By: Sahar Noor Kirmani

After a 6 hour delayed start at the Suva port, and a sleepless night on bumpy seas surrounded by an orchestra of snorers, we awoke to the lush, green, steep island slopes of Koro, the northern most island in the Lomaiviti group. A team of WCS scientists will be conducting a rapid assessment of coral reefs within community-managed fishing grounds (qoliqoli) on Koro Island over the next 8 days, in order to assess and quantify the impacts of the 2016 Category 5 Cyclone Winston.

Divided into two teams, six scientists will be doing 6 surveys each day, hoping to cover 40 sites (weather permitting) around the entire Koro Island. At each site, data will be collected on fish abundance and sizes (so we can later calculate the biomass on the reefs), coral cover and general coral health, and descriptions made of the reef profiles. Information gathered from these surveys will allow the research team to assess the level of damage to the reef system, determine whether or not (and where) coral recruitment has occurred, and compare data from previous years in Koro.

As communities of Koro continue with their recovery efforts, we hope these surveys will help inform them on the current state of their tabus (periodically harvested closures) within their qoliqolis. The information will also be fed into improving fisheries management and broader scale ridge-to-reef management. Ridge-to-reef management takes a holistic approach to manage ecosystems from the tops of the mountain all the way down to reefs, incorporating the food, livelihoods and aspirations of local people.

The team, currently staying at Nabasovi village, had originally planned on doing two dives today, but upon arriving heard that the channels in the reef had been altered and filled by sand and rubble from the cyclone. As a result, the only way to get out to surveys sites was on the high tide – and due to our delayed departure in Suva we had missed our opportunity to get out on the reef and were stranded on land.

So much of the day was spent going through the dive plan, providing training for new staff, unpacking dive bags, and getting survey sheets and slates together. The generator is working overtime to fill up the last of the remaining SCUBA tanks. The marine team is excited to get out and get wet – and we don’t mean by the rain that has not stopped since we arrived!