Allyson Burke - Shark Conservation in Fiji
Why I chose Shark Conservation in Fiji
I grew up swimming in the Atlantic and my love for the ocean began at a very young age. Although I had never been diving before, I loved snorkelling and scuba diving had always been an adventure I dreamed of. My love for sharks began at a young age as well, watching Shark Week on TV every summer and when I learned how much they were being hunted for their fins, I knew I wanted to grow up to protect them.
After I graduated high school, I began searching for shark conservation projects online and I became discouraged because there weren’t many available. One day after I had graduated college, I decided to search again and Projects Abroad came up right away. Almost as if this was the right moment for me to find it. The Shark Conservation Project in Fiji sounded amazing and I held onto that for two years while I worked to save up enough money to go for a significant amount of time. The time finally came for me to apply and a week or so later when I got my official acceptance email; it was the happiest day of my life.
Projects Abroad staff
Finally, after years of saving, planning, and dreaming it was time to go to the airport for Fiji! The Projects Abroad staff were amazing in the planning stages and the travel team booked my flights and everything. Every question I had was answered quickly and they walked me through exactly where to go when I got off the plane in Nadi, Fiji. From there, I was escorted by a Projects Abroad staff member to the bus that would take me the Arts Village, where I would then be taken to the apartments. Everything went according to plan, although my luggage did get lost, the conservation manager was on it and my bag arrived at the apartment the next day!
When I got the volunteer apartment, I was taken aback by how modern and nice it was. It looked like a high end, modern mansion! The cleaning staff greeted me at the doors and I had arrived just as our awesome chef was serving lunch. I got to meet the other volunteers and everyone was very friendly and accommodating.
My Conservation Project
The next day it was time to head to the dive shop for my first diving lesson. My instructor was amazing and I felt very relaxed. I was happy that we learned everything in a pool first but I could not wait to get out into the ocean.
My first fully submerged view of the underwater world was incredible. There were so many fish and we even saw a spotted eagle ray on that first training dive which is a rare and amazing sight. A few days later and I was an official open water certified scuba diver! I still had a lot of fish, rays, sharks, and turtles to learn about but I was ready for my first survey dive. This is where we head down as a team with the other volunteers and wrote down the different species we saw. We collected the number of fish of the same species we saw, their size, the time we saw them in the dive and how deep we were when we saw them. This gives local marine biologists up to date data on an increase or decrease of fish in the area.
We also had a lot of workshops in the classroom about shark awareness, mangroves, and the environment. These workshops touched on the tough subjects of global warming and human impact that is devastating the ocean and coastal regions. It’s hard to listen to but it made my wanting to go back to school for marine conservation that much stronger and I was happy I was doing something useful with my time volunteering.
Aside from diving in the ocean looking for sharks, rays, turtles, and fish, we also did a lot with mangroves. These trees are so important for coastal regions, as they are the first line of defence against storms for the mainland. Also, their cage-like roots makes it a great nursery where many marine species go to give birth as the babies are protected from larger predators.
Working in the community
Besides environmental work, we also do a lot of community service. Sometimes it’s painting a village hall or a village preschool; sometimes it’s a beach clean-up. There is also a community day once a month or so where we go to a village and learn about Fijian customs, dances, make baskets out of palm leaves, play games, take a tour of the village, and meet the village chief. At the end of it, the village ladies cook the most amazing traditional Fijian food, and it really is the best meal ever! I miss the food so much.
My time in Fiji was the most amazing time of my life. I have learned so much, seen so many sharks and made so many friends. The locals are some of the friendliest people on Earth and I miss them dearly. My current adventure is saving up money to go back to school for marine conservation and after that I know I will one day volunteer in Fiji again!