Friday, October 26, 2012

Composting and Gardening

has always seemed a challenge to me until we decided to move more to sustainable living and being less dependent on quick fixes. Now living on a small pacific island means that we do have to rely on a great percentage of our meals coming from processed and packaged food. You can buy local beef at certain stores but chicken and pork etc all come for New Zealand and Australia.

There is very little production of meat here, no matter how many pigs are roaming the streets and causing havoc, they are reserved for the family umu, celebrations and funerals. What a shame really but without a proper butcher and farming protocol the population would quickly dwindle should it be taken to a commercial level. I am also terrible for not wanting to know where the meat I am eating actually comes from, as a former vegetarian I still have the heeby geebies when I am cutting meat and fish is a no no for me. However trying to be healthy and eat low fat meats is impossible almost here as we lack the packaging information we are so accustomed to overseas. Its more a what you got is what you have to deal with, and draining fat three or four times off ground beef is very common.

As for vegetables, the market has improved greatly here in the 7 years we have lived here, we used to get excited when lettuce and tomato's showed up for winter, however now we have them year round as well as a wonderful array of peppers, cucumbers, squash and more. I love supporting the market and buy still 80% of my produce from them. However we have begun to grow more and more at home.

Where we live is open to the ocean and the winds that predominantly come from the east, this means finding an area that has suitable soil and protection has been a bit of trial and error, but we think we have finally found the magic place and the right mix.
My first lettuce

We make our own compost at home which has proved so valuable in getting our vegetables to grow, we turn compost through our soil as soon as it is made to keep replenishing the nutrients and experiment with our compost. Currently we have 3 batches under way with mixes in them, one has majority shredded cardboard and green mix, one is half and half and one is all garden mix. They are all going very well, and the addition of our vegetable scraps seems to create a good and healthy mix. So much so that we are currently seeing steam coming out of our tumblers.

One of the issues with growing vegetables here is the climate, hot and humid at times and without a true spring and autumn we have to experiment with when to plant what. Also this year we had drought conditions for almost 3 months, but finally we have been having some rain.

Carrot tops

Bonnet Chili 

The back of the seed packet and advice given does not necessarily translate to what and when you should plant here. Right now we are playing around with it, but our radishes proved brilliant and spicy, our carrots have tops and all our peppers are on their way.

Radish - spicy and fresh

Its actually turned out to be a lot of fun and we are looking to expand our garden very soon, my innovation of cake tents over my seedlings has protected them from the chickens we have in our back yard. I also had to start a "seedlng database" so I can identify weeds from my vegetables, and this has also been a fun project with a few hiccups along the way. My husband ridicules me on my "Babylon style" garden with the use of plastic bottles but hey it works and he loves the cilantro in almost every dish!

So as we continue and improve our garden, we hope for others to share some of this information along the way.

Yeah for Enchilada

Upon arriving to work this morning we were alerted to a turtle that was on a local fishing boat, the fishermen allowed us to purchase the turtle for TOP30. Though we do not like paying for turtles as a means to preserve them unfortunately this is often the only way we can secure a release.

The small green turtle was in a very healthy condition luckily and only had 3 minimal scratches from possibly being in the boat. We brought it back down to the waterfront and Kate came over to take measurements and to tag the turtle with flipper tags.

The green measured 47.5cm in length of the carapace or shell and although the minimum catch size is 45 cm we are currently in the closed season for hunting. The Vava’u Turtle Monitoring Project aims to reduce the illegal catches of turtles such as this one through community assistance and education. This program is running alongside of VEPA and VEPA will continue its work to raise awareness and rescue turtles as we can.

Once the turtle had received its 2 flipper tags, it was whisked off back to the ocean and near some sea grass beds, which is the main food source for green turtles.

Discussing the release location

At 47.5cm this turtle is not yet sexually mature and sexual identification is hard to determine, turtles will disappear from the nest to the open ocean and float around until they come back to shore at approx. 20cm (dinner plate size though I hate using that term as a marker!). The estimates of sexual maturity range between 20-30 years old and this turtle had quite a way to go before reaching that stage.

