Pacific Ocean & Natural Resources

RTEmagicC_pacific_oceans001.jpg‘Small Islands: Big Ocean’ is a recurrent theme that acknowledges not only the economic and cultural challenges of the Pacific Islands Countries and their identity, but also both the wealth of bio-diversity and natural resources and the great distances involved in trade and transport across the Pacific region. USP will invest in the Strategic Theme of the Pacific Oceanscape and its sustainability by supporting regional organisations and by promoting improved governance, policy and natural resources management based on sound research.

This SRT deals with the following broad themes: improving understanding of the Pacific Ocean; sustainably managing and developing its resources; maintaining its health; promoting its peaceful use; improving its governance and creating and promoting partnerships and cooperation in its use, management and maintenance.




Status and importance of seagrass ecosystems in the Pacific Oceanscape (Phase 2).

Project Title: Status and importance of seagrass ecosystems in the Pacific Oceanscape (Phase 2).

Principal Investigator: Dr Gilianne Brodie

Team Members:          

Dr Jeremy Hills, USP Institute of Marine Resources (work permit in progress – partnership liaison, experimental design & data analysis)

Dr Matakite Maata, USP SBCS (marine water quality/chemistry)

Dr Awnesh Singh, USP Pace-SD (oceanography & climate change)

Dr Sangeeta Mangubhai, Wildlife Conservation Society – Suva Office (coastal fisheries and women in fisheries)

Dr Michelle Delvin, Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Sciences (Cefas) UK (water quality and land runoff)

Postgraduate Students x 3 to be determined (note strong interest from Kiribati Fisheries Dept)

 Funding: $49,600       

Duration: 2 years from 1st Mar 2019

Overview of Project

Seagrass is a highly important but under recognised ecosystem in the Pacific Islands in terms of biodiversity but also as a provider of ecosystems services, such as fish, mollusc and crustacean fisheries. The status and use of seagrass ecosystems in Pacific Oceanscape is poorly understood so this research project will fill gaps in information on seagrass in the region identified in Phase 1 in order to help deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 14) for seas and oceans. A recent review of marine and coastal ecosystems in Kiribati (Mangubhai et al. in press) has shown a lack of recognition for seagrass as an important socioeconomic and inshore fisheries resource in Kiribati which reports local government fisheries (Peters, pers. comm.) suggesting that a different perspective exists on the ground at least in the Tarawa lagoon, which is already well documented for its poor water quality. A baseline study is therefore needed to survey the extent of seagrass presence in selected areas of Kiribati, the species involved and the level of fishing associated with seagrass areas. In Fiji, the species and presence of seagrass habitats are well known (Skelton & South 2006) but the area coverage of these coastal areas is to date unrecorded (Mangubhai et al. 2018a) and the best methodology to address that gap is debatable. Phase 1 of this project, already conducted from 2017-2018, has collected significant data on vital baseline information via a postgraduate research thesis. It is vital that the content of this thesis be published quickly in order to inform existing mapping efforts beginning in the region via SPREP and Cefas initiatives. In the two new proposed scholarships in Kiribati, the multidisciplinary combination of ecological assessment and socioeconomic data collection will develop and increase USP research capacity across involved units (SBCS, IMR, PACE-SD) and external collaborators (WCS and Cefas). It will also contribute to raising the profile and credibility of USP in marine research regionally and improve collaborations and dialogue with relevant external multi-organisational entities such as the Marine-Protected Areas Working Group (under National Environment Council & Pacific Framework for Nature Conservation & Protected Areas) and the Marine sector Working group of the CROP-mechanism.

Exploring the presence and distribution of potentially disease causing Rat Lungworm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis) in urban areas in Suva using molecular and geospatial tools

Project Title: Exploring the presence and distribution of potentially disease causing Rat Lungworm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis) in urban areas in Suva using molecular and geospatial tools

Principal Investigator: Dr Tamara Osborne-Naikatini

Team Members:          

Associate Professor Gilianne Brodie (SBCS, FSTE, USP)

Ms Mere Yabaki-Gounder (SBCS, FSTE, USP)

Mr Jale Naivalurua (SBCS, FSTE, USP)

Dr John Lowry (Adjunct Professor, SGESE, FSTE, USP)

