Bindiya’s reef to ridge journey

Bindiya Rashni carries out periphyton sampling in the Jiulong river catchment in the Fujian Province of China. She is Fiji's only freshwater macroinvertebrate specialist. Picture: SUPPLIED

BINDIYA Rashni is Fiji’s only freshwater macroinvertebrate specialist (Ecologist), or what you’d call a freshwater scientist.

Find any freshwater organism or invertebrate along Fiji’s rivers and it’s bound to be in her research.

But the 32-year-old is quite humble about it.

“There’s a lot of unconfirmed Fijian endemic species living in our riverine system that are yet to be discovered,” she said.

But with a decade of experience in the bioassessment of tropical freshwater systems and her extensive work on the flora and fauna diversity in the wetlands of Fiji and the Solomon Islands, you can say her comments are an understatement.

To date, she has identified over a million specimens.

The work of documenting organisms in our freshwater ecosystems is not easy.

It’s painstaking.

It requires physical exertion and an eye for detail while spending hours out in the rivers.

For Bindiya, it was totally a new field of study.

In fact, when she was introduced to it, Fiji didn’t even have a specialist or a program in our university.

“It was a reef to ridge journey for me,” said Bindiya.

“I was basically thrown into the unknown when I was doing this for my masters at USP (University of the South Pacific) with the Institute of Applied Science.

“Then I met this lady — Professor Alison Haynes, the region’s experienced expert in freshwater molluscan biology. I met her when she was 84; worked with her for six years until she passed away at age 90 in 2016.”

Their unlikely friendship would set a precedent in the study of our freshwater ecology.

“Alison was my guide and my walking encyclopedia for river systems so basically for my masters, I ended up laying a foundation for Fijian freshwater invertebrates,” said Bindiya.

“We went over 35,398 specimens just to get bioindicators for ecological health of Fijian riverine systems. So back then without a taxonomy guide, Alison was my living, walking, talking guide — basically my encyclopedia,” she smiled.

Bindiya is currently working towards her doctoral studies on Fijian freshwater Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI).

She earned a Master of Science Degree in Freshwater Ecology in 2014 and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Marine Science in 2009, both at the University of the South Pacific.

A proud “Tagimoucian,” — an ode to her upbringing in the garden island of Taveuni, the home of the rare flower, she credits her farming background for keeping her grounded at all times.

“My father was not your typical traditional Indian father. He made sure that we pushed the boundaries whether in education or extracurricular activities.

“By the time I was in my teens, I was already adept in martial arts and yoga. He encouraged us to pursue our dreams.”

After completing her thesis for her masters, the 32-year-old was not satisfied with what she achieved.

“I didn’t like the idea of my thesis lying in the library, gathering dust, so I decided to get it into application,” she said.

Bindiya began developing an innovative and simple “Traffic Light Bioindicator” (TLB) field guide that Fijian communities can use to test the ecological health of their rivers.

“This is used by river communities in Fiji, people who access the river resources, so they are able to detect the health of their river systems whether it’s in a good status, or moderately healthy etc.

“It’s a very simple tool, a one page back to back which is laminated. It has the traffic light concept and gives the colour codes to organisms, so green means safe — organisms that are indicators of good water quality are in the safe green zone, moderately will be amber zone and red will be the degraded zone.”

The project was successfully trialled at six villages in Drawa, Vanua Levu through a project with Live and Learn and it is now incorporated into a River Care tool kit for Fiji.

Bindiya credits her mentor, the late Prof. Haynes for her achievement.

“I think it was a pass over journey for me and her. There was no program on freshwater ecology when I came into this field. It was late Prof. William Aalbersberg (my MSc supervisor) and Mr. Marika Tuiwawa (Curator of the South Pacific Regional Herbarium & Center of Biodiversity) who got me on board to work with Prof. Alison Haynes for six years at the Institute of Applied Science, I worked with her. She was my guide and my walking encyclopedia for our river system.”

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