In February of 2016 the Fijian islands were slammed by Cyclone Winston, the massive category 5 storm that sustained winds of 145 mph during its peak, causing massive damage on the mainland of Viti Levu.
Several villages were impacted, with more than 40,000 homes damaged or destroyed across the country's many islands, along with a lot of infrastructure. The storm also had a massive impact on the delicate reefs protecting the islands. In the aftermath, both on land and sea, the surfing community stepped in to help recovery efforts, and one year later they're still going.
The latest is an effort to restore the supply of giant clams, known as vasua, to the hatcheries and to reintroduce them to reefs, which were cleaned out by the storm. One of the largest grow-out sites in Dalice Bay on Makogai Island was severely impacted, losing almost its entire inventory of the endangered and protected species.
Earlier this week Kelly Slater, John John Florence and Rosy Hodge joined Tavarua's managing director Rick Isbell in the island's efforts to restore the giant clams in the protected reefs surrounding the tiny island. In fact, Tavarua is now building its own hatchery tanks for hundreds of baby clams.
The experience was both enlightening and humbling for all involved.
"It's pretty amazing that these things just sit there and get bigger and bigger over a hundred years," Florence said after swimming out to get a closer look at the full-sized clams.
"These are spectacular creatures," Slater said after diving down to get a close link. "Anything that's that old you gotta have a lot of respect for."
"It's pretty incredible that we looked at the tiny little ones and here on the ocean floor these things are giant," Hodge said. "It's insane that they've been wiped out."
Fortunately, the location and currents surrounding Tavarua and its reefs are the perfect ecosystem to try to grow the clams. The group returned to Tavarua with 500 baby clams to put in the new hatchery. In typical Fiji fashion, the locals celebrated the arrival of these baby clams as they would any other, with a huge celebration.
"It's the fisheries department and the government of Fiji that's made this all possible, and we're just assisting them in what they're trying to do," said Isbell.
"Hopefully in 30 years we''ll have 500 or more giant clams around the island that are three to five hundred pounds and live up to 100 years," Slater added. "They'll definitely outlive us."
For all involved, it was a perfect way to celebrate June 8, which is World Oceans Day.