SBCS Adjunct Professor Peter Lockhart (Massey University, New Zealand)

Dr Tamalee Roberts (Wellcome Trust, Mahosot Hospital, Laos)

Mr Leo Borja (Biosecurity Authority of Fiji; BAF)

Student trainee – TBD

 Funding: $21,376.72

Duration: 12 months from 1st Mar 2019

Overview of Project

Angiostrongyliasis (infection in humans by the parasitic Rat Lungworm, Angiostrongylosus cantonensis) is the principal cause of the disease eosinophilic meningitis. It is thought that the disease remains largely under-diagnosed in its endemic region (Asia and the Pacific). Infection by A. cantonensis is caused by consuming larval lungworms that may have been passed out in the faeces or bodily secretions of intermediate hosts or vectors. Common vectors of this parasite are rats, snails and slugs, particularly introduced and widespread species such as Parmarion martensi (a cryptic natural semi-slug).

Snails deposit larvae via mucous and faeces on leaves of leafy green vegetables that they are grazing on. Unsuspecting humans may become infected when eating uncooked infected vegetables that haven’t been washed properly. Infection can also be caused by direct consumption of snails without adequate cooking. Other intermediate hosts of concern are introduced rats (Rattus spp.).Traditional medical diagnosis involves expensive and relatively slow serology and the detection of special white blood cells called eosinophils, in human spinal tap samples (Wang et al. 2008).

The proposed study aims to trial the utility of a recently developed molecular method called LAMP (Loop-Mediated Isothermal Amplification) which is comparatively fast and cost effective in comparison to previous methods used to detect or diagnose the presence of pathogens (Fernandez-Soto et al. 2014). Traditional DNA tests (PCR) will also be employed to confirm the validity of the results where known samples of the exact parasite species will be obtained from Australia (previous lab of Roberts) to provide a positive control for comparison.

Locations of samples of snails/slugs and mammalian vector faeces containing positive results will be additionally analysed using geospatial tools in relation to socioeconomic influences on distribution. Two implications of this study can be inferred; firstly, if successful field samples can be reliably tested using the proposed protocol. This consequently leads to the second outcome of the detection of the pathogen in different snail species as well as rats found in Suva suburbs, which would be of considerable use to health officials in terms of its prevention, prevalence and distribution.

Discovering active compunds from plants and organisms for potential pharmaceutical and cosmeceutical uses

Project Title: Discovering active compunds from plants and organisms for potential pharmaceutical and cosmeceutical uses

Principal Investigator: Dr Katy Soapi

Team Members:             

Klaus Feussner (IAS, USP)

Joape Ginigini (IAS, USP)

Ilaisa Kacivakanadina (MSc Graduates IAS, USP)

Phila Raharivelomanana (Professor in rganic Chemistry, Universite’ e le Polynesie Francaise)

Edouard Hnawia (Assistant Professor in Organic Chemistry, Universite de le Nouvelle Caledonie)

Alifereti Naikatini (South Pacific Regional Herbarium, IAS)

Professor Paul Jensen (Scripps Institute of Oceanography, USA)

Dr Jioji Tabudravu (Aberdeen University, Scotland)

Assoc. Prof. Kohei Nakamura (Gifu University, Japan)

Funding: $50,000       

Duration: 2 years from 14 Mar 2019

Overview of Project

This project assesses the potential of nature-based products from microbes and plants for pharmaceutical and cosmeceutical purposes respectively.  The study will be conducted under two components.  Component 1: The emergence of resistance to antimicrobial drugs and the increase of incidences of microbial infections is a serious public health problem throughout the world.  The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that rising resistance to antibiotics could mean “the end of modern medicine as we know it.  The global threat of resistant pathogens to human life and helath signify the need for novel drugs for their treatment.  In Fiji, a total of 12 infant babies died at CWM Hospital, between 13 December 2016-26 Feb 2017, due to infection by Acinetobacter baumannii, a multi-drug resistant bug.  This is a serious problem and highlights the importance of discovering new drugs.  Natural products (secondary metabolites) have been the most successful source of potential drug leads.  Marine microbes such as marine cyanobacteria, marine fungi, and several other groups of marine bacteria are proving to be important sources of new drugs due to their biological, habitat and metabolites diversity. Component 2: this component will involce collection and etraction of traditionally used plants in Fiji particularly, those used for cosmetics.  For both components, novel information will be published in an A ranked journal such as Tetrahedron.

