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PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, July 11) – A study conducted by French and American scientists discovered this year that the lagoon of the Tuamotu atoll of Moruroa is "particularly rich in fish" and that "the fish are in good health" 10 years after the end of underground French nuclear tests.

While attributing the abundance of fish to the lack of fishing in the lagoon and a pass in the coral reef permitting fish to freely move between the lagoon and the ocean, the scientists also discovered "the fish often have an exceptional size".

The scientific findings are contained in a media communiqué issued Monday by the French Military Command Headquarters in French Polynesia.

The findings are based on a June 17 to July 6 visit to Moruroa by three teams of scientific researchers based aboard the French oceanographic vessel ALIS operated by the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), the French development research institution.

With logistical support from the French Military Command Headquarters, the researchers came from the French Polynesia IRD unit, the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE) in France and the Centre de Recherches Insulaires et Observatoire Biologique de l'Environnement (CRIOBE) on Tahiti's sister island of Moorea.

There also were American scientists from the University of California and the Washington Museum who participated in the three-week fish population analysis research project jointly directed by CRIOBE Director René Galzin, an EPHE professor, and Michel Kulbicki, head of the IRD mission.

The project involved only the lagoon of Moruroa, where France conducted first atmospheric and then underground nuclear tests over a period of 30 years from 1966 to 1996. The researchers focused on the age and available food for the fish, counting more than 200 fish species present 10 years after 250 species had been identified in Moruroa's lagoon in 1996. However, the scientists did not find any new scientific species of fish, although they were able to increase the number of known species at Moruroa. The research involved 13 fish collection stations spread out over the lagoon and underwater dives made at 20 stations, the military communiqué reported.

The scientists noted differences in the diversity and abundance of fish populations in the Moruroa lagoon. The "richest" collection of fish was found close to the 4,500-meter (4,921-yard) wide pass through the coral reef that links the lagoon with the ocean. The least rich collections were found in areas where the lagoon water had the least amount of exchange with the ocean.

"The presence of numerous sharks confirms that the fish populations are in good health," according to the military communiqué.

"Fish diversity is important for an atoll of this size, and it is the first time that such an exhaustive sampling was carried out in a French Polynesia atoll lagoon," the communiqué claimed.

The researchers apparently were a bit surprised that no new fish species had been discovered "because the composition of fish faunas of an atoll's lagoon is rather well known. On the other hand," the communiqué reported, "many species whose presence was previously unknown at Moruroa were recorded." That should make it possible to increase the list of known species from 250 to 320 at the atoll, according to the communiqué.

July 12, 2006


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