The island of Makogai was one of my favourite stops on the Captain Cook Cruise because of two things; the history of the leper colony and the newly established mariculture center.
In the early 1900s, an epidemic of leprosy broke through the pacific to Fiji. Eventually under the British rule the Leper Ordinance Act of 1899 was passed to separate the diseased from the rest of Fiji. The Makogai Leprosy Hospital was officially opened in 1911 and soon after, patients were arriving from all over the pacific including Australia and New Zealand.
Over 4000 patients landed on the island and almost 40 years after, a cure was found and as the island leprosarium ended, over 2000 patients were effectively treated, several hundred were repatriated back to their homeland and the remaining thousand died from the disease.
In 2011, Makogai island was established by the Fijian Government as a Mariculture Center, bringing projects of turtle nursey, farming corals and cultivating giant clams. One of their main projects; giant clam cultivation was a favourite as I have also taken part in it having farmed a few at Mantaray Island Resort, where i used to work. Giant clam species was in abundance before but now endangered due to overharvesting as it is quite a delicacy. But with help of clam funding by our Australian counterparts, the project has now reproduced and transplanted thousands throughout various parts of Fiji. (A few to an island called Tavarua, which we will visit soon.)
Giant clams are important to the health of reef ecosystem as they filter and purify large volumes of water in a day, controlling algae growth which can overtake coral growth and also increase the ocean’s oxygen levels.