The first short village stay has just been completed by the benthic and fish teams of REPICORE who have just returned to Suva following a brilliant nine days at Dakuibeqa village. Together with our compressor, dive tanks, gear, fuel, and gifts of Kava, we loaded up a boat in Pacific Harbour and made the crossing from the main Island of Viti Levu to the south-east side of the small island of Beqa. After a hugely warm welcome back to the village and official (re-)introductions, we were eager to start with our work.
The first question we have on Beqa focuses on the impact of local-scale pollution on coral reef functioning and processes, with a particular focus on the prevalence and development of coral-algal interactions. Dakuibeqa and its neighbouring village (Dakuni) are similarly characterised with regards to both social and ecological features, therefore offering ideal study sites to tackle this question. The villages are each home to around 300 people who are predominantly engaged in small-scale farming and fishing due to the relatively remote nature of the villages.
Fringing reefs surround the coast of Beqa, followed by a deep lagoon before the reef crest and exposed outer reefs. The fringing reefs offer some spectacular Acropora tables and Montastrea colonies (which provide a large challenge for Andi to measure the perimeters in interactions with different algae). The conspicuous herbivorous fish population also impressed our fish team, with transects even picking up notoriously shy unicornfish. As before, at each site the fish team characterises the herbivorous fish biomass and size class distribution, as well as deploying GoPro cameras in order to observe their function in the absence of divers.
Later we will also look at how the locally managed marine areas (tabu areas closed to fishing) maintain coral reef functioning in two different reef habitats, which we will compare to two other areas in Fiji. Although many of the tabu areas on Beqa have now been opened to fishing, Dakuni village maintains two closed areas.
Village life suited us all well – the people and the food are really incredible. The village’s radio station has been converted into a temporary dive locker and filling station with our compressor. Though the shallow bay makes working at low tide challenging (walking several hundred meters with all the equipment) we have developed a good routine. Other than working, daily life consists of copious amounts of delicious food (kana), and spending the evening drinking Kava and sharing stories. The villagers are always proud to show us that everything on the menu has been collected the same day from the village’s plantation or directly from the bay in front of the village, including many different kinds of algae.
We are already eager to return to the village next week in order to mark specific coral-algal interactions to allow us to observe the development in different water quality conditions. It was also nice to have a break from the persistent rain cloud that covers Suva… In other news, we are very sadly preparing to say goodbye to our dive coordinator Michael, but Ulrich Pint has arrived safely from Bremen to replace him for the next month!