Win – Win” situation between landowners, government and the mining industry in the South Pacific

Project Leader: Dr Holger Sommer

Team Members: Prof. Dr. Klaus Regenauer-Lieb (UNSW)
Prof. Elisabeth Holland (PACE-SD)
Prof. Bibhya Sharma (USP)
Dr Sushil Kumar (USP)
Dr. John Lowry (USP)
Dr. Jeremy Hills (USP)
Prof. Mike Petterson (SPC Geoscience Division, Suva, Fiji)
Selina Leo (SLS Resource Group, Fiji)
Neil Kumar (USP)
Numerous postgraduate and BSc and MSc students from the University of the South Pacific

Funding:FJD $50K

Duration: 1st of Nov 2015 – 31st Oct 2018

Overview of Project

Gold and Copper ore deposits are very common in the South Pacific region and are of high economic interest. Yet from a societal aspect they normally return very little to the important infrastructure of these islands. This is mainly due to the fact that the exploration and exploitation threefold:

First, geologist have to map the area of interest, followed by geophysical measurements and finally with drilling. One meter of drilling costs about 200 AU$. Just recently a copper exploration in the Nadi area in Viti Levu, Fiji Island was done. During this exploration about 250 drill cores were taken and the average depth of every drill core is approximately 650 meters. The sampling of the drill cores produces immense costs.

Second, the operating costs of such a mine are very expensive too as most copper and goldmines are underground mines and an immense amount of energy is needed for operations. For example, the Vatukoula Gold mine in the northern part of Viti Levu needs 20 000 litres of diesel per day. Not only is this very expensive, it is also not environmentally friendly because of the high CO2 production caused by burning of the diesel.

Third, post operation of a gold or copper mine, the foreign mining company leaves and the citizens/communities in the South Pacific are left behind with high rates of unemployment and a barren and desolate land and infrastructure. Academic outcomes are to create an international research group regarding geothermal power in the South Pacific. These will be resulting in numerous international peer reviewed journals regarding fluid rock interaction in the investigated area.

Portable Hybrid Wave-Solar Energy Generation Based Community Network Design for the Socio-Economical Development of Fijian Isolated Islands (PHWSECNSDFI).

Project Leader: Dr Rabiul Islam

Team Members: Dr Kabir Mamun, FSTE
Prof Maurizio Cirrincione, FSTE
Dr Mahmood Rashid, FSTE

Funding: $46,035.54

Duration: 3 years

Overview of Project

This project proposal presents a noble concept of designing and testing a low cost hybride wave-solar generator for Isolated Islands within the south Pacific Region especially Fijian Islands. A simple self-contained hybrid wave-solar energy converter (HWSEC) that can be deployed off-shore is useful in situations shere there is no supply of electricity from the the grid. The research aims to ensure a resilient grid to minimize the aforementioned issues in PICs by design a hybrid wave solar generator and a community grid.


  1. Design and implement of a new technology in renewable energy are with a reliable and stable grid design.
  2. Supporting the sustainable development, use and management of non-living marineic and coastal resources, like marine energy, in conjunction with solar.

iii. Improving the production, availability, analysis, dissemination and use of quality data and information on sustainable management of natural resources and the environment, in particular in areas of economic and biodiversity conservation activities that are related to the sustainable development goals; and

  1. Satisfying the .constraint of a sustainable energy production respecting the coastal

resources and environment.

Demonstration of biodiesel production potential of Dilo or Beauty Leaf Tree (Calophyllum inophyllum), a native plant of Fiji and Australia

Project Leader: Associate Professor Atul Raturi

Team Members: Associate Professor Nanjappa Ashwath (CQ University , Australia)
Dr Shaneel Chandra (CQ University, Australia)
Research student (MSc) –To be selected
Note: For economic evaluation of Dilo oil biodiesel , we will be collaborating       with an agricultural economist from FBE.

