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Emilie Craig - Fiji Marine Conservation and  Diving

Combining a want to learn to diving with taking part in marine conservation, Emilie spent nearly two months in Fiji. Here's how she got on!

1. Why did you choose this particular project?

I chose this particular project because it gave me the opportunity to learn to dive while contributing to marine conservation. I was certified within the first two weeks of my arrival and immediately after was able to participate in survey dives and artificial reef building. The work that the project is doing is incredibly impactful to the local community and we were able to experience Fijian culture firsthand.

2. What kind of work and activities did you do during your project?

Every week day during the project our time was primarily spent studying and diving to survey the health of surrounding reef. Additionally, I spent a lot of time learning about and planting mangroves, constructing artificial reefs and coral tree nurseries, cleaning up the beach, cooking meals, exploring the island, and getting to know the other volunteers and staff. We played a lot of cards and listened to music together often and spent a fair amount of time in the villages. I was even able to go teach a class about aquatic life in the local elementary school.

3. How did the culture and people differ to home? What were the locals like?

The culture was incredibly different then were I grew up in the US. The island was incredibly remote and uninfluenced by technology, which I found to be quite refreshing, as it allowed me to learn much more about Fijian history and the traditions they held onto. The sense of community on the island was incredibly prevalent and the villagers welcomed us in with open arms, treating us like one of their own children.

4. What was the accommodation like?

The space we lived in was a wooden hut with tin roofing built by the local Fijians and centered in the thick jungle around a quarter of a kilometer from the ocean. It was just large enough for twenty people to live in comfortably but small enough that we all got to know each other well. Camp has all of the necessary appliances and if any accommodation was needed, the staff always made sure that the needs of each volunteer was met.

5. What were the staff and other volunteers like?

The staff and volunteers came from all over the world and all shared a deep passion for marine live, conservation, and diving. Each put in great efforts to keep camp running and make sure that those around them were thriving. The diversity of people made camp always fun and interesting and we all got to know each other well very quickly.

6. What was the most amazing moment and what’s your best memory?

The most amazing moment during my time in Fiji was by far my first dive. As a new diver, I had never seen marine life so up close before, nevertheless such vibrant corals and organisms. The reef was so full of life and during each dive there was something vastly different to see. Additionally, I will never forget the choir of voices that sang in the village on Fiji day. Each villager sung in loud harmonies that were to be heard across the entire island.

7. Do you feel the work you were doing was worthwhile?

I felt that the work we did on Beqa was incredibly worthwhile. During my short two month stay, I alone was able to do survey dives almost every day, help to construct and install multiple artificial reefs, and plant many mangroves that will grow into large habitats and storm sheather for the local villages. The project is very productive and educational.

8. What sort of wildlife did you encounter?

On a daily basis, we encountered hundreds of Butterfly, Angel, and Damselfish, Wrasse, Tang, Surgeonfish, a vast variety of invertebrates and corals, occasionally Shark, Octopus, Sea Snakes, Eel, Stingray, and many more underwater organisms. On land, we saw many different types of birds, insects, and Flying Fox-Faced Bats.

9. What were you hoping to learn while on project and have you achieved those goals?

I was hoping to learn how to dive and more about marine biology and conservation and Fijian culture. I learned far more than I had expected before arriving to Beqa, and left with a broadened sense of knowledge on coral reefs, marine life, symbiosis, benthic health, artificial reefs, and local live.

10. Any tips and advice you might like to pass on to future volunteers?

Be prepared for minimal electricity and wifi on the trip. Although it may take a few days to get used to, it allows for a far more productive environment and being unplugged can be incredibly refreshing.

11. What do you have planned next?

In a month I will be traveling to Spain for an internship under a psychologist working with academically challenged children. I will be there for three months. Then, I will hopefully return to the Frontier project Beqa to continue my work this spring. I will attend university in the fall.

By Emilie Craig - Fiji Marine Conservation and Diving

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