DIVE | FIJI MARINE LIFE
Fiji's extensive reef system is fed by the rich nutrients streaming up from the Tonga Trench to the southeast and supports more than 1,200 fish species. Twelve species of whales and dolphins have been recorded in Fijian waters using the deep channels which pass through the archipelago as part of their migration routes. Five of the seven species of turtle are also found in the islands' waters. Fiji is world renowned for its corals - particularly the abundance of soft corals.
There are at least five species of clownfish found in Fijian waters - the orangefin anemonefish, the yellowtail clownfish, the Pacific anemonefish, the pink anemonefish (above) and the Amphiprion barberi, which was first identified as a species in 2008. They are often found in the clumps of anemones in the shallow waters at the top of reefs or bommies.
A golden damselfish (Amblyglyphidon aureus) hiding in a red soft coral. They lay their eggs on the gorgonians and sea whips which the males, all 10cm of them, vigorously defend against any perceived threats including inquisitive divers.
Small groups or pairs of Chaetodon semilarvatus are a relatively common sight hovering elegantly above Fiji's reefs. Butterflyfish are closely related to angelfish – more than 35 different examples of the two can be found in Fiji's waters.
Large schools of yellowfin goatfish (Mulloidichthys vanicolensis) can be seen on many of the dive sites. Like all goatfish they have barbels on their chins.
As many as 12 different species of sharks are regularly seen in Fiji and a recent survey found that on average divers see between1.22 to 2.03 sharks on every dive. While extensive fishing of all sharks globally has had an impact on population levels, Fiji has fared better than many countries due to a strong, traditional ethos of conservation and sustainable fishing plus a growing imposition of well-enforced marine protection zones.
SPECIES:Galeocerdo cuvier. ID: Juveniles have dark spots and dashes on their flanks which change into dark vertical stripes as they mature. Stripes fade when over four metres in length. Large, blunt head. Very large dark eyes. SIZE: As big as 6m in length. Mature females can be very bulky. HABITAT: Tends to stay deep during the day. Can be seen in shallow inshore waters.
SPECIES: Carcharhinus leucas. ID: Stocky, heavily built with a short, blunt snout. Small yellowish eyes. SIZE: Up to 3.5m in length. HABITAT: Common in tropical and subtropical inshore waters around the world.
Blacktip Reef Shark
SPECIES: Carcharhinus melanopterus. ID: Distinctive black marks on dorsal and caudal fins. White slash along flanks. SIZE: Up to 1.8m. HABITAT: The most common shark to be found on Pacific reef and shallow lagoons.
Whitetip Reef Shark
SPECIES: Trianodon obesus. ID: A fairly slender shark. White tips on both dorsal and caudal fins. SIZE: Rarely bigger than 1.6m. HABITAT: Frequents coral reefs - sluggish during the day but can be very active at night hunting in packs probing every nook and cranny of the reef.
SPECIES: Ginglymostoma cirratum. ID: Two dorsal fins, set back towards the tail. Nasal barbels. SIZE: Maximum 3m in length. HABITAT: Often seen sleeping on the sea floor during the day.
Reef manta rays (Manta alfredi) are common from May to October in both the Yasawa Group and the Kadavu Group. Giant oceanic manta rays (Manta birostris) can also be seen in areas such as Bligh Water.
Fiji declared its waters a whale sanctuary in 2003 and more and more humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are now returning to its waters to calf.
Hawksbill and green turtles are relatively common and you can also encounter leatherback, olive ridley and loggerhead turtles.
Banded sea krait
This venomous sea snake, also known as the yellow lipped sea krait (Laticauda colubrina) can be seen hunting on reef tops. It only attacks humans in extreme self defense.
Peaccock mantis shrimp
The wonderful Odontodactylus scyllarus is thought to have the fastest punch in the animal kingdom at over 80 kph. It can grow to 18cm.
Fiji's reefs are home to some 333 different species of hard coral - 42 per cent of all known coral species, and there are 80 species of soft corals. They cover more than 10,000 square kilometres. Besides a wide range of all types of hard or stony corals with build the reef structure, Fiji has a profusion of soft corals. Along with the rest of the world, Fiji's reefs are under stress from warming oceans and other pressures.
The Nephtheidae family of soft corals includes are some of the most colourful and ‘fluffy'. They can be bushy or tree-like and come in beautiful hues of red, pink, yellow, and purple.
Another part of the soft coral order (Alcyonacea), these gorgonians and other sea whips share eight-branched tentacles with soft corals but, while they don't have the calcium form of reef-building hard corals, they do have a firm skeletal embedded in their tissue giving them a brittle appearance. Like all soft corals they are sessile - that is, they are anchored to the reef.
Another type of Alcyonacea are known commonly as leather corals - there are a large number of different species, they all tend to form thin mats of polyp colonies which sting their passing prey.
The largest family of reef-building hard corals is Acroporidae and the multitude of its various species dominates the reefs around Fiji. Above is a type of staghorn coral called Acropora millepora which forms medium to large sized colonies which can vary in colour from pink to green to beige.