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Fish for the future?

Fish for the future?

BY MARK ERDMANN, CONSERVATION INTERNATIONAL
Tuesday, 22 August 2017

We promised you some stunning photos of fish and we’re making good on our promise by giving you a look at what we’ve found among the remote reefs of the Lau Group.

Springerichthys kulbickii – this rather stunning flag-tail triplefin was previously known from Fiji, but we were pleased to finally get a good live coloration photo.

Mark Erdmann

The Auckland Museum blog team has asked me to share a little bit more information about the fish in these photos, why we’re collecting them and what my organisation Conservation International hopes to achieve overall with our 'Lau Seascape Initiative' project.

I’m a coral reef ecologist and work as head of marine programs for Conservation International’s Asia-Pacific Field Division. I was delighted to accept the invitation from Auckland Museum’s Tom Trnski to join this expedition (along with my colleague Semisi Meo from Conservation International Fiji - CI Fiji) because it provided us with an opportunity to survey the most remote reefs within the southern Lau Island group.

We’ve already made some exciting discoveries including what we suspect to be some new species.

Acanthurus cf nigroris – this surgeonfish is similar to the well-known Acanthurus nigroris, but it has some important colour differences including the dotting pattern on the side of the body and the orange infusions on either side of the tail base. We have specimens and genetic samples now to confirm later if this is a new species.

Mark Erdmann

Since 2015, CI Fiji has been working with the government and traditional communities of the Lau Archipelago to launch the Lau Seascape Initiative, which is focused on creating a network of marine reserves in this remote region in order to guarantee the long-term food security and economic livelihoods of Lau communities.

In May 2017, we were able to conduct a rapid biodiversity assessment of 28 sites within the Lau group, during which time we recorded 531 species of reef fish, including 38 new distribution records for Fiji (which is now known to host at least 1090 species of reef fish!).

Pentapodus cf aureofasciatus – this is a very likely new species that we previously photographed on our May expedition, but were unable to collect. We now have one fine adult male specimen (and hoping for a few others), and genetic samples to confirm if this is indeed a new species as we suspect based on its unique colour pattern.

Mark Erdmann

Unfortunately, unseasonable cyclones prevented us from reaching the most remote reefs in the Lau group, which is why we were particularly excited to join the SWP 2017 expedition to have another shot at surveying these reefs.

Our first week in the Lau group has been spent at the southern-most reefs in the Lau archipelago (including Ono-i-Lau and Vatoa), and we’ve now recorded over 40 additional reef fish species we didn’t previously see on our May expedition. We’ve also identified several uninhabited reefs in excellent condition and with healthy fish stocks that we intend to propose to the Lau government as candidates for new marine reserves.

Pseudanthias pictilis – this beautiful fairy basslet was previously only known from New Caledonia and Australian waters - so it’s an important new range extension into Fiji.

Mark Erdmann

Cypho cf purpurescens – as with the Acanthurus cf nigroris surgeonfish (also featured in this blog), this strikingly-coloured dottyback is very similar to the well-known Cypho purpurescens, but the diffuse red band in the middle of the body is unique. So we think it is possibly a sister species, but that won’t be confirmed until we work through our findings after the expedition.

Mark Erdmann

Cirrhilabrus punctatus – this stunning fairy wrasse was already known from Fiji, but we were pleased to get a nice shot of a male in mating colouration!

Mark Erdmann

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