Saturday, March 10, 2012

Fiji: Day one in country

For the past several years, the New England Aquarium has participated in a joint expedition to Fiji, along with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and other conservation-minded groups and individuals. The last expedition took place in October and November 2010. Stay tuned to this blog to follow the team as they dive to collect data on the health of the coral reefs, pick up trash where they find it, check in with the villagers to see how some conservation initiatives are faring and further develop connections with the people that live on these beautiful Pacific islands.

Steve Bailey, the Aquarium's curator of fishes, starts things off.
Figure this: Our Thursday 11 hour Air Pacific flight from LAX arrived at 5:15 a.m. Saturday. What?!  How does that math work? Simply put, there was no Friday in the calculation as crossing the International Date Line wipes it out forever. Leap Year provided an extra day but what’s gained is essentially lost going in this direction around the globe. Nevertheless, everyone somehow shook off their sluggishness (more on sea slugs later!) and smiled after the intrepid airship delivered us.

Expedition Day One is always the roughest of the lot, given the incredible changes in venue, minimal sleep, 17 hour time change (versus Boston), climate swaps (late winter for late summer), multiple movements of massive amounts of cargo, executing the first dive, abandon ship safety briefing and post-supper science lecture.  It all adds up to no one staying awake past 9 p.m.  

OK.  So having managed to get all the barely allowable whining and whimpering out of the way, here’s a bit of Day One’s interesting stuff:

The group’s jawfish jones was satiated first thing on the Samu Reef check-out dive near the Yasawa Island Group (NW off of the main island- Viti Levu). This dive site always seems to offer up its own version of the unusual, having delivered some one and only sightings on prior trips. Jawfish are muppet-looking, burrow dwelling fishes, attracting attention and being very engaging with their nervous Nelly head jerks, constant fussing with their front door’s housekeeping, squabbling with neighboring jawfish, and notoriously difficult to photograph. These critters did not disappoint on any of these fronts. 

Many of the jawfish species in the Western Pacific are not conclusively ID’d, and an expert needs to sort out the confusing jumble of traits and characteristics in order to assign proper scientific names.  For now, after much group debate, Opisthognathus wassi (Wass’s jawfish) was assigned for a name.

Be sure to check out the two species of jawfish in the Tropical Gallery’s Sea of Cortez exhibit: 
Rosenblatt’s jawfish Opisthognathus rosenblatti, and the fine spotted jawfish Opisthognathus puctatum.

Prior to getting on the boat, many of the group used the brief available time to visit the open market in Nadi (pronounced Nan-dee). Saturday is the big shopping day, and consequently the market is humming.

Pacific black tip shark

Spotted eagle rays

A big surprise to us were the juvenile spotted eagle rays (Aeobatus narinari) and Pacific black tip sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus) available as food, seen while strolling through the fresh fish area. These species on sale in an Asian market (as shark of any size or species would be valuable for its fins to be used in sharkfin soup) wouldn’t raise an eyebrow so much. But in Fiji, they are clan totem species, historically revered, and not commonly consumed. Apparently things are changing.


Read the first post from this expedition here.

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