International Students travel to Vanua Levu for the experience of a lifetime
Through international conservation research organization Operation Wallacea and local non-profit The Nambu Conservation Trust, over 170 students will be taking part in an expedition on the Natewa peninsula. This is the third year that the expedition is taking place, in a remote area of Vanua Levu, with students from countries around the world spending two weeks in Fiji to learn about village life, help with habitat analysis, biodiversity surveys, and complete a reef ecology course. The students spend two nights in village homestays before trekking to a remote forest camp for a few days of forest habitat surveys, followed by a week at a marine camp on Natewa Bay.
An immersive once-in-a-lifetime travel experience with a purpose
The homestay portion of their expedition takes place in a few different villages, with each village providing the students the opportunity to participate in preparing lovo dinners, mat weaving, and coconut husking while getting a glimpse into Fijian village life. It is an experience that will stay with them for the rest of their lives, as well as providing direct economic benefit to the people living in those remote villages.
An undiscovered gem with incredible biodiversity
The Natewa peninsula may only cover around 3.1% of the total land area within the Fijian archipelago, but so far 59% of terrestrial birds, 33% of native terrestrial mammals, and 35% of reptiles known to occur nationally have been found there. In addition, many species found in this area are found nowhere else on earth. A portion of the organisms endemic to the Natewa peninsula includes 15 species of birds, 4 species of butterflies, and 26 species of trees.
Natewa Bay, the largest bay in the South Pacific, is known for its staggering amounts of healthy hard corals but at present not much is known about the species abundance and diversity. With depths exceeding 1000m in some locations there is a wide range of habitats found within the bay including barrier and fringing coral reefs, mangroves, deep pelagic areas, and seagrass beds.
Reef ecology courses and long-term conservation goals
In conjunction with the Nambu Conservation Trust, the marine portion of the expedition is run by Ocean Ventures Fiji, who have provided SCUBA training for several locals involved with the project. Students and locals participate in a reef ecology course to learn about the common species of fish and invertebrates found in the bay, along with global and local threats to their populations and ecosystems. Students will also learn about scientific methodology such as stereo-video surveys to determine fish abundance and diversity, and 3D modelling of the coral reefs. They will be assisting in a project called the Allen Coral Atlas, which uses satellites to map and monitor shallow coral reefs on a global scale.
The long-term goal of the Nambu Conservation Trust, Operation Wallacea, and Ocean Ventures Fiji is to establish protection in the form of a national park that extends from the mountain ridge to the reef. The biodiversity of this region possesses a very high conservation value, and by implementing various conservation management techniques the Natewa Peninsula and Natewa Bay can maintain their ecological importance to Fiji and the global community.
Learn more about the amazing biodiversity found on coral reefs and how surveys can help in reef conservation by joining our South Pacific Coral Reef Ecology eLearning Course.