Fiji Marine Expedition: A Revelation Revisited

Protecting our planet’s ecosystems and natural resources is a big job, and no one can do it alone. Collaboration between the world’s leading scientists is crucial in order to combine valuable data and convince decision-makers to take action. In the latest collaboration between CI and the New England Aquarium (NEAq), Dr. Les Kaufman from CI’s Marine Management Area Science program is joining a team of researchers from NEAq, Monterey Bay Aquarium and other partners as they travel to Fiji’s coral reefs to survey marine life and further examine the connections between land and sea. Here is his most recent update from the water—brought to you directly from the NEAq blog.

Photo by Keith Ellenbogen.

Today we reached the Source. The lushest, most vibrant and colorful coral reefs in Fiji: the dominion of Vatu-i-Ra. Work on fluorescence was put on hold to examine, study and remember what a reasonably healthy west Pacific coral reef looks like. Spilled paint of all colors, crazed architects gone wild in the countryside, Disney denizens of sea-bottom grottoes.

At a site called Cat’s Meow I came full circle, returning to the place where colleagues and I began to study the beautiful Fiji clownfish Amphiprion barberi (Allen, Drew, Kaufman, 2008), a species that we ultimately discovered to be unique to Fiji, the first of a great many.In a small clearing atop a jewel-studded pinnacle and surrounding by dense coral branches are clumps of day-glo red bubble-tipped anemones. In the anemones cavorted three different species of clownfishes, including the aforementioned Fiji clownfish—recently described by two colleagues and myself. Seven or eight years ago I worked the top of this very pinnacle to hand catch six red clownfish in order to clip bits of tissue off their fins to determine whether they were a new or a known species. Each fish was then gently replaced in its home anemone.

Boston University graduate student Joshua Drew performed the ensuing tedious laboratory work on clownfish genetics. The results? The Fiji clownfish was sufficiently distinct in appearance and genetics to merit being known to science under a new species name.

Photo by Keith Ellenbogen.

There are probably many new fish species yet to be discovered here in Fiji. However, these may remain obscure except to a few frequent divers unless more young scientists join the thinning ranks of taxonomists: the bibliographers of life on earth. Very few young scientists are going into this field, yet aided by powerful new digital tools the capacity to identify species and the urgency of doing so have never been greater. We are in danger of losing most of life on earth before even knowing it was ever there.

Tonight’s night dive was used to extend the exploration of fluorescence patterns in Fiji’s corals. (I dare not commit here). Bailey compared (via excessive whining) the process to a form of torture, involving the use of a pulsing blue light, listening for the signal of the camera, bright twin strobes lights blasting, followed by stunned darkness. He alleges that all involved had migraine headaches by the 20th minute of the dive.

Dr. Les Kaufman is a professor at Boston University and the Principal Investigator for CI’s Marine Management Area Science program. To read all the posts from the Fiji expedition, check out the NEAq blog.

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