7 – 9 April 2013

The first time we saw the village of Nukusa from the boat, I thought how wonderfully situated it was. It is not a beachside village like the usual but one that is about 10 metres elevated from the sea. And then on second thought, I looked at all our luggage and gear and the thought of us lugging our gear up the hill drained me of all my energy. As we arrived, after much calling for someone to notice us and help, 4 strong young men walked down to our boat and effortlessly carried all our luggage up with no huffing and puffing at all! Boy, were these men strong! The first man who smiled at us was Peleki Tamani. Later on we found out he was the Turaganikoro or the elected leader of the village! And these same men brought us out fishing led by Peleki, their village “mayor”.

Peleki Tamani the Nukusa Village leader.

Peleki Tamani the Nukusa Village leader.

Snorkelling is known to many cityfolks as a recreational sporting activity. Something you pay to do as you go out to the reef for the day. But here in all remote areas of Fiji, free diving with mask, fins and snorkel is a way of life. A way for far flung communities like Nukusa to survive, to catch fish for their daily protein intake. And when there is no fresh fish on the table for one reason or another, the women open cans of tuna for their meals.

We brought our own snorkelling gear into the boat and saw their eyes pop out when shiny bright yellow Scubapro split fins came out of the bag. I was kind of embarrassed how loud and garish our gear looked. Their fins looked far more interesting than ours though. It would have seen a lot of hours underwater! And when their gears break, innovative and clever ways were found to fix it to make it do hundreds more hours underwater.

Modified fins using rubber sandals or flipflops for comfort and tightening.

Modified fins using rubber sandals or flipflops for comfort and tightening.

We went first to their marine protected area which was established 5 years ago. A totally no-take zone, upon getting into the water, I saw a big school of about 30 batfish! Yogi was too slow so I have no pictures to show for this sighting!  You just have to take my word for it. The reefs were very pretty and lots of blue-green reef chromis!

Healthy coral reefs with abundant marine life in tambo or marine protected areas.

Healthy coral reefs with abundant marine life in tambo or marine protected areas.

Like little jewels, reef chromis schooling in amongst the acropora corals.

Like little jewels, reef chromis schooling in amongst the acropora corals.

Patricia Mallam didn’t want to get into the water, didn’t want to wet, afraid of rumours and here-say – that of Udu Point having lots of sharks! But I wouldn’t listen to any of her excuses. It was time for snorkelling and the time was now. The conditions were perfect, there was hardly any current, the reefs were healthy, clear and shallow and it was as good a time as any to check out the Great Sea Reef this far away east. Good thing I had strong powers of persuasion and Patricia at last saw one MPA from this massive reef system called the Great Sea Reef!

As we were busy snorkelling, the men waited for us to come back so they could go to an open non-MPA site to go fishing. The spearguns were prepared and off we went to hunt some fish!

Spear fisherman hunting reef fish in non-marine protected areas of the Great Sea Reefs.

Spear fisherman hunting reef fish in non-marine protected areas of the Great Sea Reefs.

Now off to go hunt some fish, the Nukusa men spend about two hours in the water  catching reef fish.

Now off to go hunt some fish, the Nukusa men spend about two hours in the water catching reef fish.

A freshly caught blue angelfish. For snorkelers and divers, angelfishes are the ornamental fishes of the reef. For fishermen like him, they are food fish for sustenance.

A freshly caught blue angelfish. For snorkelers and divers, angelfishes are the ornamental fishes of the reef. For fishermen like him, they are food fish for sustenance.

After two hours spear fishing from four fishermen, here's the accumulation of fish to be divided amongst many families.

After two hours spear fishing from four fishermen, here’s the accumulation of fish to be divided amongst many families.

Then Vani, the funny lady who lived beside the house where we were staying came to me and asked if I knew how to dive. I said yes and her eyes gleamed! She said “Me too! I can free dive! I dive for shells. I want to show you my shells!” Then like the strong character that she is, she organised her grandson to bring us out to sea. It was our last day in Nukusa and we were packed, ready to leave. But she wanted us to see her do what the men could do, so off we went.

Vani with her speargun and her granddaughter Maria get ready to free dive for shells and beche de mer.

Vani with her speargun and her granddaughter Maria get ready to free dive for shells and beche de mer.

Vani collects high-value top-shaped sea snails or trochus, to eat the meat and sell the shells. The interior of these beautiful shells is pearly and iridescent because of layers of nacre or mother of pearl.

Vani collects high-value top-shaped sea snails or trochus, to eat the meat and sell the shells. The interior of these beautiful shells is pearly and iridescent because of layers of nacre or mother of pearl.