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Joshua Drew: Fiji’s Reefs

I work on coral reefs in the Pacific. While I’ve had the chance to work in a variety of places I spend most of my time in Fiji, particularly working with remote villages to support education and stewardship.

Name: Joshua Drew

Habitat: Coral Reefs

Location: South Pacific, mainly the Islands of Fiji

Twitter: @Drew_Lab

Bio: I work on coral reefs in the Pacific. While I’ve had the chance to work in a variety of places I spend most of my time in Fiji, particularly working with remote villages to support education and stewardship.

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Target Ecosystem:

Working in coral reefs is an amazing experience. The variety of ways life expresses itself is staggering. If you can dream of it, there is probably a coral reef organism that does it. From snails that hunt with harpoons, fish that extend their mouth one-third of their body length, to shrimp that can strike hard enough to shatter aquaria, they’re all found on the reef.

Working in more remote areas allows me to see a greater variety of species . It means I can look back in time to what reefs were like before human exploitation degraded them

Highlights:

This is tough, I get to scuba dive in some of the most beautiful places on earth, but I also get to spend time learning about fascinating cultures.

Moreover, the kindness and hospitality that the Fijian villagers show me is humbling. I think the most rewarding thing is seeing how excited they get when I come back from a dive with a cool species of fish or invertebrate and tell them what I know about it. Education is critical for wise stewardship strategies and the future of coral reefs.

ABOVE: Fieldwork on a coral reef.
"You never know when you might stumble across a new species, but you’ll only know it looks different when you’re supposed to know what it looks like."
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Challenges:

There can be times when working in the field is incredibly frustrating and dangerous. Things break, items which are supposed to be there are not, it’s expensive and time-consuming. All this is compounded by the need to get high quality data in a short period of time.  Working many days with multiple dives on little sleep can take their toll, but honestly I love what I do so much I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Thankfully, the chances of animals attacking people in the water are pretty slim. The greatest danger I face is from my own mistakes or clumsiness. There are several species of venomous fish, like stonefish or lionfish that can pack quite a wallop. As long as I’m careful handling them, and don’t stupid things like stick my hand in a hole where an eel is living, I should be alright.

TOP LEFT: Parrotfinch (sega ula) a bird only found in Samoa under threat by forest degradation and invasive species. TOP RIGHT: The Mao (Gymnomyza samoensis) is threatened by habitat destruction and the spread of introduced species such as rats. BOTTOM LEFT: Members of the team survey the forest. BOTTOM RIGHT: The team recording a Samoan Whistler (Pachycephala flavifrons).
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Top Tips for research in this environment:

1) Learn the animals before you get in the water. You never know when you might stumble across a new species, but you’ll only know it looks different when you’re supposed to know what it looks like.

2) The easiest way to know if I’m on a healthy reef is to look for large predators. Big sharks, jacks and groupers are the first ones to be fished out. If I drop in on a reef and am greeted by a curious shark, then I know that I’m in a healthy reef system.

3) Learning how to fix things yourself comes in handy. It’s far easier to maintain equipment in good order than it is to have to buy it again.

4) Remember that in this environment, the greatest dangers you face are from your own mistakes.

5) Listen to the locals, they have a wealth of information which may be helpful!

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