Welcome to Fiji! You will arrive into Nadi and start your adventure!
Our Critical Issues programs are themed learning and service programs designed to immerse students in global challenges as seen in communities around the world. In this program, we take a deeper look into Fiji’s marine ecosystem and the impact that climate change has had on this fragile habitat. With Cyclone Winston having caused massive destruction in 2016, this is an issue that local Fijians and the international community is watching with a close eye. Analyze the effects of extreme weather, rising waters, warmer water temperatures, impacted animal populations, and deforestation through hands-on environmental monitoring projects in the field and conversations with expert community partners. Learn about the various strategies in place to protect, conserve, and restore Fiji’s marine environment and coastal ecosystems. Identify tropical fish and coral species, swim with manta rays and observe sharks. Cap off your experience with a return to the mainland where you’ll hike along the Sigatoka Sand Dunes, kayak down the coast, and explore hidden waterfalls.
Components of a Critical Issues Program
Welcome to your South Pacific adventure! All of our scheduled group flights to Fiji depart from Los Angeles on Fiji Airways. Your flight will be non-stop to Nadi International Airport and will be escorted by a Rustic Pathways flight leader. The flight will depart LAX in the evening and take about 10 hours. During your flight you can meet other students, get some sleep in preparation for your arrival, relax with a movie or two, and start to settle into the easy-going Fijian way of life.
Today is lost as you cross the international dateline, but don’t worry too much – you will get it back on your way home!
After making it through customs you will immediately be greeted by our Rustic Pathways staff and start the journey of a lifetime. After leaving the airport you will eat breakfast and then jump on the Yasawa Flyer, a ferry that will take you two hours out into the Pacific Ocean, to the picturesque Island of Kuata.
Upon arrival, you will have lunch and begin your island life with an opening discussion that frames the days to come. The first part of the program focuses on global climate change and our human influence in the water, so you won’t waste time before you jump right in. You’ll have a snorkel lesson and get used to the underwater world that you will be working in for the next few days. This evening head to bed early and get ready to start your field studies in the morning.
Marine Monitoring at Kuata Island
During the next two days, spend the majority of your time in the water participating in various types of marine conservation efforts and observational research with local marine biologists. Before you set out each day, your group will discuss some of the biggest factors in global climate change that affect Fiji’s oceans and how your work is related to combating the destruction. Your leader will give a short lesson on the various types of reefs and fish you can expect to see.
Some of the projects that you will be participating in include coral cleanups, fish counts and identification, crown of thorns sea star removal, invertebrate counts and identification, coral gardening, and reef mapping. You will observe how warming waters impact the invertebrate population, specifically the proliferation of the invasive crown of thorns seastar that thrives in warmer waters. Environmental monitoring is a key skill in understanding the effects of global climate change and your initial research and collection of data will aid in setting up and extending a Marine Preservation Area in the Yasawa Islands.
Hop back into the ocean for one last portion of your field studies in the morning and then pack up and get ready to board the Yasawa Flyer again. Arrive at lunchtime to your new home of Naviti Island and Somosomo village. When you arrive, there will be a village ready to welcome you with open arms. After lunch, you will present a traditional sevusevu to the Chief and go on a village tour to meet the community members. You’ll learn from the local perspective how the island has been challenged over the years because of climate change. You’ll hear how Somosomo fared during Cyclone Winston and the impact of warmer waters on coral reefs and fish populations that the community depends on for food.
Once you have finished in the village, throw on your swimsuit, snorkel, and fins and head out to explore the marine ecosystem of Naviti Island. You can often spot a multitude of fish, squid, and rays. You’ll notice the differences between the reef here and what you had seen at Kuata and talk about the factors that contribute to those differences. The reefs here have no formal protection area around them. While they are less touristed, they are affected by illegal dynamite fishing. Coral bleaching, which occurs when coral is stressed, usually the result of rising water temperatures, is much more prevalent here. The evening will consist of a welcome ceremony and a lesson on Fijian traditions.
The next three days of service will be both in the water and on land and will focus on creating a more sustainable marine environment. Along the way you will get to know the kind-hearted locals from Somosomo village and learn a little bit more about how the island has changed over the years due to climate change by talking with the chief and local villagers. This island village has a population of approximately 350 people and still maintains strong cultural traditions.
Each morning after breakfast, your group will continue with its community service projects. In the village, work on construction projects that impact the health and environmental standards of the island. You’ll help plant mangroves which provide protection for small fish to grow before they head into the ocean and are critical for crustaceans, a food source for many creatures up the food chain. Mangroves combat erosion during storms and act as a natural water filter. You will take part in a sea grass monitoring project and learn how sea grass is related to oxygen in our atmosphere and which marine life depend on it for food. You will also contribute to a large-scale environmental initiative to make the mudflats near the village better able to protect the island from erosion and a more productive source of food for the ecosystem.
Afternoon activities will depend on your group’s progress, and several afternoons may also be spent working. When not participating in service, go on a kayak adventure, take a sunrise hike, play volleyball with the locals, or enjoy interesting conversation and laughs with local villagers over afternoon tea. Most days end with an incredible Fijian sunset.
In the evening, join the villagers to celebrate new friends with a traditional Fijian dance called meke, or enjoy a bonfire on the beach while admiring the constellations of the Southern Hemisphere. The nights are always a wonderful spectacle of traditional Fijian culture, laughter, and fun.
Wake up early and join in on a final sunrise hike to bid farewell to Somosomo. After a filling breakfast you will finish up your environmental monitoring projects before packing up to head back to the mainland in the afternoon. Say goodbye to your new family and remember that you will always be welcomed back into the tiny village of Somosomo.
