• Overview
  • Objectives
  • Skills you gain
  • Costs to Consider

Structure of the expedition

The expedition starts in one of the Natewa villages at 4pm on a Sunday.  The students will be staying in homestays for the first two nights in a traditional Fijian village.  On Monday, the students have the opportunity to participate in the activities that make up daily life in a Fijian village, starting with cooking their own lunch in an earth oven. They learn about the traditional crafts such as mat weaving and tapa making through hands-on workshops with the local women, and then have some free time in the afternoon to play volleyball or the local game of paniwith the children. The day concludes with a farewell party that usually includes singing, dancing, and if the weather permits, a bonfire. By this point, the students have gotten to know their host families and some of the other Fijians well and the goodbye is bittersweet.

On the Tuesday morning the group will trek up the mountains (approx. 3 hours) to a camp in the heart of the Natewa National Park.  On the Saturday afternoon the group will be taken by vehicle to the marine site and will be based in the Natewa Bay Marine Research Centre until leaving early on the following Satruday morning.

Week 1 – Forest week

During their 5 nights in the Natewa National Park the students will complete the following:

  • Forest measurements: Students will be working in teams completing measurements of 20m x 20m quadrats to collect data on the diameter at breast height (DBH) of all woody species, canopy height, quantity of vegetation at different heights from a touch pole, canopy density, evidence of disturbance (e.g. cut stumps) and sapling density.  These data will then be used to calculate carbon levels and degree of disturbance of each of the sites. In addition surveys of the woody plant species are being undertaken.
  • Butterfly surveys: These surveys are aimed at describing the potential new species of Swallowtail butterfly that was found last year as well as quantifying the butterfly and moth communities.  Techniques will include sweep netting, fruit trapping and light trapping.
  • Bird surveys: Students will be working with an experienced field naturalist completing point count surveys where all birds seen or heard are identified. Mist nets will be used to gather data on under-storey bird communities. In addition, from a bird banding programme taking place in the park, students will be able to access data to derive patterns and trends in breeding, moult patterns, longevity and movement between years.
  • Mongoose abundance and impact on macro-invertebrates: Mongoose are an introduced species and have had a big impact on reptiles, amphibians, ground birds and macro-invertebrates in Fiji.  Students will be helping to determine the abundance of mongoose at different sites across the peninsula from the amount of bait taken and indirectly from the abundance of macro-invertebrates in the leaf litter.  In addition, there is a project looking for previously thought extinct species of land snails.
  • Bat surveys: These will be the first bat surveys completed by the Opwall teams and will be done by mist netting and from analysis of the call frequencies.

In addition to the above practicals the students will also complete a course (in camp) on Pacific Island Ecology which has been written by Professor Martin Speight from Oxford University and summarises some of the major publications on Pacific Island ecology from the last 10 years.

Week 2 – Marine week

During their marine week the school will be completing one of the following options:

  • PADI Open Water dive training course: This course involves a combination of theory lessons, confined water dives, and open water dives to gain an official SCUBA qualification.
  • Pacific reef ecology and survey techniques course: This consists of lectures and in water practicals either by diving (if a qualified diver) or snorkelling. The lectures which cover an introduction to coral reef ecosystem, coral and algal species, mangrove and seagrass ecology, economically important invertebrates, identification of coral reef fish, reef survey techniques, threats to reefs and marine conservation. Following each lecture the students will then complete an in-water practical by diving (if already qualified) or by snorkelling and these are often aimed at assisting the stereo video surveys and the 3D reef modelling.
  • PADI Open Water referral course: For this option students need to arrive having already completed their theory and pool training components. This course takes three days to complete, after which students will join the Indo-Pacific reef ecology and survey techniques course practicals.

Fiji Research Objectives

In 2013 the Nambu Conservation Trust decided to create the first Fiji National Park on their mataqali land (mataqali are land owning family groups). This was an important step since >95% of the best remaining forest on Fiji is mataqali land. The neighbouring Vusaratu mataqali also agreed to include their land in any protected area development and to participate in these surveys. In 2017 the first surveys were conducted in this area by the Opwall teams.

The 2017 surveys concentrated on a series of transects radiating out from the Natewa camp and this camp will also be used as the base for surveys in 2018.

