to each other and how a loss in biodiversity compromises all these components.  
Day 3 was the technical day.  We delved into fisheries science and some of the fundamentals of population dynamics.  I stressed the importance of sustainable fishery management and the considerations that must be made when harvesting marine resources.  We covered local fishing regulations, techniques and methodologies, and the importance of using traditional knowledge to provide a baseline for monitoring marine resources. 

Each day consisted of a lecture, interactive activities, discussion sessions, and of course…food.  The ladies of the village specially catered the event and did a fantastic job.  They prepared authentic Fijian dishes for lunch and baked goods for our morning tea breaks.  They dressed up for the occasion, crafted center-pieces out of local, native plants and flowers, and served participants with a smile.   They did such a phenomenal job; their involvement added a special touch to the entire event.  
Even though the event was held for a limited number of participants, the entire community contributed to its facilitation.  One man used his boat to taxi participants from other villages, the children helped set up the community hall, the young men built an easel to hold the white-board, and women volunteered their dishes to be used for lunch.  It was heart-warming to see the entire community coming together to support our event. 
Each intern was responsible for leading a content-enriching activity to reinforce the information covered in lectures.  We constructed a marine food web and toyed with removing and adding components to the web to see how they influenced its flow.  Participants were particularly fond of the role-playing activity where we assigned them roles as different members in the community and gave them a scenario to contemplate that would drastically alter the dynamics of the island, both ecologically and culturally.  We reviewed a case study and had very productive discussion sessions.  Participants were fully engaged and asked many thought-provoking questions.  

Over the 3 days we talked about food webs, trophic cascades, nutrient cycling, recruitment, predator/prey relationships, endemic and endangered species, economics, supply and demand, waste management, ecology, wildlife management,  human dimensions of resource management, stakeholders, ecosystem services, reef formation, keystone and indicator species,  sedimentation, coastal erosion, fisheries science, and strategic planning.
Me with 'George', the chief of the village
I got such positive feedback from all the participants.  Everyone had questions, shared stories, and even asked me to conduct another workshop the following week!  Since this was the first time C3 had conducted an event of this magnitude, the participant list was restricted to 10 invitees, however, there was so much interest in the village, others wandered in and sessions often consisted of upwards of 40 people.  Participants were engaged the entire time and were so interested in the material.  I got compliments and congratulations from everyone in the village and encouragement to continue such endeavors in the future, with requests to conduct more workshops, more often, in more villages.  Overall, I am extremely pleased with the outcome of the workshop and consider it one of my greatest personal and professional successes to date.
C3 interns, local assistants, and newly christened conservation ambassadors
Me with workshop participants

Living the Island Life

It’s the end of the dry season in Fiji and hot as ever.  Next month will begin the rainy season and hopefully cooler temperatures!  I have been frantically busy planning and preparing for the Community Leadership Training workshop that will be held in our village next week.  

 Going to the beach in the afternoons is great fun; I get to see the myriad of colorful fish that the fishermen and women catch.  Everything from striped triggerfish to spotted groupers to speckled cod and streaked sweetlips.  I am amazed at the diversity of fish here.  

Living in the village you never get a break from being around people.  I live in a one-roomed  house with 4 other girls right in the middle of the village.  We have neighbors on all sides and people are constantly coming in to the house to visit with us.  The community is extremely close-knit and everyone knows everyone’s business, not to mention where they are at any given point in the day.  If you take a walk, people always ask you where you are going and why.  Every once in a while I manage to slip away and I hike over a big hill to the other side of the island to a beach sequestered in a little cove.  Whenever I need a break I grab my mask and my journal and spend a few hours writing and snorkeling.  Its peaceful there and I enjoy the solitude.  

 My private beach : )

Days are busy prepping for the workshop so my free time has been limited, but I have managed to find some free time for weaving and quite enjoy it.  I have learned to make a few different things and love experimenting.  The holidays are fast-approaching and the women in the village have been busy weaving new mats for Christmas.  We can hear them in the community hall from our house. They spend all day in there weaving and sharing the village gossip.  Every once in a while one of them says something of particular amusement and the hall will erupt with cackles and giggles.    

 My curious cowrie collection
 Went fishing and caught a grouper!

Some of the girls and I went fishing on the reef with the villagers and had a wonderful time.  The sea was a little rough and we got tossed around but had good fun slipping and sliding all over the boat.  I got to see blue-footed boobies on a nearby island, flying fish jumping and gliding over the water and some beautiful tropical fish in the waters below. 

Living on an island is a double-edged sword.  There are things I love about it…waking up to the ocean every morning, drinking from fresh coconuts on the beach, living in a village, beachcombing, and snorkeling, but I definitely get island fever and long for the conveniences and amenities of the mainland. 

Kia Chronicles

It's been a while since it has rained on the island and we are desperate for fresh water!  The water tanks are empty, the bore hole containing ground water is dry, and we are subsisting on the emergency tank that the village shares in tough times like these. We have resorted to bathing in the ocean, not doing laundry, and using water very sparingly.
Other than that life on Kia is swell.  I am deep into designing and planning a community leadership training workshop for the fishermen and women of the island.  The program will be aimed at teaching the fishermen about the scientific basis of marine resource management and give them the information and knowledge to equip them to sustainably manage the local qoli qoli's (traditional fishing grounds).  It is a huge undertaking and is a great challenge given the culture, customs and mentality of the people on the island.  They are very set in their ways, beliefs and behaviors.  Every day is a challenge and we are slowly trying to penetrate the people and get them to open their minds to new ideas and ways of doing things.  Its been a frustrating but exhilarating experience.

