Immediate action needed to protect Fiji's coral reefsSuva, Fiji: From 21 April to 4 May 2001, the conservation organization WWF and Nai'a Cruises Fiji jointly conducted a scientific expedition to the Lomaiviti Islands reefs and Great Astrolabe Reef in Fiji. The expedition was part of WWF's mission to promote marine conservation and sustainable use of resources in Fiji and the South Pacific.
Preliminary findings show that the reefs are degraded both by bleaching and human activities and WWF is urging that the Fiji government, conservationists and NGOs collaborate to reduce the damage and promote management systems to protect them.
The coral reefs are vital for Pacific islanders. They provide physical protection for the small islands and important resources for local livelihoods, culture and traditions, and the national economy.
In early 2000, coral reefs in the region were affected by bleaching, a result of increasingly warming surface temperatures and El Nino conditions that stresses corals making them turn white. If high temperatures persist over a long period of time, the corals die. Scientists had warned that if the coral bleaching trend experienced in 2000 is repeated, then whole reef systems in the Pacific can be expected to become severely degraded or lost completely.
But coral bleaching is not the only problem to affect the coral reefs, according to the expedition's lead scientist, Dr David Obura: "It is important to note that the reef degradation is not only by natural causes like coral bleaching, tidal waves and hurricanes. We also found that there were clear signs of human activities, which cause reef degradation, such as empty clam shells and low fish populations. These could be attributed to over-fishing and destructive fishing practices such as the use of small sized mesh nets and fish poisoning that are illegal in Fiji, and siltation due to land-based activities."
The data from the marine expedition is currently being analysed and a report produced for distribution to the Fiji government, University of the South Pacific, regional agencies and other interested parties.
More information, including images, on this marine expedition in the Fiji group can be found on the website: http://www.wwfpacific.org.fj
Or contact: Etika Rupeni, Project Officer, WWF Fiji Partnerships in Conservation and Development. E-mail: email@example.com