Technical assistance:
Viti Buadromo , Senior Technician , Physics ( Engine testing)
IAS Biodiesel testing laboratory
Pacific regional herbarium ( IAS, USP)

Funding: $58,369

Duration: 12 months (commencing July 2016)

Overview of Project

The world is increasingly focusing on alternatives to replace fossil fuels. While previous work in this area has focused on a number of renewable plant-based fuel sources such as ethanol from wheat, there is a risk of compromising food stocks in the future to satiate energy-based activities. Moreover, this process has been demonstrated to produce more carbon debt than it could actually offset. As a result, second generation feedstocks such as the Dilo or BLT are promising alternatives. Dilo is already naturalised, can occur on soils that do not fully sustain food crops and requires least care in terms of irrigation, fertilizer application and plant protection. Furthermore, the trees can live for more than 200 years, yielding fruits twice a year – thus promising sustainable supply.

This project aims to identify select superior genotypes from wild populations of the BLT and develop a commercial biodiesel production system from it. When completed, it will directly contribute to the establishment of an expert system to provide the required technical input for development of a vertically integrated 2nd generation biodiesel production industry. The species Beauty Leaf Tree will be used, however, the methodology developed will be transferable to other species that may be used as 2nd generation biodiesel production and to the regions outside of Fiji and Australia in the tropical/sub-tropical zones.

At the end of the project, the findings will be communicated internationally to peer-reviewed journals. Furthermore, the work will be reviewed with intention to develop it further into higher degree research candidatures between both institutions on a co-toutelle approach.

Structure and Dynamics of Viti Levu’s montane rainforests under impact of invasive alien ivory cane palm (Pinanga coronata)

Project Leader: Prof. Juergen Boehmer

Team Members: Dr Stephen Galvin, Dr John Lowry, Dr Nicholas Rollings (USP)
Marika Tuivava (USP – South Pacific Regional Herbarium)

External Collaborators: (other Universities)
AProf Matthieu Chauvat, AProf Estelle Forey-Leyssenne, University of Rouen, France
AProf Niko Balkenhol, University of Goettingen, Germany
Dr Stefan Erasmi, University of Goettingen, Germany (BSc student:Marie-Isabell Lenz)
Dr Gunnar Keppel, School of Natural and Built Environments, University of South Australia
Vladimir Zadorozhny

External Collaborators (governmental and non-governmental)
Hilda Waqa, Fiji Ministry of Fisheries and Forests
Dr Dick Watling, Nature Fiji (
Isaac Rounds, Conservation International

Funding: FJD $78, 500

Duration: 3 years (1st Oct 2015  – 30th Sep 2018)

Overview of Project

Invasion by non-indigenous species is one of the most important issues in contemporary applied ecology and biogeography. Some invasive alien species (IAS) are able to cause fundamental changes in indigenous ecosystems, including the local extinction of native species. Tropical island ecosystems are, in particular, susceptible to biological invasions. For instance, several introduced plant species have already become dominant in native Pacific forests, thus harming native biodiversity and starting to have considerable socio-economic impact e.g. on forestry.

Competition between plant species in forests does not necessarily see the larger plants negatively impact upon the smaller plants; the sheer volume of smaller species has great potential to outcompete, for example, well-established tree species for water and soil nutrients, in turn impacting the productivity of overstory forest trees. This poses threats to the vital ecosystem services provided by forests, for example, carbon sequestering, the cleansing of air and water, and the protection of soil.

The proposed pilot study is designed along the example of a new – and regarding its potentially negative consequences unprecedented – invasion process in Fiji´s forests: the rapid spread of ivory cane palm (Pinanga coronata). Its invasive potential was first recognized as a serious threat in the early 1990s. Today, it forms dense undergrowth in mahogany plantations of Colo-i-Suva and Savura and is spreading rapidly into undisturbed forests of the area. Although this invasion process has been observed since the 1990s, no research on its consequences (and no management of the problem) has been carried out.
The rationale for this application is to collaboratively consolidate recent research activity by the USP/Pacific applicants in this context by combining their regional expertise with the experience of European partners. The aim is to deliver validated quantitative research, to be published as research papers (see dissemination plan), intended to provide a research platform for a substantive research project for a better management of invasive alien species in Fiji´s forests and the entire South Pacific.

Identification of sentinel species and biomarkers for monitoring Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), metals and micro plastics in Suva coastal area.

