Posts Tagged ‘Fiji’

Science Cafe March 31st: Coral Reef Restoration in Fiji

March 11, 2010

Sometimes corals need a lift - restoring a reef in Fiji.

If all of Mariah’s posts about diving in Fiji has you itching to visit a tropical coral reef, now is your chance!  Join us for a science cafe on Wednesday, March 31st to learn about the need to restore coral reefs in Fiji, and what actions are currently underway.

Our speakers include Dan Presser, the owner of FourWinds Travel, who has explored jungles from Borneo to Argentina to Africa. Recently, Dan began working on coral reef restoration in Fiji with Victor Bonito. Victor Bonito is a coral reef ecologist (M.S. Biology from the United States who has studied and explored reefs worldwide. Victor’s company, Reef Explorer Fiji Ltd., is based in the Fiji Islands with the mission to conserve Fiji’s natural and cultural resources through research and education.

Hope to see you at the Science Cafe!

Join us for:

Sasalu Tawamudu – an Integrated Community-Based Approach for Fijian Coral Reef Conservation

Wednesday, March 31st at 7 PM

8272 Moss Landing Road

Click here to download our Science Cafe flier.

Diving with a tiger shark – to feed or not to feed?

March 9, 2010

A huge tiger shark circles the dive group (photo: M. Boyle)

Mariah Boyle

by Mariah Boyle, Ichthyology Lab

After an interval of time at the surface during my Fijian shark dive, suddenly, it’s time for the real thing – visitng the spot where the tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) shows up. We drop down and lie on the seafloor this time, though we aren’t as deep. I get a spot on the end next to a divemaster and begin to watch another feeding. Bull sharks are coming in again, and then all of a sudden the water feels electric. We can all see something in the shadows, and we are all hoping and yet nervous that it is the tiger shark. The divemaster next to me nudges me and points.

Here goes nothing.

The tiger shark shows its stripes (photo: M. Boyle)

I clear my mask and its size comes into view, 4 or 5 meters in length. It is almost too big to seem real. Then it makes its appearance, swooping over our heads and checking us out. Apparently it likes our bubbles the divemasters have determined. The shark, a female named Scarface we learn later, cruises around and opens her giant mouth for fish, a mouth I’m sure I could have fit into very easily, scuba gear and all. The shark was never aggressive, although you could tell she owned the place, even the bulls waited for her.

On one of her last rounds she took a fish and came really close to the wall, coming within a meter of me, mouth first. On this dive I had my camera with me, and I snapped photos later that would scare me because they were so close, but at the time I felt nothing but calm and at peace with these animals. Like we knew our visit was just temporary and the sharks were happy with the small price of some fish.

Ready for my close up! The shark swims right by after feeding. (photo: M. Boyle)

We surfaced, cheering out loud from the adrenaline and then hop up into the boat fast since the tiger is still beneath us somewhere, and we know we are still in her realm. On the way back the Divemaster tells us a story that went something like this: “One day the tiger shark, Scarface, showed up and she was agitated, angry, I could tell. She circled and circled above me and finally showed me the problem. There was a large metal hook in her mouth, right through the skin. She kept circling and so I knew what I needed to do. Scarface knows me, I’ve dove with her so many times, so I swam to her and put my hand on her mouth and stopped her, and I pulled out the hook.” The Divemaster goes to the front of the boat and pulls out a huge fishing hook, he keeps it in a box onboard as proof.

When deciding to go shark diving I had a lot of reservations, not only about the safety but about the fact that if I participated I was making a conscious decision to feed the sharks, to disrupt their natural patterns. In the end I’m glad I did the dive. I understand now more the power and beauty of these sharks. The divemasters say the sharks don’t come around every day, the tigers go missing for weeks at times, so they are still in their natural behavior, they still leave to mate and feed.

A human-induced feeding frenzy - how much should we be part of the mix? (photo: M. Boyle)

This opportunity has also provided the divemasters, all Fijians who believe they are protected from the sharks, the chance to intimately get to know these sharks and give us insight into their patterns. These divers can tell when a shark is pregnant; they know each shark by name. They have also started a tagging program for the bull sharks, to gain insight into their movement. While I didn’t feel the need to repeat the dive in Fiji, I think going once is a great experience. I don’t have a list of sharks to see and won’t be chasing them on a bunch of shark dives, but as our desire to see the world first hand and preserve the animals in it increases, we all need to decide where we stand on feeding or tracking or swimming with all animals. For me, seeing these animals once was enough to appreciate them more, I’ll never forget that dive – but from now on I will leave them to cruise the oceans on their own.

Studying a Softball-sized Snail with a Pregnant Foot

November 22, 2009

Snails living on and around hydrothermal chimneys in complete darkness provide excellent material for startling scientific discoveries (Photo taken by ROV Jason II, Dr. Charles Fisher, Chief Scientist)

Kyle Reynolds

By Kyle Reynolds, Benthic Ecology Lab

Can you imagine being pregnant in your foot?  That’s just one of the fascinating things I discovered about the snail species I studied for my thesis.  I studied animals at hydrothermal vents (seafloor volcanoes) and the adaptations they’ve made that help them cope with their harsh environments.  Specifically, I looked at two species of snails that live about 1.5 miles deep in the southwestern Pacific at a hydrothermal vent system near Tonga and Fiji.

