The first ever nationwide assessment of Fiji’s coral reefs has successfully concluded after nine weeks of dive surveys.

Divers studied coral reef habitats at 272 locations across the country and encountered almost 500 different species of fish, highlighting Fiji’s rich and diverse marine life.

Photo: Joe Lepore, Waitt Institute

* Phase one surveyed 95 sites in the areas of Viti Levu, Beqa, Yanuca, Western Lomaiviti and the Yasawa group of islands

*Phase two surveyed 99 sites in the areas of Eastern Lomaiviti, Vanua Levu and Taveuni’

* Phase three surveyed 78 sites in the Lau Seascape’

“This expedition has been a truly collaborative effort involving many Government Ministries, NGOs partners, communities, and international scientists. We have all come together as a team and pulled off the best and biggest national science expedition to ever take place in Fiji.” said the Minister of Fisheries and Forestry, Kalaveti Ravu.

Locations of the 272 dive sites surveyed during the expedition. Photo: Blue Prosperity Fiji

“The completion of the Blue Prosperity Fiji Ocean Science Expedition is a historic moment for Fiji and will greatly improve our understanding of the current condition of our coral reefs. This study will provide the Government the tools to better manage our ocean, and also provide communities with concrete information to understand what lies below our waters,” said Blue Prosperity Fiji Country Manager, Arthur Sokimi.

The expedition began with community consultations to over 100 qoliqoli owners and communities to request permission to survey their waters.

“Through the leadership and support of the Ministry of Fisheries and Forestry, and the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs, this was a transparent process and we visited coastal communities to present sevusevu to seek permission for research to take place in their waters. This also gave us the space to listen to their needs and priorities,” said Dr Joeli Veitayaki, Co-Primary Investigator of the Blue Prosperity Fiji Ocean Science Expedition.

Community meeting in Nacula, Yasawa, to present sevusevu and request permission for the expedition dives. Photo by Arthur Sokimi, Blue Prosperity Fiji.

Throughout the expedition, teams of divers collected information on coral reef health, fish and macroinvertebrates, and water quality. Teams also placed 88 temperature loggers across Fiji to better track ocean temperatures through time.

Data collected will provide holistic information about Fiji’s current coral reef health. However, data collected will not provide a stock assessment for any specific marine species or resource.

“The learnings from this expedition will build upon, not replace, extensive traditional and scientific knowledge and existing monitoring and research efforts in Fiji. We have collected a wealth of new information about Fiji’s marine life and resources, now we will work with our partners to process and analyse the data and ensure that all relevant information is shared with the public,” said Andrew Estep, Science Director at the Waitt Institute.

This effort was led by the Government of Fiji, with guidance from the Office of the Prime Minister through the Department of Environment and the Climate Change Division, Ministry of Fisheries, and the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs, working in close collaboration with universities and non-governmental organisations.

Organisations included in the planning and execution are the University of the South Pacific (USP)Institute of Applied Sciences, World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), Conservation International (CI), the Pacific Community (SPC), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Uto Ni Yalo (UNY), Pacific Blue Foundation (PBF), Centre for Island Research and Environmental Observatory (CRIOBE), Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the Waitt Institute.

This science expedition is part of the Blue Prosperity Fiji programme, a partnership between the Government of Fiji and the Waitt Institute to support 100% sustainable ocean management and fully protect at least 30 percent of Fiji’s waters. Information collected will help inform future ocean planning efforts and research.

Feather star in the Lau Province. Photo by Joe Lepore.

“I feel lucky to have witnessed the incredible marine life and diversity we have in Fiji, but was saddened to see damage on our reefs, such as coral bleaching, damage from storms, and areas without much fish. This reminds us of the urgent need to proactively manage our ocean and protect at least 30 percent of our waters so that we can preserve the treasures we have in our country.” added Arthur Sokimi, Blue Prosperity Fiji Country Manager.

“The most touching part was the chance to work together, share ideas, and build capacity. I hope going forward we can continue collaboration to ensure we leave behind an ocean that is productive and healthy for the benefit of future generations,” said Dr Joeli Veitayaki, Blue Prosperity Fiji Ocean Science Expedition’s Co-Primary Investigator.

Divers on the Blue Prosperity Fiji Ocean Science Expedition. Photo: Joe Lepore, Waitt Institute.