Discovering the Nabukavesi River
By Sera Tikotikovatu-Sefeti
Nature Fiji-MareqetiViti’s ‘Meandering Mates’ adventure for children and their families in the highlands of Namosi is a window to understanding the area’s rich biodiversity, and how it is under threat.
The organisation’s vision is for a healthy environment that maintains its diversity of species, habitats, ecological integrity, and resilience in a pristine condition.
It is also dedicated to teaching Fijians about our diverse environment, which is why we set off from the Suva Civic Centre on a cool and windy Saturday morning, our children animatedly chatting away about what might be in store for the day ahead.
A drive into the highlands followed, and on arrival, a scene of mesmerising lush green forest and the sound of softly flowing streams unfolded.
With us was the only freshwater ecology expert in Fiji, Bindiya Rashi, who explained that each creature found in the Nabukavesi River can indicate the health of that river.
“I was the first one to go over 35,000 individual organisms, run statistical analysis, and come up with bio-indicators for river health, stream health, freshwater health, and forest health for Fiji,” she tells us.
For ‘Meandering Mates’, MareqetiViti equipped us with buckets, tweezers, colour-coded maps, strainers and magnifying glasses to explore the river, and its red, green and amber zones. Like traffic lights, each zone indicates a different state of the river, Bindiya instructed. “The bio-indicators place the organisms in the different colours; the red zone means danger and it is a degraded system; the green zone means it is a healthy river system with good water quality and good forestry.
“If you see amber, either the water system is changing, with fairly good water quality, or the forest health or river health is changing.”
Armed with our equipment and a little knowledge from this briefing, we set out, hunting, stepping over and around rocks in the middle part of the river, and collecting samples along the riverbank.
The cool water was a respite from the heat of the day and we happily discovered ‘edge mates’, ‘pool mates’, and ‘run mates’ in different parts of the river.
The hunt, though exciting, had concerning results.
We unfortunately found a lot more creatures in the red zone than in the green. I was perplexed because the whole area was so serene, beautiful, and looked really healthy, but the creatures found, portray the reality of the eco-system.
We didn’t realise that the presence—or lack of presence—of some of these organisms indicated the health of the ecosystem. Bindiya says that river used to be wider, but have receded. She says the more organisms found in the ‘red zone’, the more likely some sort of man-made activity upstream is disturbing their natural habitat.
The further upstream we went, the more we learned. My children jumped in excitement as they saw a prawn; but they were not as plentiful as you would expect. They learnt about the different creatures living under the rocks, and we adults learned that every activity is somehow connected; our actions on land affect our waters, the creatures that live in them, and the air that we breathe.
The hunt ended with a picnic and a dip into the Nabukavesi waterfall. It was cold, it was refreshing, and it was exactly what we needed after the nature walk and meandering hunt.
The nature walk was a wonderful educational adventure, and after our meandering, we’ll never look at this river in the same way.
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This article first appeared in Fiji Traveller, July-September 2023.