These snails get as big as softballs when full-grown and have evolved many ways to deal with life in a chemically toxic volcanic world.  My thesis focused mainly on reproductive adaptations, and I was able to find many of those.  Not only have they wrapped their larvae in protective coatings, they also house them for a short time in a pouch in their foot!  Like I said – pregnant in your foot!

Hangin' at the vent: These black snails and a variety of neighbors make a living in a harsh environment (Photo taken by ROV Jason II, Dr. Charles Fisher, Chief Scientist)

This research was challenging on many levels.  First, since I was studying something so far away from California and so deep in the ocean, I had only one chance to get the samples I needed and there was no guarantee they would be reproductively mature.  With the expense of the research vessel, the submersible robot needed to collect samples at that depth, and the many crew members needed to run everything, these types of expeditions are much too costly to repeat.   So I had one shot to get it right!

Also, I was studying animals that had very little previous research done on them (in fact, no one had ever studied their reproductive systems before) so I had very little guidance and often had no clue what I was doing!  It took many visits with experts in many fields before I was able to piece the clues together and see the true picture of the bizarre mechanisms these animals were using to give their babies the best chance at survival.

For me, it was the challenge of this research that was most rewarding in the end.  There is nothing like being the first person in the world to discover something!  That’s what science is all about.  More details to come on all of the crazy adaptations we found in these alien snails…

The Case of the Missing Sperm Whale Teeth – a Fijian Mystery

April 1, 2009
Mariah on Whale Lookout in Fiji

Mariah on whale lookout duty in Fiji

Mariah Boyle

Mariah Boyle

by Mariah Boyle, Ichthyology Lab

December 2008: Our boatload of kai vulagi (visitors) are heading towards Survivor Island (the one they used in Survivor: Fiji) for some exploring. All of a sudden, a whale spouts only about 50 yards away from our tiny boat. The whale is small, a juvenile. We follow it for a while – it is breathing often and doesn’t dive even when we are close. I know it is stressed. I can’t get a great look at it but notice its blowhole is offset to the side a bit.

A sperm whale - note its blowhole offset to one side

A sperm whale - note its blowhole offset to one side

I snap a bunch of photos to send back home to my marine science friends. I’m an ichthyologist, after all – I study fish, and I was out of my element trying to identify this whale in Fiji!

After returning home from the trip I looked up pictures of whales that live in the waters around Fiji and tried to identify it. Before finding a definitive answer, I got an email from Fiji: the whale had died and washed up on shore. A friend emailed me a Fiji Times article on the whale, which reported that upper teeth were not found in the whale, while the bottom 40 were removed using a ladder because the whale was so big! A lot of villagers thought that the whale’s top teeth had been stolen very early in the morning, as the teeth are used for tabua in Fiji, a sacred singular whale tooth on a string used for all sorts of formal ceremonies. I’d seen one right before I left Fiji presented to the island’s chief, Tui Mali, asking him to bless the engagement of a couple working on the island.

A ceremonial Fijian neclace made of sperm whale teeth

A ceremonial Fijian necklace made of sperm whale teeth

After reading that article it all clicked: no teeth in the upper jaw meant it must have been a sperm whale, which only have teeth in their bottom jaw!   I looked up sperm whales online and sure enough they also have an offset blowhole. I showed the pictures to a friend and she agreed on the identification. I had been getting lots of messages asking me to try to identify the whale, and now I knew what it was!  I researched a bit about sperm whales and wrote a blog for our group’s website to tell everyone about the whale. I felt good about identifying the whale and putting to rest the mystery – little did I know how it would be connected to my next visit to the same island… (more…)

A Journey to the Bottom of the Ocean

August 12, 2008
Kyle Reynolds

Kyle Reynolds

Editor’s Note: Graduate student Kyle Reynolds describes her experience in the South Pacific, where she participated in a 2006 research cruise to study organisms living on the hydrothermal vent system of the Lau Basin.

by Kyle Reynolds, Benthic Ecology Lab

Fiji from the air

Fiji from the air

Looking out of the airplane as it began its descent toward Fiji, I remember feeling like I was having an out-of-body experience. We had crossed the equator and the International Date Line during this flight – two firsts for me! Once the plane touched down and we made our way to Suva, the capital, I would be embarking on a multidisciplinary research expedition with several teams of scientists from around the world to study the biology, chemistry, and geology of hydrothermal vents in the Lau Basin. My heart was in my throat as I elatedly took in the sights and sounds of my last moments on dry land for the next 30 days.

Once onboard the R/V Melville (the Scripps Institute of Oceanography ship we’d be using), the scientists quickly went about the task of securing their own cargo in their lab spaces to keep anything from spilling or breaking in transit. Our research would involve multiple deployments of a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) named the Jason II, or “Jason” for short. Jason would be working almost non-stop over the next month to take videos as well as animal, geological, and chemical samples for the various researchers’ projects. I was there to obtain snail samples for my thesis research, and would be using them to study their reproductive adaptations. Being the newbie, I was given the midnight to 4:00 a.m. shift to stand my watch in the Jason control van each night. The control van is a large metal container from which the crew can pilot Jason, while scientists record the data, log notes, and direct the collection efforts.

(more…)


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