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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Sept. 5) - The paramount chief of Macuata has described as a godsend the appearance of a mystery sea slug three weeks before the annual Methodist church conference.

[PIR editor’s note: Macuata, one of Fiji’s 14 provinces, is located in the northeast of Vanua Levu, Fiji’s northern island. The province is fringed by the Great Sea Reef – "Cakaulevu" – third longest barrier reef system in the world and a target for special protection because of its diversity of marine life.]

Ratu Aisea Katonivere said the sea slug appeared in the marine protected area of the Macuata coast was a miracle as it brought in much needed cash for the hosts of the meeting.

He said a Chinese man appeared and "bought it from us as it happened to be a Chinese delicacy" so it filled in their coffers as they waited for Government funds to help them prepare for the meeting.

"Our church members and villagers have been saying the slug was a God send," he said. "And with the Men of God about to come to our shores with the appearance of the slug which we called the caterpillar, this is more than a coincidence. I can say that it was a miracle as a Chinese man came along at the same time and started paying $6,000 a day for harvesting of this slug which helped our people a lot. With that money we could buy curtains, improve homes which were to be used for accommodation and buy things for our preparations. This happened 3 to 4 weeks before the conference happened," he said.

Ratu Aisea had ordered they stop harvesting a week before the conference so that they could concentrate on their preparations.

The province had suffered heavy losses to plantations and their economy early this year with widespread flooding, raising doubts over their capability to host the conference.

Ratu Aisea said they had applied for funds with Government but the processing of these funds was not fast enough for its desired purpose.

He said in that light the slugs were considered a God send.

And as mysteriously as they appeared, they disappeared from the area they were harvested from - as soon as the church conference ended two weeks ago.

While efforts to identify the scientific name of the sea slug with various sources in Suva proved futile an Internet search on the Sea Slug Forum ended up with holothurian. It looked like a caterpillar but was described as a member of the sea slug species.

"They are echinoderms, closely related to starfish and sea urchins. Like all echinoderms they use their tube feet for ‘walking.’"

The site says it can grow to 30 centimeters or more.

WWF Communications Officer Ashwini Prabha said they would need a photograph to positively identify the sea slug.

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