During January to March 2000 I joined phase VII of the Greenforce expedition undertaking a coral reef biodiversity survey on the remote Fijian island of Yadua. The purpose of the expedition is to survey the reefs surrounding the adjacent island of Yaduataba.
Yaduataba is the home of the rare crested iguana and is already a protected area. The Fijian government wants to extend the reserve to the marine areas surrounding the island and wants it to be declared a World Heritage Site. The survey expedition will provide the baseline data on the species present in the area so that future conservation efforts can monitor changes in the state of the habitats there.
The expedition started with a few days in Suva, the Fijian capital, where we attended lectures at the National Trust of Fiji. We then made the 12 hour trip to Yadua, involving a bus ride, a long ferry trip, another bus ride and, finally, a two hour crossing to the island in local fishing boats.
The first few weeks of the expedition were spent training the beginners, including myself, how to dive (up to BSAC Sports/PADI Advanced), going on practice fish identification dives, and teaching underwater survey techniques.
The scientific part of the expedition then commenced and we did, typically, two dives per day each. We would either conduct visual fish identification surveys, noting the species present and enumerating individuals at 5 and 10 metres, or at 17 metres, or we would survey the types of coral present in 100m² quadrats.
The marine habitats around Yaduataba are relatively pristine and unaffected by human activity, being why the Fijian government is keen on conserving the area. The stationary wildlife, the corals both hard and soft, fans, starfish, shellfish, etc provide a backdrop like one of the most beautiful gardens I've ever seen, and being able to float over, in, and out of it is a special experience indeed.
Of course, there are also at least 350 tropical fish species known to inhabit these reefs including: soldiers, squirrels, groupers, cardinals, trevallys, snappers, fusiliers, sweetlips, emperors, butterflies, angels, damsels, wrasses, parrots, surgeons, rabbits, triggers, puffers, and many others.
Also spotted were lionfish, various reef sharks, giant moray eels, and manta rays.
The bures -- our home for 9 weeks
Living conditions on the island were rather basic but comfortable. We lived in a couple of bures, locally built straw and palm frond huts, and there's a kitchen shelter for cooking. The food was, well...I was impressed by the meals we managed to make with so few basic ingredients!
Shower facilities consisted of a bucket to be used in palm frond walled enclosures; the toilets were similarly enclosed pits, of which new ones needed to be dug every few weeks.
During our phase we had the privilege of watching while locals built, in traditional style, a new open-sided bure for us for use as a dining area.
Saturdays were spent doing recreational dives and sundays were a day of rest with people either doing nothing or visiting Denimanu (pop. ~150), the only village on Yadua, about a one hour walk from the base camp on the other side of the island.
The friendliness, warmth and sense of community of the inhabitants of Denimanu demonstrated to me, once again, that the people on the planet who we in the "developed" countries consider materially poor are, in fact, the richer of us all.