Interview: Kokomo Private Island’s marine biologist

Between the array of water and land-based activities to choose from every day, the on-site luxury spa, indulgent dining options and private villas, life on Kokomo Private Island Fiji can only be described as dreamy. But there’s more to the luxury resort than pure indulgence. Kokomo is surrounded by the planet’s fourth-largest reef, and as such, has a dedicated sustainability and preservation program. Part of this includes having a resident marine biologist, Cliona O’Flaherty, on-hand to inform and implement various projects on the island. 

Cliona’s dedication and significant contributions to Kokomo Private Island were recently officially recognised at the prestigious Women in Travel Awards, where she won the ‘Sustainable Practices Champion’ award. 

In our interview, Cliona talks us through the different projects she’s overseen at Kokomo, the different marine life that can be found around the island, what the best thing about being a marine biologist on a private island is and how we can all be more eco-friendly travellers. 

What does your role as the resident marine biologist at Kokomo Private Island entail? 

My primary role is to educate and raise awareness about the important precious marine life that surrounds Kokomo.  An important part of our everyday work is to promote and encourage guests to participate in the sustainability initiatives that we have at the resort including the Kokomo Coral Restoration Program, the Mangrove Reforestation Program and the Kokomo Manta Conservation Project.  Having guests participate in these programs enables them to have hands-on experience on how they can help protect and preserve our marine resources surrounding us.

What kind of marine species can be found around the island?  

We are very fortunate; Kokomo is like a hotspot of phenomenal marine life! Less than a kilometre from shore you can see green turtles or up to 20 manta rays depending on the time of year! All year in, species that we have coming close into shore include green turtles, hawksbill turtles, eagle rays, Spinner dolphins, white tip reef sharks and baby Blacktip reef sharks. From April- September you can see 20+ manta rays less than a kilometre from our island.

Interview: Kokomo Private Island's marine biologist
Cliona O’Flaherty, Kokomo Private Island’s resident marine biologist

Can you tell us about some of the projects and initiatives you’ve worked on at Kokomo? 

Some of our key sustainability initiatives include the Kokomo Coral Restoration Program, the Mangrove Reforestation Program, the Kokomo Manta Conservation Project and the Dock to Dish sustainable fishing program.  The Kokomo Coral Restoration Project aims to preserve and protect coral reefs by increasing the number of heat resilient corals on the reef surrounding our waters in the battle against climate change and global warming.  We do this by fragmenting and selecting special heat resilient corals, planting them in a nursery to heal and grow, and later transplant them back onto the house reef.  The mangrove reforestation project aims to help preserve and protect precious mangrove habitats. We achieve this by planting mangroves propagule’s into a nursery on our island where they can germinate and grow. After a couple of weeks, we will then transplant them back into title areas of local villages in our area. Mangrove habitats are important nursery areas for marine life and are vitally important for coastal protection against cyclones and tsunamis.  

The Kokomo Manta Conservation Project aims to help preserve and protect manta rays by helping identify individuals,  monitor populations and most importantly with our upcoming Kokomo Acoustic Manta Tagging Project.  Kokomo is collaborating with the Manta Trust Fiji whose sole purpose is to preserve and protect manta rays. Kokomo has helped identify more than 50 new individuals to the Fiji manta database and the acoustic tagging program will be the first of its kind in Fiji and the South Pacific, which is ground-breaking for science and conservation.  The Dock to Dish sustainable fishing initiative is led by our master fisherman Jaga Crossingham. This project promotes the sustainable use of our marine resources and encourages sustainable fishing practices by only catching fish that are of the correct, size, species and in the right season. 

Some of the sustainability initiatives you’ve implemented feature interactive elements for resort guests. Why is it important for guests to be involved in these initiatives?

Having hands-on experience and being involved in these sustainable initiatives is one of the best ways of educating people about environmental issues whilst having fun at the same time. For example, guests can plant corals into our Kokomo coral nursery. These corals will then be transplanted back onto the reef and gives guests a personal attachment to the Kokomo House Reef that they have helped protect. 

Interview: Kokomo Private Island's marine biologist

What’s your favourite part about being Kokomo’s resident marine biologist?  

I must admit that I love that every day is different and exciting in its own way. One day you could be planting corals in a Coral Garden or collecting mangrove propagules, the next day you could be swimming with manta rays for up to two hours – there is never a dull moment! 

How important is it for hotels and resorts to take environmental sustainability into their own hands? 

Having hotels and resorts investing in sustainable initiatives is one of the best ways in my opinion of protecting any environment. For example, consider our Kokomo acoustic manta tagging project. Resorts and hotels are now another platform for large conservation projects which is fantastic. This ultimately shows the power of the private sector in conservation.

How do you think we can be more sustainable and eco-friendly travellers?

I think being a more eco-conscious traveller is definitely the way forward. Tourism and tourists’ demand is definitely a way for businesses to change their environmental awareness.  Don’t be afraid to speak up and refuse a service if you feel it is not environmentally conscious. It could be as simple as refusing a plastic straw or bag, but that could help a revolutionary change in that operation!

Find out more:

Keep reading:

Six Senses Hotels’ successful coral restoration project

World Oceans Day: how we can help the ocean

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