Fancy yourself an amateur marine biologist? Have you perhaps long thought about spending time overseas on a volunteer project, but never quite had the time to do it?
I’m sure it’s something a lot of us think about doing at some stage, but finding the time is another matter. Not any more. Now there’s a new way to combine short-term volunteer work with an island-hopping eco-adventure in Fiji (so now you have no excuses).
It’s a way to explore the beautiful Yasawa Islands above and below water, get up close and personal with some amazing wildlife, and choose from a range of conservation and community outreach projects.
The Vinaka Fiji program is an initiative of Awesome Adventures Fiji. It has several volunteer packages, all based at Barefoot Manta Resort on Drawaqa Island, which sits roughly in the middle of the Yasawa Islands group.
They vary in length from one week to four weeks but if none of these suit, you can also choose your own adventure and stay for as little or as long as you like. And you can combine your adventure with one of Awesome Adventures’ island-hopping tours, which include a range of uniquely Fijian activities.
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These range from sailing adventures, reef snorkelling, Fijian cooking school, village visits, guided summit walks to the peaks on Naviti and Waya Lailai islands, kayaking trips, hand-line fishing and swimming with manta rays.
The accommodation choices along the way range from a '1 Coconut' rating (backpacker dorms and bures), to 2 Coconut (flashpacker) and 3 Coconut (flashpacker and resort-style accommodation).
I’ve chosen a marine conservation eco-adventure, and my adventure starts at Barefoot Manta Resort, which bears the name Manta for good reason. Between May and September, this is the place to snorkel with manta rays.
Marine biologists Dan and Heather run the marine conservation program at Barefoot. Between them they are currently managing six or seven projects, and the one I get to help with is the removal of Crown of Thorns sea stars, which are destroying a few nearby reefs.
Once briefed, scuba gear on and armed with a large blunt hook and a bag, I hop in the boat with Dan, Heather and the other volunteers. I’m amazed and dismayed by how many we find – we fill the bag with about 20 sea stars in less than an hour.
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The next morning before breakfast, we’re taken to snorkel with the manta rays that glide up and down the channel, feeding on tiny plankton. The channel is pretty shallow so you can get close to these enormous, graceful creatures.
Make Yourself At Home With The Sharks
Over on Botaira Island, a short boat ride away from Barefoot Manta, there’s an opportunity to volunteer in the village school. This village, Muaria, is where most of the resort staff live so it’s a great way to give back to the local community.
Having explored the volunteer projects, I hop back on the Yasawa Flyer, and head south to Barefoot Kuata Island Resort, for another marine encounter, this time with reef sharks, and I decide to explore a few of the nearby reefs.
The Shark Snorkel is a 30-minute boat ride from Barefoot Kuata, on a shallow reef. The water is crystal clear as we float on top of a natural basin in the centre of the reef.
It’s a wonderful experience that everyone comes away from with a smile – even those that were scared to enter the water when they arrived.
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