First Week in Fiji

First week and a half in Fiji down and man, did it go fast! We landed in Nadi last Monday morning, the wheels hitting the tarmac just as the sun was rising over the jagged peaks of the main island of Viti Levu. The second we walked off the plane we were hit by that familiar wall of humidity, thick warm air perfumed with the smell of tropical vegetation and wet dirt. This is my third summer here in Fiji, and it still amazes me how such simple smells can so readily bring back vivid memories of past fieldwork experiences – driving in open-backed trucks, walking barefoot through the clean, grassy village of Naigigi, sitting on various concrete floors in my salty wetsuit, processing fish.

Fisherpeople in Suva Harbor

We haven’t gotten to any of these activities yet though, because in addition to crossing items off our lengthy to-do list here in Suva (securing permits, tracking down formalin & ethanol, buying random field items etc), we’ve been meeting with various colleagues and new friends in the NGO community, practicing sampling techniques in our little hotel’s backyard (which you can read about here!), and Josh and I have been teaching a class on marine conservation at the University of the South Pacific to a mix of international and local students, which is funded by the US Embassy here in Suva.

Elora taking a photo voucher of our first dissection specimen
Molly digging in (quite literally) to practice her gut dissection methodology
The glorious guts!! We target that mass of intestines and straighten them into a single line (very time-consuming), and then take pH measurements and put a bit of gut into a tube in liquid nitrogen for microbial DNA sequencing back in NY!
See, we actually DO do work here! ;)
Molly with the final product! A single continuous line of intestine…

This Fiji W.I.S.E. class in particular has been incredibly rewarding for me. It’s the first time I’ve been closely involved with putting together curriculum and field trips, and with all the time I’ve spent organizing and preparing for what felt like every last detail, I am elated every time I hear a student say how much they appreciate a lecture or how perfectly the class fits their interests or career plans. Which actually happens quite often, because we have an incredibly plugged-in and intelligent group of students – a mix of USP researchers and NGO workers from Germany, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, and Fiji! They are an amazing group of people to discuss South Pacific marine conservation issues with, and we’ve been learning a ton from them just as they are learning from us. We’ve been doing all sorts of fun field trips and labs (like dissecting surgeonfish to sample their intestinal gut flora, measuring the pH of the ocean at various points off USP’s jetty and beaches, and snorkeling in a local MPA to check out examples of reef symbiosis), and tomorrow the class culminates in a river-to-reef sampling trip, taking pH and salinity measurements every few kilometers as well as checking out how the fish fauna changes across that ecosystem gradient. I’ll be sad for the course to end because it’s been such a great immersive experience, but we hope this can become an annual endeavor that will continue to strengthen the ties between USP and Columbia University over the years.

Josh teaching Fiji W.I.S.E. participants about climate change & ocean acidification
Learning on the beach!!

After this class, we’ll have the weekend to decompress and then we will be preparing for the field in earnest. We also will be attending the Society for Conservation Biology’s Oceania Section meeting next week from Wednesday to Friday (which we prepared a symposium for! Check out this Nature Jobs article featuring interviews with Josh & I about the process!). I’m looking forward to doing more detailed blog posts in the future about the fish market here in Suva, the funny cultural idiosyncrasies we notice on the daily, and about the upcoming conference and fieldwork. For now, this blasé “summing up” blog post will have to do! Too many 7am – 6pm days to be sitting down for blog writing at the end of the day 🙂 And I’m working on a GoPro video as we speak, so there’s that to look forward to as well!

Much love to everyone at home and all of my amazing SciFund backers, you guys are the reason I’m actually here and I can’t thank you enough!! (And check your mailboxes over the next few weeks, hehe)




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