Team Members:
Marta Ferreira, SMS, FSTE (Leader)
Leo Dutra, SMS, FSTE
Susanna Piovano, SMS, FSTE
Johann Poinapen, IAS, FSTE
Marcus L. Stephenson, STHM, FBE

Funding: FJ $49,845

Duration: 24 months (January 2017 to December 2018)

Overview of Project

Protecting marine ecosystems is of crucial importance, especially in Pacific Island countries, because they are extremely dependent on marine resources for food (both subsistence and export), and other economically relevant activities, such as tourism1. However, ubiquitous pollutants such as oil, metals and plastics can compromise the marine environment and ultimately the quality of seafood for human consumption. It is therefore critical to monitor oil, metals and plastic pollution in coastal waters and to identify early warning signs of stress due to the human health risks associated with oils, metals and plastic contamination. Biological changes in sentinel species are considered early warning signs, and therefore can be used for risk assessment and evaluation. Measuring the levels of pollutants in fish tissues provides valuable information about human exposure to contaminants that are accumulated in fish tissues. Pollutants can also decrease the nutritional quality of the food. The goal of this project is therefore to perform a first assessment for the presence of oil related pollutants, metals and plastics in Suva area and correlated biological effects in fish species. In addition, it will allow for test and identification of sentinel species and biomarkers to be used in future monitoring programmes in Fiji and in USP member countries. Moreover, the project will attempt to evaluate tourism impact on pollution and pollution impact on tourism and recreational activities.

Completed Projects

Integrative assessment of the population genetics and the fisheries and tourist-related economic benefits of bull sharks in Fiji

Team Members:
Prof Ciro Rico (Leader)
Prof. Marcus L. Stephenson (School of Tourism and Hospitality Management)
Dr. Amandine Marie (Research Fellow, School of Marine Studies)
Dr. Susanna Piovano (School of Biological and Chemical Sciences)
Dr. Baljeet Singh (School of Economics)
Ms. Kerstin Glaus (PhD Student)

Dr. Juerg Brunnschweiler (independent researcher, Switzerland)
Prof Colin Simpfendorfer and Dr. Michelle Heupel (James Cook University, Townsville, Australia)
Prof Mahmood Shivji (Nova Southeastern University, Fort-Lauderdale, Florida, US)
Mr. Aisake Batibasaga Director of Fisheries, Fiji
Mr. Mike Neumann Beqa Adventure Divers, Fiji

Funding: $32,638.00

Duration: Start date: 03 August 2016 End date: 31 July 2019 Duration of project: 3 years

Overview of Project

Three sharks die every second worldwide either because of their fins, as by-catch of tuna and other fishing industries, or through the destruction of their natural habitats. The bull shark is a circumglobally distributed highly-migratory and large coastal shark species. It occurs in Fiji coastal areas and its genetic diversity suggests that it might represent a distinct subspecies. Bull sharks in Fijian waters are regularly caught in the artisanal fisheries and in the large scale longline fishery as target species and/or as bycatch and constitute an important tourist attraction through the shark diving industry whose estimated annual economic benefits exceeds USD 40 million. If indeed the genetic differentiation and possible geographic isolation of Fijian bull sharks is demonstrated, it will make this population especially vulnerable to local extinction through overfishing jeopardising not only the health of the ecosystem for their role as apex predators, but the livelihoods of fishermen and those who earn a living from the shark dive industry. This study seeks to investigate these issues by addressing four objectives. 1) Test the general hypothesis that the bull shark populations follow a metapopulation dynamics model with clearly differentiated management and evolutionary significant units focusing on their adaptive divergence and connectivity. In locally adapted populations of bull sharks, individuals would display similar migration or habitat uses, resulting from a common spatial learning among individuals and with distinctive genetics signature of local adaptation imprinted in the early years of their life cycle supporting a metapopulation dynamics model throughout its geographic range. 2) Assess the current rate of mortality as target and bycatch on the artisanal and subsistence fisheries operating in the Fiji Islands to evaluate the temporal (annual) dynamic of the captures with respect to size and sex. 3) Explore the extent of income and employment loss of fishermen (both regulated and unregulated) due to the potential ban on fishing for coastal sharks.4) Compare the relative benefits of fishing with those of the shark diving industry and to forecast the growth potential of the latter sector.

