History of Ichthyology in Fiji

The first serious collections in Fiji began with the United States Exploring "Wilkes" Expedition in 1840, with the specimens being deposited in the U. S. National Museum. Fijian fishes collected by various individuals also found their way to the British Museum and were reported by Gnther (1859-1870), and others were collected by the "Challenger" Expedition (1880). Whitley (1927) compiled the first checklist of fishes from Fiji, recording 439 species. A small collection of fishes from Suva was made by Turner in 1929 and deposited in the Academy of Sciences of Philadelphia and Herre (1936) listed 152 species from Suva, Nukulau, and Ovalau taken by the Crane Pacific Expedition. These earlier collections focused on larger species that were usually collected by nets, hook and line, or purchased from the fish market. In the case of the Crane Pacific Expedition dynamite was used in deeper water and "chloride of lime" in shallow tide pools. Based on these collections Fowler (1959) compiled his book "Fishes of Fiji" reporting 545 species for the country. He stated "In offering this book I feel though incomplete as it must necessarily be, that it may at least help towards the building of future works of this most interesting and long neglected group of islands." At that time he noted that fishes had been recorded only from Viti Levu, Ovalau, Kandavu, Totoya and Nukulau; however, Fiji consists of a total of 322 different islands (about 800 if islets are counted) encompassing an area of over 1,290,000 sq. km. Except for Rotuma Island, which is geographically closer to Wallis and Futuma and about 450 km from other Fijian islands, the islands of Fiji are a rather compact group. The locality for the majority of the specimens found in museums is Suva, the main port where visiting ships docked.

It was not until the advent of SCUBA diving and the use of rotenone that most of the smaller, cryptic fishes of Fiji became known. The first such collections were made in the early 1960’s when the TeVega visitied Fiji, collecting around Suva and at the Great Astrolabe Reef. In the mid 1970’s Dr. Bruce A. Carlson, then a Peace Corps volunteer, collected fishes at Viti Levu, Beqa, the Great Astrolabe Reef, and at Moala Island between Viti Levu and the Southern Lau Group. The first major collecting effort was by Victor G. Springer of the U. S. National Museum in 1982 who visited more sites than any previous workers, collecting around the main island of Viti Levu and adjacent small islands, and Matuku and Totoya between Viti Levu and the Southern Lau Group. He also collected at the Yasawa Group. In 1983, Richard Winterbottom collected at the Great Astrolabe Reef. In 1985 Springer returned and collected at Vatoa and Ono-i-Lau and in 1986-7 at distant Rotuma Island where 425 fish species were reported (Zug, et al., 1989).

In reviewing the collecting localities from the major U. S. museums (USNM, BPBM, ANSP, CAS, FMNH) and also the Australian Museum in Sydney, it appears that several extensive regions in Fiji have not yet been collected or only are represented by a few isolated collections. We know of only three collections from the Southern Lau Group and one collection from the Northern Lau Group. These two island groups extend from 16 45’ to 19 15’ S and from 180 45’ to 179 15’ W and include well over 60 islands. North of the Northern Lau Group and east of Vanua Levu are a series of atolls that have yet to be collected: Qelelevu, Heemskerq, Cakau Matacucu, and Cakau Vucovuco. The larger northern island of Vanua Levu and its smaller surrounding islands also are under collected, and there appear to be no collections from the Great Sea Reef west of Vanua Levu. The islands of Gau, Nainai, Koro, Wakaya and Namenalala in the Koro Sea remain uncollected. Even the northern shore of the main island of Viti Levu remains little sampled. Thus, although at first glance it might seem that Fiji is well sampled, most collections are from areas near Suva and the adjacent Great Astrolabe Reef with vast numbers of Fiji’s islands unsampled.

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