Caqalai Island Experience
I joined GVI in January as a six month intern on the brand new volunteering base Caqalai Island in the Lomoviti group.
I still remember some of the first conversations I had with other volunteers at the pick-up point in Nadi – an amusing mixture of nerves, jetlag, and awkward small talk. We were then bombarded with risk assessments and presentations before setting off on the extensive journey to Caqalai, the island I would soon think of as home.
We arrived on one of the hottest days of the year; the bright blue skies coupled with the turquoise waters made it feel as though we were pulling up to a postcard rather than a volunteering base. The first few days went by in a blur as we were thrown straight into life on base; a relentless combination of presentations, diving, snorkelling, teaching at local school, duties, mealtimes, and documentaries. The intensity of the programme is matched only by the infectious enthusiasm of all the staff on the island.
As I was already a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver I was able to get straight into the science. At first I learnt the target fish species, these are the species that are either commercially or ecologically important to Fiji, and later I moved onto the benthic life forms and invertebrate species. Once you are ‘survey ready’ the real fun begins as you are let loose on the reefs surrounding Caqalai to conduct baseline surveys. Alongside the marine surveys you also record any opportunistic sightings of any IUCN Redlist species, as well as doing Dive against Debris dives and beach cleans.
All of these aspects combine to make a holistic conservation approach that really makes you feel like you are making a difference. Going hand-in-hand with all of this is the amazing education programme. We teach waste management to two primary schools on Motoriki which provides the ‘grassroots’ aspect to the programme.
Through the education programme we are hoping to install a sense of pride in the local Fijian communities towards their reefs so that they can help conserve these beautiful resources for future generations. With all of this going on time certainly flies by, days soon turn into weeks and weeks into months and before I knew it I was a PADI Rescue Diver about to embark on the second half of the intern programme.
As an intern you get placed at a dive resort around Fiji where you experience working in a dive shop or resort whilst doing your PADI Divemaster qualification. I was placed at the aptly named ‘Paradise’ resort on the island of Taveuni. So with my backpack back on and a tear in my eye I said ‘Sota tale’ to Caqalai to embark on a new adventure.
Luckily for me, the end of the internship was not the end of the story as I was accepted back to Caqalai as a Marine Scholar for a further three months. As a member of staff I truly came to appreciate the breadth and depth of the work that goes on here. The staff work tirelessly to ensure the programme is the best it can be. New initiatives are being set up all the time and blended in seamlessly with the ongoing programmes. Initiatives such as helping villages to set up seaweed farms and working with local women’s groups to provide an alternate, sustainable sources of income.
The strength of the programme is an attribute to everyone involved and I could not be prouder to have done my bit. Unfortunately for me, all good things must come to an end and so here I am, nine months older and much wiser leaving this beautiful island with a truly heavy heart Ni sa moce my Caqalai, sota tale.
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