By Watisoni Lalavanua

In my youth, I frequently heard about Vatu-i-Ra Island and the famous Vatu-i-Ra passage between the islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.

I joined the Wildlife Conservation Society – Fiji Program in January 2016, and this is my first trip with the team into the field to assess the health and condition of coral reefs. On this trip, the team is assessing the impacts of cyclone on coral reefs, in partnership with Wananavu Resort based in Ra Province.

This morning, after much debate and discussion about currents and weather conditions, we left Wananavu headed straight to the famous Vatu-i-Ra reefs, which draws international tourists from around the world. With much excitement, I stepped off the boat and dropped down to a beautiful wall of corals and colourful sponges. As I cruised along the reef wall I saw a 1.4m whitetip reef shark patrolling its territory below me.

Butterflyfish were in abundance, schools of barracuda was sighted in crystal clear waters, sweetlips were basking in the gentle flowing current, moral eels greeted us from the comfort of their home and clown fish danced in and out of their anemones.

So how did the reefs fair, post-cyclone Winston? Vatu-i-Ra showed signs of recovery with a fresh layer of green foliage on the island, and brown boobies and other seabirds were out feeding at sea. Below the surface, there are areas where damaged corals have formed rubble fields, and soft corals and sea fans have sustained damage. However, the damage was patchy, and the reefs 2 months later are still rich in coral and fish.

I was inspired to learn about a collaboration being forged between local communities and tourism operators to protect Vatu-i-Ra Island and its surrounding reefs. Vatu-i-Ra is not only rich in marine life but it is a national treasure that can bring people together such as tourists, researchers and especially local communities from the area. This place is going to need everybody’s support to protect the Vatu-i-Ra Island and the surrounding marine areas before it fades away with all the beautiful fish and corals. #Support the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape.