Asia Dive News :
WWF Report: New species found in Fiji's Great Sea Reef
Suva, Fiji – The first ever comprehensive survey of Fiji's largely uncharted Great Sea Reef, the world's third longest barrier reef, has revealed a staggering array of life, including a new species of reef fish.
The WWF survey, conducted during a 12-day expedition, not only looked at unique mangrove island habitats, several threatened species such as green turtles and spinner dolphins, but recorded a new species of damselfish ( Pomacentrus sp.) and 43 new hard coral species.
Covering more than 200,000 sq km, the Great Sea Reef — locally known as Cakaulevu — is home to thousands of marine species, many of them endemic and is an important fishing ground for local communities.
The survey also identified significant threats to the Great Sea Reef, including overfishing and poaching by illegal fishers, poison fishing, sand dredging and other development activities.
In efforts to protect the fragile ecosystem, local village chiefs in Fiji have launched the first of the country's networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) on the Great Sea Reef, which include permanent ‘tabu' zones, where no fishing or harvesting of other marine resources can take place.
"Fiji's commitment to MPAs makes it an international leader in marine conservation," said Etika Rupeni, WWF Fiji's Country Programme Manager.
“The people of Macuata province are working closely with WWF and the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Areas network to protect this unique marine environment.”
The Fiji Locally Managed Marine Areas network (FLMMA) drives community-based marine conservation by working closely with 40 traditional fishing grounds ( I Qoliqoli ) communities since 2000. FLMMA, as well as the government of Fiji, have been presented with WWF's Conservation Leadership Award in acknowledgement of their commitment and stewardship in the sustainable management of Fiji's natural resources.
The Great Sea Reef conservation effort delivers on Fiji's commitment to establish an MPA Network covering 30 per cent of the country's waters by 2020. Fiji's commitment to manage close to 39 million hectares of its water as MPAs, will make it one of the largest MPA networks in the world.
“Protecting the reef will ensure that one of our greatest assets remains intact and continues to be an important part of the traditions, culture and livelihoods of the people of Fiji,” Rupeni said.
• The WWF-led Great Sea Reef expedition included divers from Wetlands International, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the University of the South Pacific Institute of Applied Science, local community members and international experts, with funding support from the Vodafone Foundation.
• The islands of the Fiji archipelago, which number more than 300, are scattered over a 1.3 million sq km area and are part of one of the largest and most extensive reef systems to be found. More than 98 per cent of Fiji's territory is ocean and more than 80 per cent of Fiji's 800,000 plus residents live along the coast. Fiji's economy depends heavily on its foreign exchange earnings from fisheries and tourism. Fiji's marine resources are also important to customary marine owners who rely on the reefs for subsistence, livelihood and source of income.