By Lizzy Myers

Dr Jordan Goetze and I are from the Fish Ecology Lab (https://www.facebook.com/fishecologygroup/) at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia. We are visiting for just three weeks, and although this is Jordan’s seventh trip to Fiji it is my first time here. We are working in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to support their efforts with the Department of Fisheries to assess the impact of the cyclone on Fiji’s coral reefs. Part of these assessments is getting data on sharks and rays.

We have been using stereo baited remote underwater video systems (stereo-BRUVs) to sample the reefs of the Vatu-I-Ra seascape including Kubulau District and Ovalau Island, both inside and outside the Tabu areas. In addition to supporting WCS, our work will contribute to the Global FinPrint survey (https://globalfinprint.org/). The Global FinPrint is the first global assessment of sharks and rays and aims to fill a critical information gap about the diminishing number of sharks and rays by identifying countries with pristine populations and areas influenced by a range of human activities in need of conservation. To achieve this, BRUVs will be deployed across the globe, which use some form of bait to attract predatory reef fish such as sharks to the cameras.

So far we have completed the Kubulau, Wailevu and Savusavu Qoliqolis (fishing grounds), with a total of 185 stereo-BRUV deployments in just 7 days. The first few days proved difficult with a 1.5 hour/50km steam out to the Namena Marine Reserve in rough conditions. The BRUV systems are left on the seafloor to record for 60 minutes and if we deploy all six systems quickly we have a bit of time to do things like snorkel the famous Grand Central Station dive site over lunch, where we spotted a silvertip reef shark (Carcharhinus albimarginatus) cruising out off the drop off. The trips home at the end of each day have been dotted with sightings of dolphins, pilot whales and the occasional unexpected visitor – a couple of confused flying fish!

The next stop is to Ovalau where we will cover the reefs surrounding the island in our final week in Fiji. Unfortunately the 185 hours of video footage we have collected will take a long time to analyse so it is still a mystery as to what sharks we will see. In the meantime you can check out some highlights from a trip to survey the deeper reefs of the Vatu-I-Ra seascape back in 2013 here: