LäjeRotuma Initiative

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Rotuma Trip in August 2003

By six a.m. Monday, 2 August 2003, a few of us who traveled on the MV Cagi Mai Ba were up at on deck chatting happily and reminiscing about our early childhood days. This is my first trip to Rotuma this year and as always, on the last night of the sea voyage, there is an air of expectancy--that when we woke up, we would be seeing land. This trip was no different as we sat promising to watch the sun rise and listing our cravings, like having rourou or ‘iom niu and eating fish everyday! There was Safu, who is a medical doctor on leave, and had a sudden need to return home after years of being away; William, who teaches at the Rotuma High School and me. In the same group were three Malhaha boys who had left Rotuma for some time off from island-life and got stranded in Suva for two weeks because of of the MV Bulou ni Ceva's engine trouble, which is another story. Anyway, as the rain clouds lifted off the horizon to unveil Rotuma, a deep sense of peace and anticipation came over me. I never cease to be amazed by the impact of watching Rotuma with its lush green hills, the rows of coconut trees lining the coastline, and the pockets of white sand that appear as the swells turn down. The skies promised a wet day, but that didn’t dampen most of the passengers’ spirits, not even one of the guys contemplating a return to his usual schedule and a plantation knee-high with weeds as a result of being neglected. The conversation reminded me of my mission this trip, to do as much work as possible.

Cagi Mai Ba at wharf

Since I had only a week to carry out the community workshop at the identified district, my plans involved school visits, identifying the new island coordinator, and meetings with government heads and the island's volunteer network.

The first resource conservation workshop was held in Pepjei because of the immediate plight the community faces from coastline erosion and the deterioration of its seawall, threatening the village setting. In my opinion, and from ideas discussed previously in the last phase, the kama phenomenon is a contributing factor. Kama growth seems to have drastically changed the foreshore relief of Pepjei. There is no longer a gradual change from deep to shallow water, causing the constant physical force of strong oceanic waves to hit the sandy beach directly, with no relief or protection by the barrier reef. This exposes the beach rock and is destroying the man-made seawall along Pepjei’s foreshore.

Another reason for choosing Pepjei was the cooperation and enthusiasm for LäjeRotuma last time, so we decided that it would be encouraging for all involved to start the mammoth task of community resource conservation (CRC) efforts there.

Volunteer Community Workers

The workshop was carried out at the evenings, allowing all community members to be present at the village hall. The participatory and learning action tools were used to facilitate discussion of the villagers' concerns and their approach to natural resource management. We met from 6 to 9 p.m. for four evenings. The meetings were very interesting and productive, and I always looked forward to them; they concluded with the creation of a community management action plan. I must say I find the Pepjei people forthright and fun-loving. During day I visited the schools with Island Coordinator Ritia Atalifo and arranged for the coral reef survey work to be done in October.

One memorable moment was when I realized that I was not homesick anymore for Noa'tau, the village where I grew up, because I had come to regard Pepjei equally as home. One thing that impressed me about Pepjei is the industrious nature of the people there, exemplified by the establishment of a coconut oil refinery, and yet there is a spirit of unity amongst them. It is especially encouraging to see all fit persons working in shifts throughout the week to scrape, heat, squeeze, and measure the oil extract. They were able to see the usefulness of this community project as there was a lack of cooking oil in the shops, creating a market for the villagers to sell their pure coconut oil to neighboring villages. It seems that everyone’s goal for this business venture is to secure an export market.

I was amazed that the people, including the younger men, shared and discussed things so freely during the CRC workshop and the following grog sessions. I was touched by the humor, the singing around the grog bowl, the friendliness, and the heart of the people. The knowledge they have and so freely shared with me and the other PLA trainers is humbling. So when I left for bed each night and the others returned home, my head, despite its "grogged" state, buzzed with the lessons learnt that day. I am thankful for all those who contributed to and assisted in the CRC workshop, from the signboard helpers to the PLA trainers, and all the gang at Pepjei.

Written by:
Monifa Fiu [23 August 2003]
LäjeRotuma Coordinator/PLA Trainer

Monifa's Journal

LäjeRotuma Coral Reef Dive Team:

1. Sidney Malo [Field/Equipment logistics]
2. Fiu Manueli [Dive training/Safety Officer]
3. Monifa Fiu [LäjeRotuma Coordinator]
4. Diane Walker [Science Training/dive volunteer]
5. Thomas Vaurasi [Field asst./dive volunteer]
6. Baravi Thaman [Seagrass survey/dive volunteer]
7. Teri Tuxson [Dive volunteer]
8. Thomas Solomone [trained island dive volunteer-Motusa]
9. David Paka [trained island dive volunteer-Motusa]
10. James Kamea [trained island dive volunteer/PLA Facilitator-Juju]
11. Anderson [in-training island diver-Pepjei]

LäjeRotuma Socio-economic & CRC workshop team:

1. Ruth Isimeli [Suva PLA Facilitator]
2. Linda [Fapufa contact]
3. Faga Suani [Noatau contact]
4. Ritia Atalifo [Island Coordinator/Oinafa contact]
5. Eric Marsefo [Pepjei contact]
6. Mareta Varea [Juju contact]

27th-29th September 2003
Finally we are leaving for Rotuma. It is Saturday early morning, Sid and I were already at the wharf with the cargo, including a compressor, 20 dive tanks, 6 containers filled with gear and equipment, plus the odd number of boxes containing rations for the two-week expedition. I thought to myself, I cannot wait to get on the boat for a lie-down. Just a day before we were informed that all our stuff might not be able to load onto the boat because there was already a lot of cargo for the shops and building material for at least three houses yet to be loaded! That was more worrying for me the worrier. What would we have to do to have all our stuff loaded on the boat?

Friends seeing us off

There was no option for leaving any of the stuff behind because then the survey team would be in jeopardy. All was well in the end; we finally got ourselves and the gear on the MV Cagi Mai Ba. Sunday was spent out at sea and for some of us it was time for catching up on sleep, with many anticipating the time ahead of us. On that last night on board whilst sitting on the container, chatting with some of the guys and enjoying the occasional salt spray, an older man from the group told me to expect good weather for our stay on the island as he pointed to the half moon with its crescent turned up, suspended in the star-studded sky. His words were: “the half upturned moon is a bowl in the sky capturing all that rain that threatens to fall at any time.” I thought it sounded a bit romantic but not for long, as the waves proved more viscious and the salt spray was becoming more of a wave threatening to engulf us, so everyone decided to enjoy the final night indoors. The trip was not a comforting one as the seas were a bit rough on some of us who preferred to be in horizontal positions during sea voyages. On many occasions I thought to myself that such recurring sea voyages are becoming tiring. Well, moods changed once we were nearing home. The gloomy skies shed a shadowed light on Rotuma and its undulating hills appeared somewhat a shaded green. This sight has always amazed me; it is a moment of reflection on all challenges that we encountered during the preparation of any such trip. I think it was also obvious that I wanted to share this with our two non-Rotuman dive volunteers, Diane Walker and Baravi Thaman. Oinafa seemed more welcoming than ever, with its white sandy beach and the aqua blue waters, today looking dampened by the cloudied skies. Offloading was as hectic as when we loaded back in Suva. It was good to meet family.

Baravi with our host-mapiga Atalifo Finiasi

We reached our base camp late afternoon and a mamasa ceremony was accorded to our volunteers, Baravi and Diane, for their first time on Rotuma. For Fiu Manueli, the dive officer, it has been over 30 years since he was last here back home. For me, I couldn’t wait to greet the sea with a moonlight swim. It has been a long day for the team and an early night for all, as tomorrow would be day one of the science training of all dive volunteers.

30th–1st October 2003
It is Tuesday and day one of the Rotuma Coral Reef Survey project. Today’s schedule sets the pace for the rest of our stay as wake up call was 6:00 a.m. with devotion/breakfast and briefing in that order. For the next two days, it will be science training for all divers before the dive team starts the coral reef survey. Our first snorkeling session was out front to see what fish were to be seen and to establish a fish list for Rotuma’s survey and according to the reef check fish species list. Our base camp was at Ut'utu, Noa'tau in an ideal location. Its isolation from the main district proved essential to the dive team for its quietness, and it was perfect for the rather noisy compressors and generators which were turned on at odd hours. The privacy was needed for the comfort of everyone, especially me. The beach area was a blessing as we did not have to go far to see the fish and different coral life forms, things we needed to see to gain the scientific knowledge in order to qualify as a science survey team member. This two-day crash course may sound impossible but with Diane’s rather interesting and innovative way of sharing her knowledge of the different fish species with the rest of us, why they are shaped and colored the way they are, their habits and where they are usually found, the two days were great fun! There was the occasional funny incident but the most memorable one for the day was learning how to classify the different fish species into families. James, one of our island divers, seemed to remember only sweetlips, and once uttered, there goes the saying of the day! I guess with class out on the beach under the coconut trees on a beautiful sunny day, who could blame us for the short concentration span. For the Suva gang, we were still trying to get our heads around the beautiful view, and to pinch ourselves to know that we are really on Rotuma.

