Mary's Spinner Dolphin Project Blog
I arrived in the beautiful hot country of Fiji to participate in a 2 week Spinner Dolphin Research Program which has been organised by South Pacific Projects with GVI. The project also has the support of The University of the South Pacific and Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. Upon arrival at Nadi which is on the main island of Viti Levu I meet up with the very enthusiastic and energetic Project Manager, Howard Foster, who is the owner and founder of South Pacific Projects.
I also met up with the rest of the volunteers and like me we have travell\ed from all over the world, including Denmark, London, Switzerland and Australia. Once we got to know each other I realised that one of the common reasons why we want to participate in this project is to contribute directly to the ongoing Spinner dolphin research in Fiji, which in turn facilitates further understanding and protection of the dolphins in the Pacific.
The following day we all travell\ed by minibus via the scenic coast to our accommodation at Natalei Eco Lodge which is based in the Dawasamu district on the north east coast of Viti Levu. The dormitory style lodges are right by the beach and very morning we have been waking up to the beautiful warm and scenic days and at night falling asleep to the sound of the crashing waves on the shore and the sound of the rain hitting the tin roofs.Upon arrival at the lodge we were welcomed by local villagers, staff and crew. They all greeted us with such warmth and with the loveliest smiles that would make any gloomy day, sunny.
We also met with Dr Cara Miller who is running the project with Howard. The volunteers together with two students from the University of South Pacific (including the current Miss South Pacific) are having the privilege of being taught by Cara who is renowned in her field and who has a great deal of knowledge to pass onto us. She has been teaching us how to investigate site-fidelity, behaviour, acoustic communication and the habitat of the spinner dolphins in a non-invasive way. We will also be learning how to implement appropriate and sustainable conservation and management practises to the local communities.
Every day, when the weather has been good, we have travell\ed by boat to Moon Reef (locally known as Makalati) to put our new skills into practise and research the dolphins that visit the moon reef daily. Moon reef, which has been declared a marine protected area, is a visually stunning reef complex located 7.3km offshore and serves as a critical resting habitat for a small resident of pod of spinner dolphins. Imagine having your office out in the middle of the ocean with the sun shining on you, feeling the sea breeze across your face watching these majestic mammals in their natural habitat. Can there be a better experience than this? It is so surreal.
After spending the day watching and monitoring the behaviours of the dolphins, we have been going snorkelling just outside the Moon Reef to cool off and to enjoy the sight of the many various coral and fish species. On our way back to shore we have also had the opportunity to see some Minke whales travelling past Moon Reef.
Howard has been a wonderful project manager organising various activities for us to participate in, a very special event that we had the privilege of being a part of was when Howard organised for the elders of the village to come over to the lodge to have a Kava ceremony. This involves sitting on the floor in a circle on handmade pandana mats, watching the locals making Kava which is a traditional Fijian drink. We all had a chance to have a drink or two or more of Kava whilst listening to the elders talk about their cultural beliefs and hear about their historical traditions, especially how cultural important the spinner dolphins are to the reef. It was very moving to see how much respect the younger generation has for their elders – I feel that we have lost that in the Western modern society.
We have walked to a breathtaking waterfall and had the pleasure of swimming in the cool water after a 30 minute walk from the lodge. Reporters from the Fijian Times also visited us to obtain objectives of the project and what Howard, Cara and the local community want to achieve from this project. An article will be published within the next week in the Fijian Times (which will be my 5 seconds of fame).
Other spontaneous and social events that have occurred are having bottles of wine with the other volunteers, being serenaded at night by Jay who is a local Fijian around a bonfire and being serenaded by a group of local guys which I think the Fijian’s very own ‘The Backstreet Boys’.Another positive thing about this project is meeting the other wonderful volunteers and getting to know their backgrounds, what they want to achieve in this project and in life in general. I hope that I have made ‘friends for life’.
I have another week to go before I have to fly back to London and I can’t wait for many more exciting activities to experience and continue to develop the new skills that I have learnt. So far I have had a fantastic time and it has been one of the best and unique experiences that I have had in my life. I hope to come away from this experience appreciating the simpler and laid-back attitude of the Fijian life and the knowledge that we need to conserve the marine environment before it’s too late. When I leave it will be a sad occasion for me, so I will definitely be back.
I would highly recommend this experience.
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