Research locations in Fiji – week 1 will be spent at the Natewa camp or at the new forest camp site for 2018.  The second week will be spent at the Natewa Bay marine research station

The 2017 surveys at the Natewa camp concentrated on the woody plants, macro-invertebrates, herpetofauna and bird communities of the area around camp.  The output from this first year can be seen at https://www.opwall.com/uploads/2017/12/Opwall-Fiji-Initial-Observations-2017-1.pdf. These initial surveys clearly showed the biological value of the forests with 17 Fiji endemic birds recorded, of which 3 (Maroon Shining Parrot, Fiji Wattled Honeyeater and Orange Dove) are endemics to just the Natewa Peninsula and Taveuni Island and one, Natewa Silktail, is confined to just the Natewa Peninsula.  A species of swallowtail butterfly was also discovered that looks to be new to science (no other new species of swallowtail have been discovered in the last 50 years) and a previously considered extinct species of land snail was noted.  In addition, the surveys recorded two species of skink previously not recorded on Vanua Levu, the Pacific blue tailed skink Emoia caeruleocauda  and the montane tree skink Emoia campbelli. The major threat to the forests appeared to be the invasive mongoose and rats and no snakes for example were encountered over the whole 7-week period.

 These initial surveys led to great excitement amongst the local mataqali, regional government and large NGO’s such as BirdLife International about the prospects for protecting these areas to attract tourists to see the unique fauna of the peninsula.  BirdLife had already identified the Natewa forests as an Important Bird Area and had started work on getting ecotourism income to some of the mataqali, but numbers of visitors to date (other than through the Opwall programme) had been very low. In order to bring in good numbers of visitors, the development of a marine research centre on the peninsula would also be necessary since many visitors to the islands want to snorkel or dive.  The building work done by Opwall in 2017 has created the basis for a marine centre and it will be operational during the Opwall season to gather some initial data on marine species in Natewa Bay (despite being the largest bay in the South Pacific there are no published papers at all on the marine fauna) and identify a series of sites that can be used for monitoring change over the years.

One of the main findings of the 2017 surveys at the Natewa camp was that predation from the introduced mongoose had decimated the amphibian and reptile populations to such a level where not a single snake was captured over the 7-week intensive survey season. Fortunately, these voracious predators seem to have had far less impact on the birds and the forests are clearly of high conservation value.  However, they could be further improved if the mongoose, rat and cane toad that are all introduced species on the peninsular, could be removed in the same way as has been done on several New Zealand islands and now on parts of the New Zealand mainland with predator proof fences to prevent recolonization.  A relatively short invasives proof fence (less than 2km) could be built to separate the peninsular from the rest of the island (see map above) and then the invasive species (mongoose, rat, cane toad, feral cats) removed.  This would then allow much of the native fauna to then recover and for areas within the peninsula to be identified as protected forest areas.  Recent conversations with Forestry in Vanua Levu indicate support for this concept, but substantial funding would be needed to implement this scheme.  In the short term more information is required on the distribution of the mongoose and rats in particular throughout the proposed protected forest areas and on how an invasives removal exercise using local community members across the peninsula could be funded.

2018 survey objectives

In 2018 the surveys of the birds at the Natewa camp will be continued to provide a comparison with the point count and mist net data collected in 2017. However, given the importance of these forests for 4 species of Natewa or Natewa & Taveuni endemic birds, the next step is to obtain population estimates of these species on the peninsula.  That will involve completing point count surveys from different forest types in a series of different sites across the whole of the peninsula. At these same sites though the abundance of mongoose and rats will be quantified using arrays of coconut and indirectly measured from quantifying the leaf litter invertebrate biomass from pit fall trapping. A reduction in leaf litter invertebrates is thought to be a response to heavy predation by mongoose in particular (see attached paper by Olson 2006).

Note there are two additional bird species we would also hope to find by having these more widespread surveys.  The first is the Friendly Ground Dove which is a Fiji & Western Polynesia endemic and which has previously been recorded from the Natewa forests but was not found during the 2017 surveys.  This species has been in decline throughout its range and in the case of Natewa, this may be due to high numbers of mongoose.  The second species is the Long-legged Warbler, which is known from only 4 specimens collected between 1890 and 1894 on Viti Levu and a single specimen from Natewa in 1973.  On Viti Levu there is a known small population occurring on steep sided forested slopes (presumably where they can still survive in the presence of mongoose) but the bird has not been seen on Vanua Levu since 1973.  It may be extinct on the island but the opportunity to send in teams of experts to remote forests in the Natewa peninsula probably gives as good an opportunity as any to determine whether this species still exists.

The possible new species of swallowtail butterfly has caused great excitement in the butterfly world and one of the main objectives of the 2018 surveys is to capture and describe this new species and gain some initial estimates of its overall distribution and abundance.  Surveys for all butterfly species will be completed using pollard counts and with sweep netting of the unknown species in a range of habitats and forest types with a photographic guide to the species found in Natewa as the output for the season.

