Friday, June 21, 2013



Alright. Saturday. Exhale.

Perched at a roadside cafe, I sip my afternoon coffee and watch as motorbikes weave through honking traffic. This is Suva, Fiji's bustling capitol city. Here, the air is thick and humid. The smell of coffee mingles with damp asphalt and gasoline. A bead of sweat slips down my neck and dampens my shirt, all beneath the bright gray sky. 


Six of us have come here to survey marine biodiversity in a newly designated marine protected area (as outlined in my previous post). Our field site is half a day's journey away, on the northern island of Vanua Levu. We can't start collecting data until we have the government's go-ahead, so we're landlocked in Suva for the next few days dealing with the bureaucratic joys of research permitting. 

To survey fishes in Fiji, it is necessary to obtain permits from the departments of education, immigration, and fisheries. It's near impossible to get these permits unless you're in-country. The Wildlife Conservation Society, one of our lab's major partners, has been a tremendous help in finagling all the legal bits. We should have all the prep finished by wednesday evening, when the next ferry to the northern island heads out.


Although I'm anxious to collect data, this dry time is necessary. In addition to obtaining permits, it gives us a chance to stock up on supplies (ethanol and dry ice to preserve tissue samples, buckets, nets, etc) and to participate in local outreach. Yesterday Dr. Drew (our primary investigator, AKA the head of this project), gave a presentation on reef preservation and community-based conservation at a local high school. We've also been invited to a 4th of July celebration at the US embassy to discuss our research with local and international representatives. 


Yesterday, I went wandering along the seawall in Suva harbor. The bay is choked with huge freighters and international fishing vessels. Plastic bags, cans, and debris litter the shallows. Yet, even here, angelfish and seargent majors forage in the rubble. Yes, there are tremendous challenges ahead of us, but it isn't too late to protect these precious places! 

The abiding overcast is breaking up, and a hint of blue sky peeks through. I down the last of my coffee, and wonder what tomorrow will bring. 

IMG_3186 IMG_3183

Monday, June 17, 2013

To Fiji

It has been a frenzied two weeks of laundry and primary lit. Late May heralded the end of my time in Washington, and tomorrow it's wheels up again. This time I'm headed for Fiji with the Fishlab.


We will spend three weeks surveying reef fish biodiversity on the site of a proposed marine protected area (MPA) to track long-term, ecosystem-wide impacts of a protected zone.


1. Characterize biodiversity now, providing a baseline to track future changes in diversity.

2. Describe any new reef species. There are over 1,200 known in Fiji to date.

3. Provide relevant information on existing biodiversity to conservation managers.

Remember how to dive?Safety first man. #flipfloptan #cuinfiji

In 2010, The Parties to The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) met in Nagoya, Aichi prefecture, Japan. There, a strategic plan of global biodiversity targets was drafted for the year 2020. These goals are termed the "Aichi Biodiversity Targets", and are shared by 197 nations, including The US, The Russian Federation, China, The European Union, Brazil, India, The Republic of Korea, Japan, Kenya, Nepal, Afghanistan, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Mexico.

The 11th target of the strategic plan addresses marine conservation: "By 2020...10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved..." 

The Parties to the CBD intend to protect marine biodiversity by creating a system of MPAs that conserve 10% of marine areas globally. Fiji is a party to the CBD, and has already met the 2020 target. Currently, 12% of all inshore marine habitats are protected by local-scale, community based efforts. The Fijian government has set a higher national goal to protect 30% of the archipelago's reefs and other marine ecosystems by 2020.

Homeward bound. goodbye to the Pacific Northwest! I love you.

How has Fiji met global conservation objectives? The answer lies in the marriage of traditional and modern conservation approaches.

Long before colonization, Fijian communities had their own means of marine resource management. Each community group (mataqali) had an explicitly defined fishing area as outlined by a Chief (Hornell 1940). Reefs could be closed seasonally, or in observance of a significant event. These temporary closures, known as "tabu" were meant to rebuild stocks for times of future harvest.

In the past decade, the Fijian government has strongly encouraged expansion of traditional local-scale approaches to marine conservation practice. The majority of management planning is through the Fiji Locally-Mananged Marine Area (LMMA) Network, with over 200 communities designating no-take zones, or gear restrictions on their local reefs. Now, traditional methods are applied in response to the modern challenges of high demand and overfishing.  

As Mills (2012) notes, local-scale ad hoc conservation practices can theoretically combine into a network of integrated protected zones in Fiji. However, without systematic identification of priority areas, limited resources may only serve regional goals, contributing marginally to broader objectives. In the video below, Dr. Josh Drew outlines the importance of connections between MPAs: 

Connections between parks provide insurance. In case of disaster, a degraded area can be healed and repopulated with recruits from a neighboring zone. In addition, many more ecosystems can be represented in a network of reserves than in any single protected area.  

During our time in Fiji, we will collect fishes from different areas within a proposed MPA. Back in the lab, we will extract and analyze DNA from these fishes. By comparing genetic data, we will determine if fish collected from different geographic areas are interbreeding. This will give us an initial snapshot of distribution and diversity in the MPA, which can be monitored and reevaluated over time. 

Much more to come on this and future projects. Hello graduate school, I'm stoked to meet you. 

Prepping my field notebook for Fiji this month. We will spend three weeks surveying reef fish biodiversity on the site of a proposed marine reserve (tabu area) to track long-term, ecosystem-wide impacts of a marine protected area. #CUinFiji
The new 3mm (and knife). Feeling badass in pink. #aqualung #scuba #CUinfiji