Collection Point: Fiji
Fiji—sometimes called “the crossroads of the Pacific”—is a nation made up of over 300 islands, and, as such, it is highly dependent upon the sea. The total land area of Fiji is less than 19,000 sq. km., but the ocean area is over 1 million sq. km. Located about two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand, the barrier and fringing reefs of the nation are amongst the most majestic on the earth and boast almost 400 species of coral and over 1,200 species of reef fish.
A tropical marine climate with only slight seasonal fluctuations in temperature, Fiji is frequently marketed as a tourist destination. Indeed, tourism is one of the nation’s most important economies. It is estimated that between 300,000 and 400,000 tourists visit annually, and many of these visitors come, at least in part ,to snorkel or dive on the more than 10,000 sq. km of tropical reefs. Despite a coup in late 2006 which harmed business endeavors and tourism, Fiji remains one of the most developed of the Pacific island economies, although
Fijiis a diverse nation composed of many cultural influences including Melanesian, Polynesian, Micronesian, Indian, Chinese, and European. Coastal communities are, not surprisingly, largely dependent upon the sea for both sustenance and income. Fiji’s commercial inshore marine fishery is centered on exporting food fish (and live food fish) and aquarium livestock (fish, coral and other invertebrates). It was estimated that in 1999, the four aquarium fish exporters in Fiji exported about $762,000 worth of aquarium fish. The dollar figure for coral exports was about twice that amount during the same year.
Like most of the Indo-Pacific region, a compromise must be struck between using marine resources to sustain the livelihoods of indigenous people and the conservation of those resources. The marine aquarium trade can bring much needed income to coastal communities in Fiji, but it can just as easily damage the natural resources if animals bound for the world’s aquaria are not collected in a sustainable manner.
The Fijian reefs themselves are truly awe-inspiring. The beauty, especially of the soft corals that live amongst the complex web of barrier reefs and lagoons, is absolutely stunning. And it’s not just the coral that catches one’s attention. Seven endemic fish species call Fiji’s reefs home. In Fijian waters, you will find endangered humphead wrasses spawning (at over 190 kg and more than two meters in length, this is NOT a species for the home aquarium) and many new species await discovery. In December of 2004, a team of scientists recorded a new species of damselfish and 43 new hard coral species. Fiji is also home to the largest known parrot fish—the bumphead parrot fish.
Aquarium favorites are found in great numbers throughout Fiji including many blenny, cardinalfish and chromis species. From tangs to fairy wrasses, many aquarists’ favorite fish come from Fiji. The selection of Fijian corals is also generally outstanding, including favites, candy coral, montipora, pumping xenia, plate corals, and many more. From the aquarist’s perspective, Fijian livestock is prized not only for its intrinsic diversity and beauty, but also because of its location. A direct ten hour flight to Los Angeles, means that Fijian livestock travel less before reaching the aquarium, and less travel means less stressed animals and the best prospects for longterm health.