FHTA, 7 May 2020 – For the past weeks, our weekly Tourism Talanoa column has touched on many issues that are affecting the tourism sector in Fiji and last week we touched on the ‘new normal’ of the travelling visitors who will have to change their approach to international travel.
Everyone will be adapting and changing personal, professional and industry-wide practices as this will be the only way to entice tourists to our shores.
This week we shine a spotlight on one of our members, who is still operating and continuing to positively impact nearby communities.
Dive Academy Fiji is a boutique dive eco resort found on in Viani Bay, on the Vanua Levu side of the Somosomo Strait, across from Taveuni. It is only accessible by boat and although the resort is on Vanua Levu, it is more practical for them to do their provisioning at Taveuni than to make the long trek to Savusavu.
Viani Bay is a known anchorage spot for yachts and these yachties, in turn, book with Dive Academy for diving and snorkelling activities, meals and other services.
We recently learnt of Dive Academy’s continued activity with their Diving Scholarship Program that they have been running since its inception in 2016. When the visitor numbers dried up, they simply continued to offer the program to the nearby villages and communities.
One of their first graduates has stayed on at the resort and has qualified as a PADI Assistant Instructor in early 2019. He continued to work for Dive Academy as a divemaster and this success story continues to push Dive Academy to offer this program to the nearby residents.
There are currently four students in the program aged between 14 and 17. They will go through the PADI Dive Training Program, learning about diving equipment, compressor handling and the technicalities of what makes a safe diver and an outstanding dive master.
Local students only pay a third of the regular cost that covers their learning material and certification fee. And if they become interns at Dive Academy, they can work off the cost of the courses and they will receive more training on dive administration and back office procedures, dive planning and guest relations.
Owner and founder of Dive Academy Fiji Marina Walser says “It´s important to understand, that this program is not just designed to train up only our own dive masters.”
“It´s first of all about educating the locals about the underwater world; once they see its beauty, they will protect it,” adds co-owner Jone Waitaiti. Being local, he can teach the students in both Fijian and English.
Nearby, Ucunivatu Primary School sits just beside the resort property and the top three students of Year 8 are awarded a “Discover Scuba Diving Program” for free to instil the first sparks of interest in diving.
Some of the graduating students of the diving program continue to work for Dive Academy as Dive and Snorkeling Guides. It provides job experience and opportunities to join the dive industry.
The dive program is popular and visitor traffic is usually high. Obviously, the international border closures and cessation of air travel to and from Fiji in late March, has seen the decline in the number of guests and future bookings dwindle to almost nothing.
One guest stranded in the country through a combination of timing and bad luck, has been at the resort since the border closures. She landed in Fiji on the last day of regular incoming flights and has been stuck there ever since.
The American diver was planning on a long stay in the Pacific anyway, so has not minded and has been spending her time getting PADI certified. She came in as a PADI Open Water Diver and has since completed her Advanced and Rescue Diver Course and is further training to be a Divemaster.
She is aiming to leave as soon as the borders open and has enjoyed her time diving the scenic diving spots near Taveuni.
Another project that Dive Academy is overseeing for their community and surrounding waterways is their coral farming initiative.
In July and November 2019, they set up the first two nurseries on Tivi Island in Viani Bay. Broken off pieces of coral are stuck on ropes in a construction that looks a bit like a large underwater hammock according to Marina.
The coral grows about 2-3cm in 3 months. With the water temperature starting to cool down now, they plan to start transplanting in June and will mainly plant hard corals. Currently the nursery has primarily stag horn corals only but they are also building nurseries for other type of corals as well.
“Unpolluted water is one of the pre-requisites when considering coral farming and while the waters around Taveuni are naturally blessed with this, after spells of bad weather rubbish from Taveuni eventually washes up onto Rainbow Reef and into Viani Bay,” explains Waitaiti.
In mid-2018, Dive Academy started teaming up with volunteers, school children and neighbouring businesses to set up a “Clean Up Taveuni Campaign”. To this day, they have continued to clean and pick up rubbish around the island that despite being brought to the attention of Local Government and the Ministry of Environment, continues to go without a formal waste disposal or collection program.
While they admit they receive a lot of positive feedback and support, it is a demanding and difficult way to clean an entire island. Without formal collection or waste disposal avenues and with no emphasis on educating the public on the effects of rubbish in the environment, much of the waste is then washed out into the ocean where they harm marine life and damage years of natural reef systems.
Here too, Dive Academy has provided much needed support for educating the young children in the community to appreciate the ocean so it can look after them. The children assist with the clean up programs once a month and quickly learn about marine conservation too.
Last year this evolved into the development of a credo (guiding belief) with the children and teachers who call themselves ”Ucunivatu Ocean Saviours”. The efforts already show positive effects with less rubbish being found along the shore now. The children are more aware of the eco-systems around them and even talk to their parents about the ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ concept and other aspects of environmental conservation.
The doors at the dive resort are still open and special local rates have been released to allow locals to enjoy the spectacular diving and get an appreciation for marine conservation efforts as a bonus.
See Taveuni now, with its lush beauty, quiet charm and spectacular marine life. There are a number of local specials on that are supported by special fares with the domestic carriers.
By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA
Published in the Fiji Times on 7 May 2020