Sea soundscape in Fiji waters as tool for the local management of the marine and coastal zones - SySTeMiC (Sea Soundscape Tool Management Costal)

Project Leader: Prof. Maurizio Cirrincione

Team Members: Dr Assaf Mansour, USP
Dr Susanna Piovano, USP
Dr Cara Miller, USP
Dr Salvatore Mazzola (Research Director-IAMC-CNR),
Dr Giuseppa Buscaino (IAMC-CNR)
Dr Francesco Filiciotto (IAMR-CNR)
Dr Elena Papale (IAMC-CNR)
Dr Satyanand Singh (CMR Insitute of Technology, India)
Prof. Paolo Galli (University of Milan La Bicocca)
Dr Davide Simone (University of Milan La Bicocca)
Dr Simome Montano (University of Milan La Bicocca)
Dr Davide Maggioni (University of Milan La Bicocca)

Funding: $50K           

Duration: 1 Year

Overview of Project

The project aims to study the underwater acoustics soundscape of Fiji coastal waters in order to characterize acoustically the environment adopting automatic method of analysis. The activities include a plan for a noise monitoring campaign and the definition of the human pollution sources (in particular shipping traffic) in the study area.

In consideration of the fact that the use of maritime space is clearly linked to several anthropic activities (fishing, vessel traffic, mining, tourism), the underwater soundscape studies can improve the approach to the management of the marine coastal areas.

It has been proved that noise pollution can have profound effects on physiology and behaviour of the marine fauna. Acute or chronic disturbance can have significant consequences on local commercial and subsistence fisheries, as well as on touristic scuba activities.

The monitoring plan proposed will allow to build a geographic information system (GIS) based on acoustic database of representative underwater habitats (such as ports and harbours, shipping lines, fishing zones, marine protected areas, touristic resorts, and mining areas) and their relative levels of noise/sound.

The realization of GIS acoustic map could represent the first step to observe the zonation and uses of maritime space of Fiji Islands, allowing the local administration building the maritime environmental sustainability plan strictly linked to the cause and economic magnitude.

The activities proposed have a multidisciplinary approach and aim to involve cross-school and cross-faculty participations including the institution of a bioacoustics course at the USP and the creation of a Technical Meeting on the potential implementation of Fiji Islands acoustic coastal management. This project involves the School of Engineering and Physics (SEP), the School of Marine Studies (SMS) and the School of Biology and Chemistry Science (SBCS) od the USP, along with the Institute of Coastal and Marine Environment of the Italian Research Council (IAMC-CNR) and the University of Milan La Bicocca: A MoU has already been signed in June 2015 between USP-CNR=La Bicocca to make joint research in these topics.

Taxonomy, phylogeography and evolutionary history of Fiji’s endemic Peperomia (Piperacceae)

Cluster Sub-theme: Peperomia StudiesTeam Members: Mr Marika Tuiwawa, Sarah Pene, Peter J. Lockhart and Stephen WaldrenFunding: $40, 000

Duration of Project: 2 years: 01/01/ 2014 – 31/12/2015

Overview of Project:



This project will expand and consolidate the collections of Fijian Peperomia, investigate the genetic diversity, distribution and habitats of species. These data will allow us to reevaluate taxonomic classification and the conservation status of species. Our study will also provide a foundation for future work involving ecological niche modeling, computational and experimental ecophysiology. These approaches are currently being used to rapidly advance understanding of the nature of species, their biotic interactions. Applied here in the Pacific, these approaches have the potential to help us better understand the adaptive potential of Pacific Island flora to anticipated environmental change.

The study of Peperomia in Fiji, and potentially the wider Pacific region provides an important step towards addressing the question of the resilience of Pacific Island biodiversity to climate change.

