Biodiversity and Conservation
In areas that are exposed to high boat traffic, snorkeling, and storm damage, coral planting and reef rejuvenation is carried out. This is done by taking coral fragments that have broken off from their parent structures and either wedging or tethering them onto the reef. For reef rejuvenation, we use wedge planting straight onto the reef itself. In addition to this, we have set up coral planting tables which serve as great models for local communities, displaying how to grow coral in an environmentally-friendly and economical way. Our main species of focus for coral planting and reef rejuvenation are acroporas. Not only are they some of the fastest-growing coral species, which leads to a quick improvement of the reef, but we have had some of the highest success rates when planting this coral family.
Another ongoing project in this program is the reintroduction of clams. Clams are filter feeding animals and an adult clam can filter a huge volume of water each day. By doing this, they have the ability to improve the water quality and overall health of the reef. Giant clams are critically endangered and one species (Tridacna gigas) was at one point regionally extinct in the areas of Fiji. We are currently raising three species: gigas, derasa, and squamosa. Our aim is to reintroduce these individuals into their natural ecosystem.
Various Coral Predators Monitoring
Crown of Thorns Sea Stars (COTS) are a native species of sea star found on tropical reefs all around the world. These sea stars feed on live coral and an adult can eat up to a square meter of coral in a day. Typically, they prefer the faster growing species of coral which allows them to play a role in succession, just as forest fires do on land. They remove the faster growing corals, making room for the slower growing corals to settle out and become established on the reef. When their populations become too high, however, they quickly devour the fast growing corals and move on to eating everything. Recent spikes in population have led to large areas of reef being wiped out. There are many theories behind these outbreaks; some of the most popular theories include increasing ocean temperatures, natural predator reduction, and excessive nutrients in the water which promote faster growth rates. When there are outbreaks our team and volunteers remove excess numbers minimizing their negative impact on the environment and conserving economically important reefs. In an effort to pinpoint the origination of the COTS outbreak, we are looking at connectivity of populations on a local and international scale. Working with James Cook University in Australia, DNA has been collected from several outbreak areas in the Yasawas and has been analyzed to see if Fiji outbreaks are related to outbreaks found elsewhere in the South Pacific.
Sustainable Development, Land Management and Shoreline Restoration
While tourism is important to Barefoot Manta and Fiji, it must be done in a way that minimizes potential negative effects on the environment, where possible. This is an ever-developing program and we are always looking for ways to improve our methods and seek out more sustainable options. As a guest, you may notice the little things we do daily, like cleaning with household vinegar instead of harsh chemicals, separating our trash and recycling, reducing our waste, reusing whenever possible, sourcing products locally, recycling all of our grey water (shower and sink water), and ensuring that all of our black water (toilet water) is thoroughly processed in our on-site water treatment facility.
As you can see as you walk around the island, we have designated walking paths that will promote the development of naturally-growing ecosystems. Our most important of these is our dune ecosystem, which at one point was completely lost on this island. Sand dunes will prevent erosion and provide important habitat. You will also notice many natural areas that are zoned out to allow native trees to grow, which in previous years had been outcompeted by an invasive plant called “vai-vai.”
Mangroves are extremely important as they are essential nursery habitats for many fishery-important species. These plants also help to limit runoff and nutrient input into the reef systems while also stabilizing the shoreline, thereby preventing erosion. Together with volunteers, our team has planted over 2,000 juvenile mangroves. We start off the mangrove process by collecting pencil seed casings, known as legumes, which are often seen drifting in the shallows. These are then planted in a nursery setting where they can mature to juveniles. Once they have six leaves, they are considered mature enough for transplant to their adult site. Not only do they stabilize the soil, but these mangroves should also greatly benefit the MPA as a nursery habitat.
Vai-vai and other invasive species quickly outcompete the native plant life in Fiji and many of the South Pacific islands. Vai-vai in particular is arguably one of the fastest and most resilient plant species originating from Asia. It is extremely drought and salinity tolerant and grows very densely. In an effort to conserve native species, vai-vai and other invasive species are removed and used in construction and fencing on the island, and replaced with native species.