Flippers on show

A SUNKEN village along the northern Viti Levu barrier has become a major tourism attraction.

The Makalati Reef, Davetalevu of Moturiki and Solevuira Reef in Malolo have been included in the history of sunken villages in Fiji.

This legend may be a supporting truth to the scientific evidence of great tectonic plates shift in continents and biblical Noah’s Ark time, but interestingly where some places were submerged and never recovered.

History

The Makalati Reef system is connected to a major reef circle that covers the northern Viti Levu barrier from as far as Nananu-i-Ra, Vatu-i-Ra to Vatu-i-Cake and Makogai facing north towards Vanua Levu.

It is believed Lau people of Silana in Dawasamu were once the occupants of the village that sank.

According to tourism consultant and Natalei Eco Lodge and dolphin watch operator, Viliame Koyamaibole, they still had their rara ni veitiqa and other monumental sites beneath the sea.

But the spirits of their elders were the dolphins that resided permanently in the reef system called Moon Reef because of its shape.

“It is home to spinner dolphins that go out to feed in the night and come to rest in the reef lagoon during the day,” he said.

Recent tourist activities in the area, he said, had found another dimension to Fiji’s tourism wonders of dolphin watching in the area.

Local operators including Natalei Eco lodge and Dolphin Watch Fiji specialise in taking tours to the dolphin protected area at Makalati.

Travel

The tikina of Dawasamu is a 45-minute drive from Korovou and is a world away from city life.

It takes a trip of about half an hour on a fibreglass boat to get out to the reef from Takalana or Natalei Eco Lodge.

Moon Reef

The people of Dawasamu are the traditional owners of the Makalati Reef, which is also called the Moon Reef.

“It is called Moon Reef because when viewed from above, it resembles a moon.

“The reef is home to a pod of spinner dolphins that use the reef to rest during the day before heading out hunt at night and the villagers have utilised this to run dolphin watch tours out of two eco-lodges in the tikina, Nataleira Eco Lodge and Takalana Bay Resort.”

Marine protected areas

Mr Koyamaibole said the people of Dawasamu understood the value of the dolphins and had taken proactive steps to ensure they were protected.

“They have formed a Dawasamu Environmental Movement to ensure that the dolphins of Makalati are protected and managed in a manner that will ensure their wellbeing.

“Makalati is now a marine protected area for dolphin safety and protection under Vueti Dawasamu Conservation initiative and is fast growing as a local and tourist attraction.

“The people of the tikina Dawasamu take pride in the environmental gifts they have been given.

“It is with their future in mind that they have committed to conserving and increasing their knowledge of all they have been blessed with.”

He said the people of Dawasamu were working with researchers to have the area declared a dolphin sanctuary — it was also declared a marine protected area in 2011.

Dolphins

The dolphins of Makalati are most active in the afternoons as this is when their energy is highest and they begin to put on aerial displays so graceful that you can’t help but be left gaping in awe at their feat.

On the tours, people are only allowed to watch the dolphins from the boat and not swim with them because this could disturb the animals and cause them to migrate to another site.

Tourism and business

Dolphin watch tours are generating almost a quarter of a million dollars annually for the local business, adding value to tourism activities in the country.

Mr Koyamaibole said about 5000 people including those that arrive for the day trip and guests at the lodge sign up for dolphin watch tours throughout the year, paying the flat rate of $45 per person per dolphin tour.

“Some percentage of the income goes to the traditional reef owners and to the Dawasamu marine protected area committee,” he said.

“This is a very attractive activity for the people in the tikina of Dawasamu.”

Mr Koyamaibole said the dolphin watch tour was a famous activity at the lodge and was seen as an income generating opportunity for the village.

He said the dolphins could be seen early in the morning at the sighting area out in the open sea and would normally leave the area before sunset.

Meanwhile, Mr Koyamaibole said they were looking at the construction of two additional accommodation units to cater for the demand from tourists and hoped to complete the project later in the year.

In March 2012, a team of conservationists from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society conducted studies on the dolphins in collaboration with the Britain-based environmental organisation, South Pacific Projects.

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