2nd-4th October 2003:
It is Thursday, the start of the surveys of Rotuma’s reefs and I do not feel what am supposed to feel. What could go wrong, the transport was on time at 7 p.m. and everyone was taking their time still sorting out what not. Finally all was shooed onto the truck and on we went to Itu'muta, where our boatman, John Bennett lives. Of course, there was the slight miss-fitting for one of the BCD jackets and the first dive team got delayed for 45 minutes.

Island divers in action

At the end of the day I comfort myself by thinking that first days for such a feat always put a strain on everyone involved, and that mistakes are bound to happen. We are all new at this sort of thing. The Community Resource Conservation (CRC) workshop started today at Motusa in the evening and will continue for the next 3 evenings according to the village schedule. Motusa is our second CRC community and was chosen ahead of other communities, as LäjeRotuma intended to conduct a seagrass survey at Maka Bay. We thought it best to make the community aware of the importance of the seagrass habitat before any surveys were done in their bay. During the day, the socio-economic survey team conducted a survey at Fapufa.

The second day didn’t prove so tiring because everyone got to the dive site on time. I think the visit to Rotuma High School (our changeover site for the teams) proved less hectic than otherwise anticipated. I also visited the Malhaha Primary School to present some information brochures provided by the Department of Environment, WWF, and the International Waters Programme. The day also proved eventful for Teri, who conducted a netball coaching clinic for students of the high school during her 45 minute surface interval. The Rotuma High School faculty hosted the team to morning tea, lunch, and since it coincided with World Teachers Day, there were tefui for everyone. It was also the day when I broke my survey diving record by using more than 100 bars of air for a 55 minute survey.

School's outreach program

Bottom time for any survey usually takes about 35-40 minutes, but I was in a rather challenging site where the surge was pretty strong for a featherweight person such as me. Baravi must be commended for carrying the heavy duty stuff for me and even going down with me to hammer the stakes down to mark our permanent sites on the hard reef substrata. Saturday was all work and didn’t feel like it was a weekend until the afternoon when we hosted a BBQ for the island volunteer network. As for the boys, it was beach party time and induction time for Baravi with some of the best homebrew on the island.

5th October Sunday
It was a day of rest for everyone and to visit and have Sunday lunches with family. The day’s programme involved attending the church service at Kalvaka where Sidney and Thomas played truant (don’t smile!!!). Much later in the afternoon, an island tour was organized for the team at 3 p.m. when uncle Rupert (nickname) took us to the best spots on the island. For many of us this wasn’t the first time, but visiting it again did not make it any less beautiful.

6th-8th October
Today marks the end of the first week of our stay and the dive team is slicker in getting its act together. It is Monday and the programme included a seagrass survey conducted by Baravi and the Motusa divers. The senior science students were also out at Maka Bay on a field trip to participate in the seagrass survey. The socio-economic team started their survey at Losa, which was the site for surface intervals and the change-over of teams.

Tuesday was planned for recreation day and the dive team did a dive at Hatana and snorkeled off Split Island. As for the dedicated socio-economic team, they stayed behind and conducted a socio-economic survey at Noa'tau and Pepjei. The CRC workshop continued at Motusa for the last evening where it discussed a community management plan. I feel must share my personal account of my adventure at Hatana. Legend has it that Raho was buried there and knowing the legend behind it, I felt like Alice in wonderland.