After your four-hour boat ride back to the mainland enjoy some of Fiji’s best pizza before heading back to the Eco-Lodge to prepare for the next leg of your journey. You’ll switch gears a little and start talking about some of the environmental challenges on the mainland and the role that tourism plays both in damaging and protecting Fiji’s resources. You’ll compare and contrast stresses on the different coastal ecosystems you’ve observed as you’ve traveled so far. Get a shower and a good night’s sleep before you set off to explore the mainland the next morning!
After a good night’s rest you will embark on a coastal drive to the Eastern side of Viti Levu. Before you reach your accommodation for the evening, hike the unique Sigatoka Sand Dunes, where four miles of windswept mountains of sand unfold along the coast. The area has been granted protected national park status and is administered by the National Trust of Fiji. Sand dunes are sensitive indicators of climate change and you’ll learn how rainfall, soil moisture, wind, temperature, and vegetation patterns are used to predict sand dune mobility which helps in mapping the potential consequences of a changing climate. You’ll see how changes to the coastline impact infrastructure and the surrounding populations. While you are on this side of the island, start discussing how the forestry industry has affected the natural ecosystem and how tourism impacts the environment, which paves the way for tomorrow’s adventure to Colo-i-Suva.
After breakfast, drive down to the capital city of Suva for lunch and a glimpse of Fijian city life. Head on your way to Colo-i-Suva Park where you will hike and swim in a beautiful protected forest of Fiji. It’s a peaceful respite after visiting the much more hectic Suva. You’ll learn how logging in this area almost devastated the ecosystem in the 1950’s before the trees that now form the lush canopy overhead were planted to combat erosion. This is a very popular spot for birdwatchers so look up to spot Fiji warblers among many other beautiful birds!
Hop back into your van and continue on your coastal tour to Pacific Harbour, the adventure capital of Fiji. Expect magnificent coastal vistas as you wind along the main island of Fiji, Viti Levu. After you get settled in the dorm room of your hotel, enjoy some down time while spending the afternoon playing beach volleyball, relaxing by the pool, or kayaking. Stroll down the beach at sunset and start to feel at home on the Pacific Harbour Coast.
Today you will have the opportunity to join an add-on shark dive or an add-on zip lining tour. The shark dive is only available to certified divers and you must have your certification before joining this program. The zip line adventure is open to everyone! Those that choose not to participate in either activity will have the opportunity to join activities at the hotel or relax by the pool.
In the afternoon you will explore sustainable ecotourism practices and better understand the pressures of limited resources on an island. You will examine the various industries on the Pacific Harbour coast, discuss various techniques to combat climate change, and learn about different initiatives companies are taking to make more positive environmental impacts. Hopefully this will spark some ideas for how you might continue to make a positive environmental impact once you return home. In the evening enjoy a meal at the hotel and prepare for another day of adventure.
After breakfast, head out for another aquatic adventure. You’ll hop into an ocean kayak for a half-day kayaking adventure. You’ll explore a freshwater river system that flows from Fiji’s mountains down to the coast. Check out grottos, waterfalls, and mangrove lined estuaries as you float down the river. These critical ecosystems make the Fiji island environment one of the most diverse areas in the world.
This evening, enjoy a meal with your group and debrief this trip of a lifetime. Share your favorite memories from the past couple weeks and sum up all that you’ve learned with your group during a farewell kava ceremony while saying moce vinaka to the country that you have fallen in love with.
After breakfast, visit the Kula Eco Park where you can explore the local flora and fauna that define the Fijian ecosystems. The park aims to create an up close experience with Fiji’s native plants and animals, so you won’t be observing from far-away platforms or behind glass. Those who are brave enough can even hold a few of the reptiles who call this place home. This morning, you’ll continue to discuss how population expansion and pollution have contributed to habitat loss for some of these species, and learn some of the medicinal benefits of local plants.
Stop in town for lunch and arrive at the South Pacific Eco-Lodge Service Base in the early afternoon. If you are departing to the United States today, you will bid Fiji farewell (until next year perhaps) and head to the airport for the escorted group flight home. If you are continuing on to another Rustic Pathways program, your staff will help you connect with your new leaders. We hope you will leave with a greater awareness of the impact of climate change on island nations and a renewed sense of commitment to combatting the negative consequences at home and around the world.
Rustic Pathways reserves the right to change, alter, or amend the daily itinerary for this trip at any time. Changes can be made for various reasons including changes in flight or program schedules, changes in the schedules of various external tours incorporated in our trips, the addition of new activities into a trip, or the substitution of an old activity for a new activity.
The itinerary shown here provides a good outline of the anticipated daily schedule for this program. As with any travel program, some changes may occur.
“Optional Activities” are fully included in the cost of your program, but you can choose to not do these activities.
“Add-On Activities” are not included in the cost of your program and must be paid for separately. Add-on activities are rare, but include things like skydiving, bungee jumping, or weekend side-trips. Not every program has add-on activities.
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Welcome to Fiji! You will arrive into Nadi and start your adventure!
Join in for ongoing marine research that may include fish and shark surveys as well as reef quality checks.
Stay beachside at our Rustic Retreat! Head into Somosomo Village to meet the Lady Chief and embrace village life. Snorkel with manta rays, kayak, take an optional scuba dive and hike. You will also participate in crown of thorns seastar eradication, mangrove restoration and focus on other marine based service initiatives near this little beachside village.
This is where the Rustic Pathways Eco-Lodge is located. You may stay here during your trip to repack your bags and get a good night of rest before continuing on your journey.
The adventure capital of Fiji! Here you will have the chance to enjoy an optional shark dive (for certified divers) or go on an optional zipline adventure.
Enjoy this tiny lodge on the eastern side of Viti Levu where you will go dolphin watching, snorkeling on moon reef and enjoy the black sand beaches.