The other main focus of the invertebrate surveys will be the land snails, where a previously considered extinct species is hoped to be re-discovered alive and well (as opposed to just the shell of this species found in the 2017 surveys) and additional species new to science described.

The effort on the mammals for the 2018 surveys will concentrate on examining the distribution of the mongoose and relative numbers in different forest types and also on describing the bat community and producing a photographic guide to the species found on the Natewa peninsula.

In 2017 the forest structure data collection concentrated on building the woody plant species list with a few quantitative quadrats completed to collect carbon data.  In 2018 the emphasis will be on collecting data from many more forest structure quadrats from different forest types and at different slope heights, so that the carbon calculations can be refined. One of the best ways of generating income from protecting forests is to use funding sources such as REDD+ where a forest is packaged according to the carbon value, biodiversity and societal benefits and regular payments are made from a REDD+ fund to maintain the forests in their present condition.  The REDD+ funds are provided by wealthy nations to the forestry departments of developing countries to ensure the forests are maintained and the carbon saved from not logging the funded forests is then counted towards the donor nations national carbon budgets.  The objective is to complete the data collection to submit a REDD+ application for the forests of the Natewa District.  In 2017 the REDD+ data sets were started but many more quadrats need to be completed to get an accurate estimate of the carbon value of the forests.

The Fijian Archipelago hosts a highly diverse and extensive marine environment encompassing an array of different marine habitats including; barrier and fringing coral reefs, mangroves, deep pelagic areas, and eelgrass beds. These habitats are considered to be internationally important sites for marine biodiversity and support numerous fish species, turtles and nesting seabirds. It is argued that the coral reefs of this region have some of the most species rich assemblages in the world. The waters of the Fiji contain 3.12% of the World’s coral reefs including Cakaulevu, the Great Sea Reef, which is the third largest coral reef in the world. Marine life includes over 390 known species of coral and 1,200 varieties of fish of which 7 are endemic. Currently 25% of Fiji’s waters have some form of protection or marine management plan.

Natewa Bay, which at over 1000 km², is the largest bay in the South Pacific, bounds the northern part of the Natewa Peninsula.  This bay has very low levels of fishing pressure and some superb reefs.  Moreover, due to geological faults the centre of the bay is over 1,000m deep.  Amazingly, no biological surveys have ever been completed on this bay.  The concept of the proposed Natewa National Park is not just to protect the forests of the peninsular but also the waters and reefs of Natewa Bay. Having both a marine and a forest element to the proposed National Park would make the Park are more popular destination for visitors.

In 2018 the objective is to take the next step and to launch the marine research elements which will include the establishment of a series of transects that will be monitored annually for fish diversity and abundance using stereo video and to examine any changes occurring in the reef structure using 3D modelling from data collected using Go Pros.

The research objectives for the second year of the Fiji project can therefore be summarised as:

  • To complete carbon and forest structure quadrats in a range of forest types and slope heights from the two forest camps
  • To identify and describe the new swallowtail butterfly species and characterise the butterfly communities across the peninsula.
  • To describe the land snail community structure and identify any species new to science
  • To estimate the population levels of the four endemic Natewa or near Natewa endemic species and hopefully re-discover two bird species thought to be heading for extinction in these forests
  • To continue the constant effort mist net and point count surveys around the Natewa camp to provide comparative data between years and quantify population trends
  • To describe the diversity of the bat communities around the peninsula
  • To quantify the level of mongoose and rat activity ion forests across the peninsula and their impacts on the leaf litter fauna.
  • To develop a species list and photographic guide to the fish, macro-invertebrates and corals in Natewa Bay.
  • To identify the standard transect locations across the bay that can be used for annual fish monitoring in future seasons.
  • To collect quantitative data on the reef structure in Natewa Bay using 3D modelling.
  • Learn about Fijian culture and customs
  • Join teams discovering new species to science in the forests
  • Work with scientists on land snails, butterflies and moths
  • Estimate populations of endemic bird species found only in the studied forests
  • Gain skills in diving
  • Dive in the previously unsurveyed largest bay in the South Pacific
  • Learn about Pacific Island ecology from published research in the last 10 years

The costs of a school group expedition can be highly variable. There is a standard fee paid to Opwall for all expeditions but the location you are flying from, the size of your group, and how you wish to pay all impact the overall cost.

You can choose to book the expedition as a package (which includes your international flights) or you can organise your travel yourself and just pay us for the expedition related elements.

If you are booking your expedition as a package, you also have the option of being invoiced as a group, or on an individual basis.

 

Locations

  • Fiji
  • Natewa Camp
  • Natewa Marine Research and Training Centre
  • Vusaratu Village

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Preparation

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