Many of the world's coral reefs are under serious threat. Pollution, coral bleaching, agricultural run off, over fishing and tourism all combine to threaten coral reefs. This article explores the work of a marine scientist in Fiji.
Fiji’s 300 or so islands are all surrounded by spectacular coral reefs. Coral is very fragile. It can be easily damaged, and has a complex life cycle that can be easily disrupted. Like lots of coral reefs around the world, Fiji’s reefs are becoming heavily damaged by pollution, over fishing, and coral bleaching due to global warming. Pollution can include sediments as well as fertilizers and chemicals used in farming. It can also come from waste water from toilets, showers and baths flowing into the ocean.
Coral bleaching is something that is happening to many reefs around the world, and it is happening more often than we’ve seen before. In 2000, about 80% of Fiji’s coral bleached and much of it died. Bleached corals change from their normal bright colors of reds, blues and purples, and became white when water temperature heats up. Coral colonies, made up of many smaller living animals joined together, lost their partner algae and many died soon after.
How to Save the Coral Reefs
Victor Bonito works with local communities, visiting scientists, volunteers and students to educate and develop strategies to protect the precious and vulnerable marine environment.
Victor stresses that there are many things people around the world, as well as visitors to Fiji, can do to help preserve and protect the reefs. 'One of the best things people can do is to participate in efforts to reduce the effects of global warming. Coral reefs are suffering, in large part, to increasing global temperatures. Also, when you visit areas with coral reefs, be sure not to stand on or kick corals when snorkeling or diving, look but don't touch anything, and don't buy souvenirs made from marine life’.
Some other useful tips for helping look after coral reefs are:
- Burn less gas – walk or bike, use hybrid vehicles
- Reduce power use – turn off lights, the television, and the computer
- If you visit a reef, don’t touch or damage the coral
- Don’t buy shell or coral souvenirs
- Recycle and never leave rubbish on the beach, as it ends up in the ocean
In Fiji, lots of planning and negotiation happens while sitting around a kava bowl. Kava,or yaqona as it is called in Fijian, is related to the pepper plant. It is very important in Fijian culture. The dried root is made into a powder, then mixed with water. Kava is drunk with a cup made from half of a coconut shell. Victor explains kava is shared ‘when people visit new places, have special gatherings, or are making special requests of one another. It can taste like muddy water and numbs your lips and mouth slightly after drinking’. Sometimes kava is drunk as part of a very formal ceremony, while at other times it is less so.
Working alongside and with Fijian people means it is important to show respect for and an understanding of their culture. Kava is an important part of the culture of Fijian life, and although it is often offered to tourists, it is also an essential social and cultural custom with long held historical origins. Anyone working in Fiji needs to ensure they learn about and show respect for this custom.
Great Work if you can Get It
Victor lives near the chiefly village of Votua (Fijian villages are headed by a chief) and helps the local Fijian people look after the beaches and coral reefs next to their village. Victor has what many might consider a dream job. His walk to work does not involve negotiating with freeway traffic. Instead, he walks along a white sandy beach to a small thatched shop on the beach front. He swims, snorkels and dives from his kayak for work.
Victor says the best bits about his job are ‘being active, outside in a beautiful environment, and working with different kinds of people to look after the coastal environment’. He says he enjoys living in Fiji because of ‘the relaxed island way of life, warm tropical climate, and all the fresh fruits and vegetables to eat’.