Visit to Hatana

Stories and legends became real for me when I saw the red bodied crab found only on Hatana, and saw the two stone gods that sat proudly in their glory before their gifts. I could feel an air about it when I stood before the two stones, but then decided to sit down cause I felt I was standing in front of two persons…it was crazy but that was how I felt. Things that one cannot ignore on Hatana are the birds, the ‘ahi (crabs) and the rich sea life…but the memory of Hatana that I will remember most is the grave beside the two stone gods. It was that of the maiden, daughter of one of the Tigarea forefathers as I was told, who sacrificed his only daughter to be buried with Raho. Maybe that explains why the Tigareas are privileged with such a gift as Hatana. I cannot help but feel sad for the girl and what it would have been like during those times. Oh, and Baravi reminds me to mention the souvenirs Sid and I got from the tricky business of landing on Hatana. The boat ride to Hatana was great fun with the Losa boys cracking jokes as usual, so when we reached Hatana, I just jumped off and swam for the rocks. I reached there no worry but as I stood on the slippery rocks going to the "bird sancturay" the wake of a huge wave swept me off my feet and I found myself back out to the deeper end and risked being smacked onto the smooth coralline covered rocks. I was finally able to get onto my feet with the help of the boys but earned myself a medal as I had a gash on my right elbow from trying to get myself up or risk being swept back to the deep blue. This experience sort of heightened my expectations of Hatana, I guess.

Split Island snorkel

The experience at Split Island was equally great. Some of the guys decided to check out the island whilst the less adventurous snorkeled for half an hour before having to leave for Rotuma, as the cloudy skies predicted a change in weather not in our favor. On the way back I decided to take a nap at the bow of John’s boat as it promised an even longer journey back to Rotuma. Suddenly, I was wakened rudely by the bounce of a wave that had the coil of anchor rope up at the bow landing rather nicely (still in its neat coils) around my neck. I guess I looked ridiculous with that silly look on my face not knowing what hit me, much to the guys’ enjoyment. That evening, the dive team was hosted to dinner by Losa village. We took the opportunity to have a session with them, talking about what LäjeRotuma was doing and in particular consulting them of the possibility of a Community Resource Conservation workshop there. Another interesting topic that we discussed were the turtles; this is a subject for further discussion during their CRC workshop, I thought to myself.

Evening session at Losa

It is Wednesday, the day when three of our team members left for Suva on the weekly flight. Camp was a little sad but the work must go on as the expedition ends in only a few days time and we have a very tight dive plan. How long we will stay depends on the government delegation’s schedule for returning to Suva. It was also the day when the good weather turned too nasty for any safe diving and good surveying.

9th-13th October 2003
Like all good things, our visit must come to an end. The weather has now turned on us, I think much to everyone’s relief, because there will be time to go to Ahau for the Rotuma High School bazaar. Much of my day was spent visiting the home where I was brought up and catching up with some of my family. The next day did not get any better and so (my being me) I insisted that the dive team do a shore dive where we lived. I believe my idea did not get any better when after the dive, both Thomases, David, and Sid had to practically plough their way back to shore with all their gear during an ebbing tide, from about a mile from shore. At the same time, there was the Fiji Day celebration at Ahau, but by the time the guys got there, the kato’aga had finished. During that night there was a party to which everyone was invited on the grounds of the government station. Missing out on the kato’aga, (I think) made the guys more determined to at least return for the party that night. As for the rest of us, or at least the older team members, we decided to spend our last night on our moonlight beach front toasting to Baravi, Diane, and Teri who had left for Suva earlier on the Wednesday flight. It was an early start for the dive team, who needed to get to the wharf early and reload once again the compressor and the tanks/equipment which we had brought for the survey. Of course by then some of us were "too merry" to worry about anything. I for one, could not miss my last leisure swim at the famous Oinafa beach. Saying farewell to the island volunteers who were present is rather vague to my memory. It felt as if just yesterday we were planning the first ever Rotuma coral reef survey and now it’s done. Life goes on for LäjeRotuma as we return to reality and the loads of work to be done for the next phase of activities. Looking back, LäjeRotuma has come a long way from just a simple idea to something that even today I cannot fully fathom. Yet the fulfillment gained by some of us during our time as a volunteer for the Initiative is tremendous.

LRI team presents ozone awareness material to Rotuma High

To those of you who read my account of the first ever Rotuma Coral Reef Survey, I am trying to share some of my memories with you all, but this is only my personal account. I am sure that other members of the team could tell tales more vivid than mine. LäjeRotuma invites all who would like to volunteer their time, knowledge, and resources; I can assure you that the cause is for real. It is the time to do something while we still can to protect the fragile ecosystem of Rotuma. It is everyone’s business to be involved and to join a global movement to participate in the preservation of planet Earth for the sake of our very own survival. I see LäjeRotuma Initiative as a response to that universal call to do something in our own little Rotuman way, not just for the benefit of others but for us today and the future of Rotuma.


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