Fiji Fish - What happens after we catch them?

https://vimeo.com/71731020

Check out this video put together by Helen Scales, our brilliant science communicator while on expedition in Fiji this summer. This video addresses what happens AFTER diving in the sublime Fijian sea all morning - processing our fish samples! Which ended up being one of my favorite parts of the entire trip, second only to the diving itself.

The Drew Crew's First Sample Collection

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=hjZgNNDYTDE

Check out this video our amazing science communicator, Helen Scales (www.helenscales.com), put together of our first dive in Fiji! I'm the diver in all black (helpful!), and interviewed at the end are - from left to right - me, Maddy and Amy. Enjoy!

Field Work

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Annnd we’re back! We arrived in Suva yesterday after a week of sample collection in Nagigi (pronounced Nai-ni-ni) on the northern island of Vanua Levu. And man, what a week…I’m at a loss for words when I try to articulate what we’ve experienced. Coming to mind right now are the vibrant colors of the reef fish - brilliant oranges, silvery greens, pale yellows, deep reds, fading slowly from the limp fishes’ tissues as they wait patiently in their plates for us to process them. The cerulean blue of Nagigi’s lagoon, impossibly clear as the prow of our tiny boat cleaves a path through liquid color. The weightlessness of diving, being suspended in space with the tip of my spear glinting five feet ahead and the mechanical sound of breathing through my regulator punctuating the depths. Life in the village was elegant in its simplicity, everything revolving around those few hours spent underwater and the golden afternoons processing samples. The villagers were among some of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever met, especially our hosts Nancy and Nyo. These wonderful people cooked our every meal, insisting we eat more than our fill, and made sure we were comfortable and well-kept throughout our time spent in the village.

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More importantly, our research endeavors were extremely successful. By the end of the trip we had collected over 100 different species of reef fish, and had observed over a dozen endangered species that we can’t collect but can record as present. The biodiversity on Nagigi’s reefs was astonishing, while apparently not even being up to its full potential. We collected dozens of surgeonfish, damselfish, butterflyfish, angelfish, parrotfish and triggerfish, a handful of groupers, jacks and mullets (which are more commonly fished by the villagers), two lionfish and a handful of extremely small gobis, blennies, and cardinalfish. I’m definitely missing a lot of fish families there, but that’s what I can remember without looking at my field notebook. :) And, like most field expeditions, we did experience a few hiccoughs in the plans - delayed ferries, boat problems, having to take time off because of terrible weather, etc. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about fieldwork, and not just on this expedition, is to always expect the unexpected. It sounds really cliche but it is truly crucial to have a back-up plan for when things don’t go as planned. For instance, one of the days we were supposed to collect a lot of data we woke up to torrents of rain hammering on our little tin roof, and when we saw the current absolutely RIPPING in the lagoon, all chance of diving that day went out the door. So we had to improvise, sending a few of us into the nearby town to run some necessary errands we had been putting off, and the others staying behind to do interviews with Helen. It ended up being a productive day despite not getting our expected work done, and that day was chalked up as a success. Thankfully the weather wasn’t always like that and we did get to dive in some absolutely fantastic waters (eee!), and collect all the fish and sediment samples we needed.

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Sitting here in Suva, heading back to the US in three days, I realize how much I’m going to miss this place over the next year. BUT, I’m also bolstered by the possibility of returning next summer for my thesis research (!), and am so looking forward to what my graduate school experience holds in store - it has certainly started off on the right foot. :)

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Off to Nagigi

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Stumbling upon a praying mantis in the street, we fall to our knees - cameras up, voices low, immediately ensnared. It starts moving towards Amy’s arm, which is outstretched in hopes of a species to species greeting, and soon she has the insect close to her face, cooing encouraging noises. I keep my distance, perfectly content with getting a close-up of its alien-like eyes through the lens of my camera. We hear a car approaching and reluctantly get out of the street, urging Sir Manty out of harm’s way. This is such a field biologist moment.

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Life here has settled into a comfortable routine. Breakfast around 7am at the Hot Bread Kitchen amusingly located on Butt Street or the coffee shop on Loftus, reading the paper and discussing our day’s plans in between bites of coconut buns and fruit rolls. The beginnings of our days are usually filled with field preparations, yesterday involving permitting (always, always checking on the permits), tracking down ethanol and formalin, maps, and liquid nitrogen. Today involving more permitting, tying up loose ends from yesterday’s errands (the formalin quest has taken us on a wild goose chase around various University of South Pacific campuses), and playing with underwater cameras and GoPro rigs. Lunches are taken at the food court just down the hill from our hotel, filled with amazing Indian food and sushi, and afternoon activities usually involve either doing interviews with Helen in scenic places or the tedious but extremely necessary prep work like filling hundreds of microtubules with ethanols and sharpening pencils. Evenings usually consist of more amazing food, lots of laughter and story telling, a bit of down time and then early to bed to prepare for another jam-packed day ahead.

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While this time in Suva has been ridiculously enjoyable (the Drew Crew’s ab muscles have significantly strengthened from all the laughs), we are all intensely focused on the prize ahead - our week in the village of Nagnini, diving daily to collect samples, conducting interviews with fishermen and fisherwomen. This is what our expedition is all about, everything comes down to this week in Fiji’s “hidden paradise” (which we were delighted to hear the Suva locals calling it). We depart tonight at 7pm, after one last day of frantic errand running and equipment packing, boarding an overnight ferry that will land us on the northern island at 4am the next day. After arriving in Nagnini I will be effectively off the map, not using internet or phones both because it will be extremely difficult and also for the purpose of fully immersing myself in our work, enabling myself to be fully present for every aspect of the field.

