Getting my fins certified

I couldn’t wait to finish of my exams and head down the West to encounter what I would express as some of those best moments in the history of my life. I slept at Nadi and couldn’t wait for dawn as I will be traveling down the Yasawa Group of Islands where smashing sunsets are often experienced.

I was placed in Nanuya Island, in which Global Vision International (GVI) has set up its Tovuto Base; a home for all scholars and volunteers who are there to witness a lifetime experience through the three different yet related programs which GVI has been undertaking at the Tikina of Nacula.

The boat ride was somewhat enjoyable, it was the second time I’ve cruised through to the Yasawa’s, the first time was way back in 1998 on-board a 9 knots speed merchant vessel and for this trip it was with a 24knots (max speed) catamaran known as the Yasawa Flyer (the name talks about the brand). So the difference is obvious, the first one is time consuming whilst the recent trip is by far adventurous and breathtaking.

My destination was the last Port O’ Call so; we disembarked from the Yasawa Flyer via Tonic (GVI boat) meeting Luke, Nathan, Murray and Eddie at 1400hrs heading towards the Tovuto Base. We were a group of six scholars Rodney & Kate were for the Community Construction Program, Jessica for the Education Program, myself, Daniella and Katchia for the Marine Program.

We were introduced to life at the base soon after lunch and it was not that hard for me to adapt to it as it was typically the Fijian way of living.

The actual mission started on the eve of our arrival in which I was given the Open Water Dive text book to read and understand each chapter and latter test myself by attempting the knowledge review questions at the end of each chapter. Took me two days to complete the theory of Open Water Diving and with a delayed insurance coverage, I started marking the knowledge review questions with Simon Dixon (my dive instructor) before attempting both the quiz test and the final exams afterwards.

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After passing the exams I was ready to learn some underwater skills which started the next day after the confirmation of my dive insurance. It was another three days for underwater skills before I was taken for the first deep dive to have a look around under water at no more than 20meters depth.

Advanced Open Water Diving followed afterwards, surprisingly these came with no official exams we were to attempt the review questions only and get it marked by Chloe North our new dive instructor who will be taking the instructors role from Simon next year. It took us another 3 days to practically complete the course and afterwards it was diving all throughout.

Some interesting skills learned in Advanced Open Water were: Peak Buoyancy, being a Naturalist underwater and Navigation which to me was one of the important skills to master.

I had a total of 28 dives whilst undertaking the program and I had some wonderful memories of it. With each dive, I did learn something new and perfect weather allowed us to travel further away from base.

I did not know that I’ll be spending what I would recall one of those memorable times of my life, and that was to go to the Cathedral, the shark feeding site of Nacula. I could still remember Simon’s word of caution before the dive… “we are going to encounter some big creatures underneath; so no chasing sharks”…I retaliated back by asking, “who would do that?”

At about 25m underneath we could see Sharks, about 5-6 feet in length and quite a few of them. White Tip’s, Black Tip’s, Grey Reefs, 3 Sharp-tooth Lemon’s and 2 Bull Sharks all patrolling the bottom floor, our team of 7 divers dropped down to where these magnificent sea creatures were feeding, to swim with them and watch them swim amongst and around each other with humans watching off from a near distance.

The hot yet terrifying moments was when the two Bulls came straight ahead of Simon, I was behind Simon watching interestingly of the encounter, they were like half a meter of Simon before they split off in different directions….I shouted with a relieving smile in my regulator. The team swam around the “Cathedral” before surfacing to one of the most nerve wrecking incidents I have encountered.

The last dive however was probably the way the Yasawa waters were to say goodbye to me after completing both the basic diving certificates in them. Our team of 5 divers went to the “Zoo” a famous dive spot off base. The team again dropped down to 20meters, and at that distance we could see a massive Hump-head Wrasse swimming close by to us. The team were still focusing on the Wrasse when we could sense a cloud of darkness hovering and when we looked up a big school of Barracuda were swimming on top of us with approximately 30 – 50 Barracudas measuring at 1.5meters in length. There were also Cods and Groupers and a few Sweet Lips but again the icing was being able to swim close to two White Tip Sharks and a Black Tip as we were about to ascend back to the surface.

The trip to the Global Vision International base in Yasawa didn’t only provide me with qualifications of an underwater diver. I learned a lot of things; one of which is teamwork whether it be on the boat in the kitchen doing the grounds or cleaning the dorms. I was also taught the basic steps of managing my dive gears to running the compressors.

I was also given fish lectures thanks to Luke and Simon and I was able to control my diet, it was probably the most times that I have been eating vegetarian meals for the first time in my life. Given another opportunity to continue with Rescue Diving or Dive Master, I would welcome the idea, pending on my availability. I finally came to the realization of what diving is all about; and that is; Go to Places, Meet New People and Have Fun.

Steering forward– FLMMA Annual Gathering 2013

During the annual gathering of the Fiji Locally Marine Managed Area Network (FLMMA) which was held at the Forestry Department Training Centre in Colo-i-Suva from 10th-13th December 2013, there was unanimous consensus from the participants on upholding and strengthening environmental stewardship in Fiji.

The latter was captured in the FLMMA Strategic Plan 2020 vision statement: “A network of vibrant, resilient and empowered communities that uphold our heritage through fair partnerships and enabling environment for stewardship of healthy ecosystems to sustain livelihoods and food security for Fiji’s future”.

In this gathering, a host of issues was covered in the 4 day event including a review of the FLMMA strategic plan, discussions on existing natural resource management in the various FLMMA project sites, visioning exercises and presentations, cross site exchange with participants from Tonga & Vanuatu, and finally the FLMMA Annual General Meeting on Friday, which witnessed the appointment of the Turaga RokoSaufrom Lau, Ratu Josefa Cinavilakeba as the new FLMMA trustee replacing the late Tui Tavua and, the announcement of the new FLMMA coordinator to the AGM participants.

A number of issues were discussed in this gathering including the suggestion to change the acronym of Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA) to Locally Managed Area (LMA) in a move to incorporate the Ridge-to-Reef approach.

Additionally, there was an emphasis to upscale existing good work within the FLMMA project sites, coupled by a focus on FLMMA to work through the Yaubula Management Support Team (YMST) in order to achieve project sustainability coupled by equitable distribution of resources (either technical, financial or otherwise) and thereby, having a larger spatial coverage of Community Based Resource Management (CBRM) sites in Fiji.

Furthermore, there were calls to update existing legislations pertaining to promotingsustainable fishery in Fiji, while the move to expand the FLMMA network beyond the scope of conventional FLMMA partners and also to establish a“Friends of FLMMA” initiative was deliberated.

Sequentially, the need to strengthen a host of technical infrastructure including the; FLMMA Secretariat, YMST support network and, the education &awareness aspect of sustainable natural resource use including climate change impacts, were also highlighted in the discussions and visioning exercises.

All in all, the FLMMA annual gathering was a greatforum for the various stakeholders of the network to converge, discuss, envision, update, educate and know each other.

It also provided an incredible opportunity to witness the diversity of Fiji and the social relationships between the participants from all the corners of the country where allegiance and friendly rivalry was the norm of the day and night.

Experiencing the lovely camaraderie that bonds this FLMMA family together was delightful, particularly as they converged over the tanoa in the evenings to discuss a common passion that they all shared: that they become better environmental stewards for the sake of their beloved country and their future generation.

A passion that is aptly captured in the words of Canadian environmentalist, David Suzuki: “unless we are willing to teach our children to reconnect and appreciate the natural world, we can’t expect them to help protect and care for it.”