Tavarua’s Giant Clam Restoration Project With Jamie Isbell

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Tavarua isn’t just a gorgeous island in the South Pacific surrounded by epic surf, it is also and active sanctuary for clams, big and small. When I was on the island two years ago I got to interview Jamie Isbell, winner of the Mission Blue Silvia Earle Newest Hope Spot Award for her work with the Giant Clam Restoration Project. Unfortunately with my being new to video interviews and not having good sound equipment the video isn’t great but I wanted to share a bit of the interview here because Jamie and her project were very cool and inspiring for me. Here is what Jamie shared with me…..
The Fijian Fishery department does trips around Fiji checking water quality samples, especially at the resorts, and Tavarua consistently gets some of the highest ratings. As Jamie told me, “It is a tiny island and there is a lot of waste that could be really bad for the environment. It could leach right through the sand, into the reef and kill the coral reefs so instead we have a separation tank that has an impermeable membrane so nothing can get into the sand. There are many layers of rocks and aggregates that it goes through and breaks down into liquid with the help of natural probiotics. It goes through four different separation tanks with more probiotics so when it comes out as a liquid it is pure clean water that we water the jungle with. Then the plants use it and then it goes into the atmosphere and creates oxygen,” Jamie explained. “There is nothing leaching here.” Jamie says. The fisheries department noticed that Tavarua had some of the healthiest corals and that the endangered clams were growing abundantly right off the island. Jamie is also proud to mention that Tavarua “has had a moratorium on fishing for 5 years so the clams that are usually overfished around other reefs are happy and thriving on Tavarua. So after the fisheries department kept finding healthy, wild clams around the island they asked Jamie and her husband if they would be interested in a secret project they had tried at another island to establish the reefs around the island as a protected area for the clams to provide a safe space for the clams to grow to adulthood undisturbed.
“They brought large clams to Tavarua and they thrived on our healthy reefs”, said Jamie. “Then they asked us if we would be interested in raising baby clams in tanks, like oversized bath tubs, because they needed help (getting more clams populated onto the protected reefs). A spawning event produces 50,000 baby clams, so we decided to start with 500.
When asked about how the clam’s help the reef, “The clam waste alone is super key to healthy coral. It is the number one fertilizer for all the varieties of coral so the more clams you see on the reef the better and more varieties of healthy coral. If you go out and look at our reefs we have about two dozen varieties (of coral) and you will find all kinds of wild clams within that. Just since we planted the larger clams out there the reef has improved and grown exponentially larger. Also, a lot of the smaller fish and micro organisms feed off their waste. It’s all very connected.” she said. One of her other favorite parts of the project is working with the Fijian people. She said they have learned so much and become so passionate about protecting the clams. They take care of and guard the clams in the tubs and the bigger ones in the ocean because people will sneak in on boats and try to steal them. They guard them 24 hours a day.
When pressed as to why she chose to pursue this project she responded with a very inspirational message.
“I have learned that we are so dependent on the ocean, not only for sustenance for food, but the different ways it serves the earth, like how much the seaweeds and other (sea) plants provide oxygen for the planet. But also because I so enjoy the wonders and creatures of the ocean and the fact that this (the clam) is a plant and an animal and a boy and a girl at the same time. This is some magic I want to preserve and I think the world needs a little more magic and the ocean is full of magic. The Tavarua Island Giant Clam Restoration Project continues successfully and the baby clams that we met just had their 3rd birthday in February and are thriving along the local reefs around Tavarua. Jamie continues to be very involved and connected to the success of improving the health of the reefs and doing what she can for the ocean she (we) love. – Luke M.

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