Before my trip to Fiji, I had no idea of what to expect. I had signed up to be a marine conservation volunteer with Global Vision International. This was outside my normal field of study at Northeastern, but was something I’ve always had a passion for, and couldn’t wait to see what Fiji had to offer. After landing, I was astonished by the endless smiles and enthusiasm of the Fijian people, who all were very proud of their culture and reputation.
Tourists who come to Fiji rarely stray far from their luxurious hotels and resorts, equipped with all the amenities that we today call comforts for our standard of living. But I did not stay at these resorts. Instead, I lived at a volunteer base near an island village five and a half hours away from the mainland. The island was incredibly small (less than a half mile across) with no roads, plumbing, or electricity grid. The base was home to about 25 other volunteers from all around the world, who volunteered for the marine project, or other community development programs such as education or construction. We sometimes complained about our living conditions as we shared a single room with 13 others and had to walk across the base to use our outhouse/bathroom. But I always became humbled when seeing the locals living near the base with next to nothing, surviving day to day with the bare minimum, and dirt floored homes. They live their whole lives without a complaint.
The friendliness and optimism of the Fijian people never ceased to amaze me. Everywhere I went, I was immediately greeted with the words “Bula!” Fijian for both hello, and good health. People were all eager and excited to talk and share food with me, and I never missed a chance to eat their always simple yet delicious meals.
Working on the Marine Conservation team was an incredible experience. With our living quarters just feet from the ocean, I couldn’t imagine studying anything else. I had no prior scuba experience, and was exhilarated by each step we took in learning and advancing our skills. The beautiful waters of Fiji did not disappoint. It was almost always clear and the reefs were often teeming with life, yet there were many places on each dive that undoubtedly had become victim of human impact.
The volunteers and I worked hard to memorize and differentiate over a hundred types and species of coral, invertebrates, and fish. Everyday, we would go on survey dives to different sites and collect data on fish or coral life. This data was organized, and then presented to the villages and their chiefs. Based on this data, decisions would be made about where and when an area of water needed to become an MPA, or Marine Protected Area. These areas are extremely important in protecting the ecosystems of Fiji, which are most often disturbed by overfishing both by commercial fishing to meet foreign demand, and the growing Fijian population.
I did not want my adventure to end; I had gained lifelong friends, a new appreciation for environmental conservation, and an experience I will never forget.
Peter Chan, Pharmacy