Edit: We are now leaving tomorrow morning at 4am, arriving in Savusavu in the afternoon to head to the village. The ferry was delayed so we have scrambled to make it work and it looks like we won’t be too set back :) Ahhh the challenges of fieldwork! Adios everybody, talk to you again when we have 800+ fish added to our inventory!

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Bula from Fiji!

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Hello from Suva, Fiji! It’s so crazy to actually be here, after months of talking and planning and prepping. The entire Drew Crew (which we dubbed ourselves this morning for an 8k fun run) arrived in Suva in a state of near disbelief, stunned that we had actually reached our destination with every single bag and piece of equipment fully intact. We landed in Nadi (pronounced “nandi”), crammed all of our things into a flower print, velvet-covered minivan, piled onto the plastic-covered seats (think grandmother's house) and shot straight over to Suva, the capitol of Fiji, where we’ve been for the last 3 days. And from there it’s been an absolute whirlwind! Buying gear for the field, checking up on permits, giving talks, unpacking equipment, playing with cameras (two waterproof GoPros lent to us by some colleagues - woohoo!), and planning our week of sample collection. And in between all the important things we have been doing, there are the gems of cultural experience that inevitably occur when halfway across the globe. We stumbled across a music festival last night, where we got to watch a bunch of adorable children do adorable dances and listen to some great music by a few local Fijian bands. We have been eating amazing food as well, lots of Indian curries and coconut dishes, although we have yet to eat any traditional Fijian food here in the capitol. The fish market in Suva is amazing, so many colorful reef fish alongside large offshore species, and whenever we walk through it’s kind of like a collective ichthyology nerdgasm. There is a beautiful flower market as well, and a very interesting kava/tobacco market where we’ll be getting our kava roots to present to the village officials for our sevu sevu (kava ceremony). We’re heading to the village of Nagigi on the south coast of Vanua Levu (Suva and Nadi are on the island of Viti Levu, Vanua Levu is the island just to the north) on Wednesday, and staying there for about a week.

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More updates and photos later, mothe everybody!!

The Future of Food (I Hope)

Fish farmed from Veta la Palma, a sustainable fish farm in Southern Spain that maintains a natural food web in order to feed their fish - purifying a major river and boosting bird populations while they're at it.  

I was just looking through proposed projects from a graduate program I applied to recently, and stumbled across this amazing TED talk in one of the project's resource webpage. This chef, Dan Barber, was in search of the perfect fish: delicious, fresh-tasting, sustainable. The "sustainable" part is becoming more and more important for restaurants these days, as not only are many types of fish growing increasingly toxic but some of the most palatable and well-liked fish stocks are in danger of (if not already) collapsing - Red Snapper, Chilean Sea Bass, Orange RoughyFreshwater Eel or Unagi (one of my own favorite sushi items), and Pacific Bluefin Tuna, which was actually just revealed to have dropped 96.4% in population, ahhh! So this TED talk is the story of how he stumbled across this ASTOUNDING fish farm in Southern Spain, you absolutely have to watch it:

[ted id=790]

It's extremely depressing to hear about the extent of the destruction of the oceans to date, and to imagine them as just barren, toxic expanses of water in the future. A few years ago I would have told you I thought too many people focus on the dire-straights predictions and let it scare them into hopelessness, rather than rising to a challenge and actually trying to do something about it (I was a bit of a pessimist when it came to humanity, haha). But over the last few years, that's all changed. Through many of my own life experiences, like helping with marine management programs in Fiji and working with fellow LA divers to restore kelp forests off our coastline, and reading the news, learning about how many people and organizations are out there trying to deal with this stuff, how many people actually CARE, man I have developed some serious faith in the world!

So this is what struck me while watching the TED talk: that the innovative human mind, combined with the resiliency of biological systems when given a chance, can restore and repair so much of the damage we've done to our planet. This guy points out some really awesome solutions to the decline of our food industries (because let's be real, it's nearly impossible these days to get your hands on some truly natural, unprocessed food in America unless you grow it/raise it yourself). If more people and businesses recognized the VALUE of intact ecosystems, in the sense that nature has developed these things for millions of years until they are literally almost PERFECT self-sustaining entities - why not use ecosystems themselves more efficiently to produce the things we need? I believe I read recently that the state of New York is looking into installing oyster beds offshore for storm mitigation, because they act as a natural barrier for surges - that is exactly what I'm talking about. It's not a new idea. The project at UCSB's Bren School of Environmental Management that I was checking out earlier is about mimicking natural food webs to create more sustainable fisheries options, this is another example. It could probably be applied to a ton of different agricultural models as well. And this fish farm in the TED talk pretty much perfectly exemplifies this idea.

The more people we can get to learn about these things, realize how perfectly nature's tools have been honed to deal with the problems we're facing over vast amounts of time, we could really make some great moves towards cleaning up our planet. I'm choosing to be optimistic about this whole mess, and choosing to become a proponent of finding solutions!

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(PS - the links I provided for the fish above are all from this amazing resource from the Monterey Bay Aquarium called SeafoodWatch, it's a list of sustainable vs. unsustainable fish options for anyone to check out. They have an app, too!)