Ocean Ventures is a conservation-minded scuba diving and snorkelling operator in Natewa Bay on Fiji’s second largest island, Vanua Levu. Natewa Bay, the largest bay in the South Pacific, is bordered by the lush rainforests of the Natewa Peninsula, and offers a ridge-to-reef biodiversity that is found in only a few special places in the world.
The owners of Ocean Ventures, Matthew Norman and Sara Carlson, first fell in love with the bay when they were establishing a new marine site for Operation Wallacea, an international volunteer conservation programme which brings high school students from around the world to remote areas of high biodiversity in order to fund conservation and scientific research.
During the first three years of this programme, over five hundred students from seven countries had travelled to Fiji on a two week expedition to learn about Fijian culture and village life, help with habitat analysis and biodiversity surveys in the forests of the Natewa peninsula, before completing a reef ecology course at the marine site in Natewa Bay. A notable early highlight of the expedition was the discovery of a new endemic species of swallowtail butterfly in 2017.
The expedition provided direct economic benefit to several of the remote communities on the Natewa peninsula, with local people hosting students in village homestays, guiding forest treks, providing security, and cooking food at both forest and marine sites. In addition to running the marine portion of the programme, Ocean Ventures provided scuba training for some of the locals involved with the project, an initiative that remains ongoing.
Unfortunately, the current COVID-19 pandemic has put a pause on the expedition with a resultant drop in income for the communities involved.
One of the new initiatives currently underway is the development of a locally-owned eco-tourism business in one of the villages along with Natewa Peninsula, where 100% of the income generated will go to provide a range of sustainable livelihoods for local people, whilst helping to conserve the region’s rich terrestrial and marine biodiversity.
Ocean Ventures are working closely with KokoMana in Savusavu to help the community to develop a range of ecotourism products, encompassing experiences from rainforest to reef, and to assist with marketing of the business.
Alongside this, Ocean Ventures are soon to embark on a series of coral restoration programmes at several sites in the bay. Although coral cover in Natewa Bay remains remarkably good in many areas, some reefs were damaged badly by TC Yasa, and they are aiming to help make the reefs more resilient to rising sea surface temperatures.