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 pani with 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 Peninsula or to a forest camp near the coastal village of Moana. On the Sunday morning the group will be taken by vehicle to one of the marine sites, based in either the Natewa Bay Marine Research Centre or the Dakuniba Marine camp until leaving early on the following Saturday morning.
During their 5 nights in the Natewa National Park the students will complete the following:
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.
During their marine week the school will be completing one of the following options:
In 2013 the Nambu Conservation Trust decided to create the first community managed National Park in Fiji 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 and these concentrated mainly around the Natewa forest camp. In following years though, whilst based at the same camp the teams were much more mobile and began to explore other areas of the peninsula and the results from these three years of surveys were published as a report on the biological value of the Natewa peninsula (see https://www.opwall.com/uploads/2020/01/Fiji-Terrestrial-Report-2019.pdf).
Research locations in Fiji – week 1 will be spent at the Natewa or Moana Camp. The second week will be spent at the Natewa Bay marine research station or the Dakuniba Marine Camp.
The main findings over the three years of the surveys have been:
These initial surveys have 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 has created the basis for a marine centre.
In 2018 a funding application to employ a team of local people to run an intensive trapping programme to remove the mongoose has been submitted. If a national park were to be created then reduction or elimination of any invasive species that has significantly reduced the native amphibians, reptiles, ground birds and snail fauna would be a necessary first step. However, simply removing mongoose from the peninsula would only be a temporary measure unless repopulation from the rest of the island was prevented. The Glenelg Trust, a wetland biodiversity protection NGO from Australia are working with Opwall and the Wallacea Trust to investigate the cost and funding for installing an invasive proof fence across the narrow neck of the peninsula in the same manner has been done extensively in parts of Australia and New Zealand. The lead scientist from the Glenelg Trust on the Natewa project was the person responsible for designing the Yorke peninsula project in Australia (see http://theleadsouthaustralia.com.au/environment/feral-proof-fence-drives-biodiversity-revival/).
2020 forest research objectives
2020 marine research objectives
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. Whilst the Natewa Bay is not being proposed at this stage to be part of the new Natewa national park, it is likely to form a major additional attraction for visitors to the new national park. Having both a marine and a forest element to the proposed National Park would make the Park are more popular destination for visitors.
To date the surveys have resulted in species lists for the fish communities and identified a range of reefs to be monitored annually to determine changes. In 2020 the objective is to complete the following surveys:
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.
In Fiji the first two nights are generally in homestays in a small Fijian village down by the sea. You will have a shared room with another student from your school (teachers have their own rooms) and there are bathrooms with showers in each of the houses. In the forest camp you will be in tents (generally two per tent) but these are on platforms and under a sheltering roof. There are thin mattresses inside each tent and pillows. The forest camp has flush toilets and cold water showers. Drinking water is effectively on filtered tap Fiji Spring water since the pipe comes directly from the top of the mountain to the camp.
The marine camp is down around the shoreline of the largest bay in the South Pacific. The whole coast is very sheltered and accommodation will be in tents on platforms under a roof and with mattresses and pillows in each tent. There are flush toilets and cold water showers on site. Just like the forest site drinking water is piped directly (via a covered reservoir) from the top of the mountain to the camp.
Temperatures during the day are likely to be around 25 – 30 Celsius and drop to around 18 – 20 Celsius at night. A cooling trade wind blows from the east or south-east and stops the days feeling too hot, and the winds drop at night and pick up again by mid morning. The Opwall season is outside the wet season but there is always the chance of a rain shower.