When I am not working on the workshop planning I occupy myself beach-combing, taking photos, learning to cook traditional Fijian dishes and socializing with the women of the village.  I have learned to weave some and have developed a knack for weaving rings out of palm leaves.  There's a huge influx of jellyfish in the water recently so I haven't been able to snorkel as much as I would like.  Last week we had a beach cleanup with all the children of the village.  It was fun and we picked up a lot of trash but there is still so much more to collect!
I've had some awesome experiences on Kia- everything from watching meke (traditional dance) to hiking the highest peak on the island, watching a colony of fruit bats emerge at dusk, and volunteering at the school.  Not to mention eating fresh, tropical fish for dinner almost every night, watching picture-perfect sunsets, and making wonderful friends.  Kia is a special place. 

Bula Vinaka from Fiji!

I have arrived safely and soundly on the tiny Island of Kia, off the northern coast of Vanua Levu, the second largest island in the island nation of Fiji.  I am living in the village of Yaro, a small beachside community of 122 members.  The people of Yaro are primarily fishermen and women, harvesting fish for both their sustenance and livelihood; they catch fish as a source of food and also as a product to sell in the local fish market. 

Life on Kia is a dichotomy between productivity and leisure.  Villagers work hard to sustain their lives and families.  Women spend their days cooking, washing, looking after children, weaving, fetching water, and other daily chores.  Men primarily fish and do other things around the village as needed- building/repairing houses, gathering firewood, tending crops etc.  Every family in the village has a small parcel of land and mostly grow root crops like taro and yucca.  Fruit trees are abundant on the island and there is usually a fresh supply of papaya, coconut, mango, breadfruit, and bananas.  When people are not busy working, they like to loaf around.  Most houses don’t have any furniture, less a cupboard for dishes, and everyone sits and lies on woven mats on the floor to do everything, eat, sleep, etc.  When all the chores are done people lie around, relax, talk, smoke, and lounge.
The people of Kia are warm and welcoming and we have been well-received.  Women invite us to come have afternoon tea with them and men are always eager to talk to us and invite us to sit with them.  All the women have very short hair and they are enamored at my long, curly hair. The children are endearing; some are still quite shy while others have transcended the ‘new white girl in the village’ notion.  Several times they have observed me on the beach collecting shells and coral and they periodically bring me the prettier ones they encounter.  I have spent time teaching them to play duck-duck-goose, braiding hair and playing in the ocean.  Three evenings a week we help the children with their homework; they need special attention in the areas of math and science and we have been organizing lessons to supplement their classroom assignments. 

Yaro is a very religious village.  The villagers have church almost every day.  Sunday at 7am, 10am and 6pm, Monday is men’s group, Tuesday is women’s, Wednesday is cell group, Friday is youth.  The villagers are especially fond of singing and have regular choir practice.  Fijian is not a particularly easy language to learn, but I am trying.  The words sound similar to Spanish so they are not difficult to pronounce, but they are very foreign and hard to remember. 

I spent my first 2 weeks transitioning to island/village life and have begun planning and preparing for the work that lies ahead.  My task is to design and implement a series of workshops for the fishermen and women to raise awareness about marine conservation.  I will be formulating workshops to discuss and explain important issues relating to the harvesting of marine resources such as the importance and conservation of biodiversity, the role and importance of preserving endangered species, the biological consequences or poor fishing practices, and the importance of gathering traditional knowledge of the local fishery to establish a baseline for future fishery monitoring and management.  The task is great, but I am looking forward to the challenge!

Tursiops Tales

On my last assignment in Mississippi, I was assigned a rather interesting boat captain.  The most adorable little, old man- a veteran shrimp trawler and retired dolphin trainer!  Turns out he trained the dolphin who starred in the original movie 'Flipper.'  No joke.  He brought in his scrap book of old photos to prove it.  SO awesome!

I want to turn this into a postcard! Mr. Robert Corbin was the first dolphin trainer in the world to achieve a tripple-dolphin jump!

Marsh Marvels

I've spent the spring and summer months of 2011 tromping the marshes and beaches of the Gulf Coast, from Venice, Louisiana all the way to Destin, Florida.  This year's projects included the Coastal Wetland Vegetation/Marsh Assessment, Submerged Oil Characterization, and Marsh Edge Sandy Shoreline/Biota Monitoring.  Its been a long, hot, fun summer and things are finally winding down for this field season.  Below are pics and tid bits from the summer's adventures....

Sunrise at the state dock in Bayou La Batre, AL

A shrimp trawler coming in after a night of shrimping hungry birds waiting for freebies

This guy landed on my backpack one afternoon; I suspect he was attacked by a bird because he had a chunk of one of his wings missing and 2 broken legs, not to mention he was lethargic and did not move for quite a while.  Needless to say, he became a specimen in my personal naural history collection.

A sandbar bird hot spot on Dauphin Island, AL

Great Blue Heron

Mud flats in Venice, LA

We snuck up on this guy!

Sunset in Bayview, LA

There is a huge amount of diversity in Odontonates in the marsh lands!

My first time seeing a water spout (a tornado on the water)

Black-necked stilts, one of my favorite marsh birds

Chrinum lillies