The Fiji Times » Surfing, science and sustainable tourism

Two of the most critical topics for Fiji today, tourism and environmental protection have momentarily merged to bring hope thanks to a visit from a team of marine scientists from the Multi Environmental Graphical Analysis Laboratory -scales (MEGA) in Hilo, Hawai’i.

MEGA lab aims to develop innovative technologies and bring them to communities like ours who need them most.

This fusion of surf tourism and science tourism has many benefits for the future of our marine ecosystem and for sustainable and environmentally friendly visits to Fiji.

Scientists, researchers, surfers; the team of five visited our waters in July this year to 3D map Cloudbreak Reef, Tavarua and enjoy our waves in the process.

Assistant Professor of Marine Science and Data Science at the University of Hawaii, Dr John HR Burns said: “Understanding the structure of a reef is essential to predicting how it will respond to environmental stressors.

By mapping how the coral community changes along the reef, we learn how living coral and waves influence both reef health and wave characteristics. This information is powerful and allows us to predict how the system may change in the face of global stressors such as sea level rise.”

The project was led by Dr. Cliff Kapono, accompanied by Dr. Haunani Kane as remote sensing expert, and two graduate students Kailey Pascoe and Maluhia Kinimaka who led the underwater mapping process using specialized cameras and underwater robots, alongside Dr. Burns who helped with the data collection underwater.

The team mapped the reef from the air and from the water to see the reef system in great detail to “measure patterns in coral communities and determine how the living reef is structurally oriented”.

Dr Burns said studying and riding the waves made it a very rewarding and special trip for the team.

Having previously been part of the Fiji Surf Association, he was happy to be back as a professional scientist and using their technology to promote reef sustainability.

The team is grateful to REEF Footwear and Surfline for supporting the project and sharing their goal of giving back to the places they care about to ensure the reefs can remain healthy for future generations.

Dr Burns added: “The waves in Fiji are really perfect and special so we had as much fun riding them as we did studying them. It is also important to have a solid understanding of wave mechanics as this helps to ensure that we can safely and efficiently map the critical parts of the wave that bring so many surfers to Fiji.

“I hope surfers who come here recognize that they are visitors and respect the places and people of Fiji. There are very meaningful connections between the communities and the reefs of Fiji, and visitors will hopefully appreciate that. it, and will do their part to support these places and have a positive impact.

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