Langi on the scales

The tagging of this turtle enables us to monitor if it is caught or seen again, and the information is passed along to the pacific database.

The turtles are about to begin their nesting season here and between the VTMP and VEPA we hope to successfully engage communities to recording and establishing data with us. This will work towards the goal of reducing catches and egg taking and turning towards turtles as an income source for communities through eco-tourism.

I know my turtle naming may seem a little out of whack, but keeping a sense of humour is one of the most important things to get where we need to with conservation.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Behind the scenes of an Island NGO

as many of you know I am a board member and active volunteer for Vava'u Environmental Protection Association (VEPA). We formed VEPA in 2009 to engage communities in their natural resources through education, awareness, conservation projects and sustainable development.

In the 3 short years that VEPA has run we have achieved a lot, waste management in town, education and awareness programs, coral reef rehabilitation, mangrove studies and restoration to name but a few. As all are volunteers at present, the continuance of VEPA depends on a lot of work and potential funding sources.

We are grateful to have help from overseas such as Keep Vava'u Green based in Utah and like minded people. Here on the ground in Vava'u, we rely on our friends of VEPA and volunteers to spearhead projects and create empowerment of communities to their environment.

We are continuing to move forward and have had massive help locally through donations and various fund raisers. So our goals are also moving forward and we are starting our Nature Explorers club next month to engage the youth in their environment and looking to create ambassadors. We are also currently searching for our first office, Dive Vava'u currently hosts the volunteers but we are ready to make the next step. All we need is a small, rent reasonable place for a part time worker and volunteers to create and propose our next projects.

I am also moving forward with VEPA and making it a more full time role for me as we progress, this will help with the day to day running and engaging of communities. (I even have uniforms being made for meetings at the moment!!!!!!). The greatest progression we have accomplished so far is that we are still here, still chugging along, all of us that are a part of VEPA, give as much time as we can and our efforts show. Our first AYAD volunteer Elana is taking us to the next step and making us an easier recognised NGO with her work and it is greatly appreciated.

We are hoping to continue our work and strengthen our relationships with Government departments such as Ministry of Lands, Environment and Climate Change and Natural Resources (MLECCNR) and   Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries as well as others.

So really this post is to thank all those involved both behind the scenes and out the front, I am not going to say we are there but at least this feels like it is going in the right direction with a bundle of energy behind it.

Malo'aupito to all involved.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Moving forward with Turtles

as many of you know, turtles have played a big part of my time here in Vava'u, there is sadly a lot of hunting that still occurs and we have been lucky to build relationships to reduce and help rescue turtles in need of care.

Having just attended the Tonga Community Turtle Monitoring and Eco-Tourism workshop in Nuku'alofa, I am hopeful for a positive effort from all stakeholders involved. The project will be lead by MLECCNR (the new acronym for MECC) and Fisheries officers. There is also huge involvement from SPREP and NZ DOC who have secured the funding for this 4 year project to go ahead.

The project will target communities living near to the identified nesting sites to train and engage in monitoring during the nesting season. Through a proposed workshop and monitoring team that will be supporting the communities in Ha'apai and Vava'u we hope to encourage and promote the change to the current hunting. Not an easy task by any means but the goals and objectives are achievable and there are some amazing individuals that have the ability to run this project to the turtles and communities advantage.

NZ DOC and SPREP have worked on this project for quite some while and the workshop was attended by many departments and stakeholders who can all be involved in this project. The Vava'u Turtle Monitoring Program aligns itself well and means that Vava'u, through Kate and VEPA will have great constant support for their initiatives.

The big step for the Vava'u Project now is to re-establish nesting sites as there has been a data gap since 1973. However the project is well equipped and excited to be moving ahead. Kate has started up a website and you can also follow the Facebook page of either VEPA or the Turtle Page. I will also ramble along on here as I do.

The need for current data will provide the template for the program, if anyone sees a turtle in Vava'u it is great to send Kate an email on

More updates will come as our project progresses.