Living Oceans Foundation concludes month-long scientific study in Fiji
SUVA, Fiji – The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation has wrapped up a month-long coral reef research expedition in Fiji.
Travelling onboard the research ship M/Y Golden Shadow as part of the Foundation’s Global Reef Expedition the marine scientists have completed surveys of coral reefs surrounding Totoya, Moala, Vanua Vatu, Fulaga, Kabara and six other islands in Lau Province.
Many of the reefs the team examined contained luxuriant coral communities made up of hundreds of different species, each reef was unique. They differed dramatically in the structure, dominant coral species, amount and sizes of the coral colonies, and health of the corals. Some of the variation seen is related to environmental conditions, but some is due to the history and severity of past disturbances and current threats. For instance, many of the branching and plating corals were being attacked by coral eating snails. Chief Scientist of the Foundation and leader of the scientific research, Dr. Andrew Bruckner, said, “Snail predation is one of the most significant and widespread threats we have seen on the reefs in Lau Province, and the problem might be caused by human activities, such as fishing.”
The research team included Fijian participants comprising of William Saladrau with the Fiji Department of Fisheries, Ron Vave with the University of the South Pacific, and Dr. Stacy Jupiter with the Wildlife Conservation Society. These researchers collected information on the numbers of sea cucumber in the wild and found that numbers were unusually low. Dr. Stacy Jupiter states, “We are finding less than one sea cucumber per hectare, this shows that there is overfishing of sea cucumbers across the Lau Province.”
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were also surveyed while studying coral reefs. Areas that had been protected for more than five years proved to have the greatest biodiversity and growth. Dr. Andrew Bruckner states, “This shows that MPA’s are working. The organisms that are living there have time to reproduce and grow. If areas such as these remain protected, they will provide sustainable resources for the villages.”
As the scientists were conducting research, the Foundation’s Education Director, Amy Heemsoth, along with Traditional Leader and Fiji Islands Coordinator for the Pacific Blue Foundation, Roko Sau (Josefa Cinavilakeba), and Lau Provincial Office Protocol Officer, Roko Laitia Raloa, visited many schools and villages to share information about the Foundation, Global Reef Expedition, the benefits and threats of coral reefs, and the health of the Lau Province’s coral reefs. Over 15 primary and secondary schools were reached and over 8 village talks were conducted totally over 1,500 students, teachers, principals, and general public. Additionally, Roko Sau and Roko Laitia encouraged villages to create environmental committees that will help manage their marine resources.
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