Special report: South Pacific survey finds new species, new concerns for coral reefs

Volau Tiko, a scientist with the Fiji Department of Fisheries, lays a transect tape while surveying for sea cucumbers and giant clams in the Lau Islands of Fiji.

Volau Tiko, a scientist with the Fiji Department of Fisheries, lays a transect tape while surveying for sea cucumbers and giant clams in the Lau Islands of Fiji. (© Conservation International/photo by Mark Erdmann)

As the world’s coral reefs suffer from the effects of climate change, a recent expedition to survey reefs in a little-explored corner of the Pacific did not know exactly what they would find.

The survey, in the Lau Islands of Fiji, sought to gauge the health of the reefs there for clues to their resilience.

What they found was a study in contrasts: Robust populations of sharks and reef fish, but disturbingly small populations of crucial invertebrates. One of the healthiest reefs anyone on the team had ever seen, but others that were being smothered by algae-like growths or discarded fishing nets. Potentially new fish species, but also the scourge of the oceans: trash.

The team, which included several Conservation International staff as well as local leaders and experts, put in 300 hours of diving during the 12-day trip, dodging two cyclones along the way.

Here is their story, as told by the people on the trip.

Read more here.

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