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SUVA, Fiji Islands (April 21, 2001 - PINA Nius Online)---Collecting data on the biodiversity and status of coral reefs will be the focus of a scientific expedition in Fiji waters beginning today, the environment organization WWF said.

The expedition is a collaboration between WWF and Nai‘a Cruises Fiji. It has been made possible through the generosity of the Packard and MacArthur Foundations and their commitment to conservation efforts in the Western Pacific, WWF said.

Sangeeta Mangubhai, WWF¹s regional marine coordinator, said: "This is an exciting opportunity to collect good scientific data on the biodiversity and state of our coral reefs in Fiji. The information will be invaluable for the government in its efforts to protect our country’s biodiversity, scientists studying reefs in the Pacific, to conservation groups and in particular the communities who own these invaluable resources.

"This trip will also be a good example of how collaboration can be forged between conservation groups, tourism industry, government and universities to collect the information required to make good decisions about Fiji’s coral reefs."

The expedition, coordinated by the WWF Fiji Partnerships in Conservation and Development Project, will involve scientists from WWF, the University of the South Pacific, biological consultants and the Department of Fisheries. Cat Holloway of Nai‘a Cruises will also be participating in the collection of fish data, and the taking of still and video photography.

WWF said a team has already visited with traditional owners in the communities where the scientific studies will be carried out. It conducted community awareness discussions as well as obtaining community consent for the expedition.

The expedition will begin with six days of studying coral reefs in the Lomaiviti group, five days studying the community marine reserve established by Waisomo village and five days surveying the rest of the Great Astrolabe Reef in Kadavu.

The objective of the trip is to collect baseline biological information on the health of coral reefs and to determine the conservation status of various areas of the reefs. This will enable the design of a long-term marine conservation and monitoring program for WWF and partners to implement with the local communities.

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