(Here’s a link to my first blog, if you need background on this blog: https://dukeengage.duke.edu/slow-steady-saves-seas/)
In my last post, I said that I would have pictures about my field work, so here they are, as promised. During the months of May, June, July, we start to move the corals that were growing on these wire and rope racks. The corals are transplanted back onto the reefs. These nurseries are located in Marine Protect Areas (MPAs). Each of the 4 villages in the district has a designated MPA, where the community has agreed not to fish or otherwise disturb the wildlife. This creates a habitat where a healthy stock of reproductive fish can grow, and ensures that the rest of the reef has a fail-safe against overfishing. Furthermore, the nurseries are suspended off the ground so that they do not tumble in the ocean current and are not eaten by starfish.
Typically, I work with my supervisor, Victor, and two locals, Eli and Junior, to transplant the corals. (Occasionally other volunteers come with us.) The process is fairly simple: The corals grow on the racks for several months. When we are ready to transplant them back to the reef, we cut individual disks free of the frame, or we cut off a section of rope. A small piece of cement is placed on hard surfaces on the bottom of the reef, and we just stick the corals into place.
Usually we can transplant several hundred corals each week, depending on sea conditions and how many volunteers we have. This work is direct, simple, and quantitative. What is far more difficult is working with the community to establish sustainable conservation practices. For example, the MPAs are not legally protected, and are not legally enforced; they were created only because the villages agreed to not use these areas of the reef. Nonetheless, people will still poach in the MPA, and others often argue to remove the MPAs. Another recommendation made to villagers is to not fish all the young fish before they have a chance to mature and produce offspring, but again, there is no legal size enforcement. Almost nobody will catch a fish and release it if it is too small, and there is a cultural belief that the younger, smaller fish have sweeter flesh. It’s kinda like a “tragedy of the commons” situation, where individuals often do not make fishing decisions that would benefit the whole of the reef in the long term.
But, on the plus side, there are several individuals in the community who are passionate about caring for the reefs. In the next village over, the MPA is located right in front of the village. Here, a man named Aquila looks after the MPA and ensures there is little to no poaching. In his youth, Aquila would participate in destructive fishing practices like using dynamite, small mesh nets, etc. Since then, he has reformed and is spearheading the effort in his village to restore the reefs. Next week, I start a 2 week homestay with Aquila, helping him work on the MPA in Votua Lalai village. My next blog post will probably detail my experiences there.
Till next time!