Genetic Stock Assessment of Sea Turtles nesting populations in Fiji

Cluster Sub-theme: Sea Turtles

Project Team Leader: Dr Susanna Piovano

Team Members: Prof. Ciro Rico, Dr Susanna Piovano, Dr Peter Dutton (US NOAA-NMFS)
Funding: F$37, 012

Duration of Project: 24 months (10/14 to 9/16)

Overview of the Project:

Sea Turtles are long-lived reptiles with a complex life cycle and highly migratory habits. Many populations are facing decline worldwide, and all but one species, for which information are lacking, currently listed as threatened on the IUCN Red list. The Fiji islands host nests for hawksbill and green turtles. A sharp decrease in the number of nests has been reported for both species since 1970 and, until now, no sign of recovery has been noticed. There is a growing literature on unilateral conservation efforts which shown that these have been insufficient for the recovery of sea turtles populations. In the case of Fiji, the lack of genetic characterization of local nesting populations prevents the identification of turtles from Fijian rookeries when captured abroad. There is a compelling need for the genetic assessment of Fiji sea turtles nesting populations in order to effectively plan management and conservation activities. The primary aims of this project are 1.) To characterize signatures of Fijis rookeries and determine levels of stock structure among rookeries in Fiji. 2.) To provide rookery baseline data for Fiji to enable stock ID of Fiji-origin turtles at foraging grounds and fishery bycatch as part of ongoing Pacific-wide effort being carried out by multiple research institutions.

Assessment of damage caused in the aquatic ecosystem from the sewage spillage in the Cunningham River

Cluster Sub-theme: Sewage Spillage Project

Project Team Leader: Prof. Ciro Rico

Team Members: Marta Ferreira, Johann Poinapen, Prof. Vijay Naidu, Dr Dibyendu Maiti

Funding: F$149,440

Duration of Project: TBA

Overview of the Project:

Sewage spillages are among contributors to aquatic pollution in estuaries and coastal areas.  Raw human wastewater contain a mixture of contaminants, that include high concentrations of organic compounds such as carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous.  These organics have a high chemical oxygen demand (COD) and are degraded in the presence of bacteria which in turn consume and deplete the oxygen content in the aquatic system.  The high levels of pathogenic organisms (such as bacteria) which will continue to thrive on the organic material to survive and reproduce until the latter is completed degraded.  Biodegradation of sewage organics result in the production of inorganic nutrients (such as nitrate and ortho-phosphorous) which lead to eutrophication of the aquatic environment.  Eutrophication is a known consequence of sewages discharges that seriously impacts the health and development of most organisms inhabiting any aquatic environment.  Sewage also contains heavy metals and these can bio-accumulate in fish and shellfish making them unhealthy and unsafe for consumption.  In addition, an increased concentration of contaminants, such as metals and other organic contaminants usually trapped in sediments can further affect the aquatic species survival and ecosystem health.

Documenting the Biota of the Colo-i-suva Forest Reserve, Viti Levu, Fiji

Project Leader: Dr Hilda Waqa-Sakiti

Team Members: Ms.Bindiya Rashni, IAS
Mr. Lekima Copeland, IAS
Ms. Seniloli Tuiwawa, Consultant

Funding: $49,980      

Duration: 14 months (1st July 2016-31st Aug 2017)

Overview of Project

Located on the south eastern slopes of Central Viti Levu, is the Colo-I-Suva forest reserve, one of the most accessible and popular reserves known to the general public. Covering 2.5 km2 of reserved land area, the reserve not only offers a wide range of service to the economic, education and environment sectors but it also imprints on an undocumented environment that is said to overlay with that of the entire country. The need to document its natural biota stems of visitors, both local and international, with an unassuming wide range of interests in its conservation but more so for the inquisitive students at the tertiary institutions. In all likelihood, what is known about the reserve is a generalisation of plants and animals that inhabit similar if not the same types of habitats in the adjacent or nearby forests. The project therefore proposes to produce a series of formally compiled literature of selected biota featuring the reserve. These natural groups would be made up of the obvious taxa that can easily be picked out by the interested layman such as the colourful flowering plant, common butterfly or was it a damselfly, the loud screeching birds and bats, the hopping four legged frog and the occasional sited gigantic forest lizard, the fish at the bottom of the rock and slothful shell-like barnacle on the slippery mounts of rocks and moist soil in and between the upper and lower pools of the reserve.

The outcomes at the end of the proposed 14 months can only have positive impact. For quality assurance purposes these educational and awareness material will undergo intensive reviewing to maintain the integrity of institutions involved. After which, they will be disseminated to the public domain via media outreach (organization’s newsletters and websites, local newspaper and magazines), before and after the project, launching event together with the project partners towards the end of the project.

Mapping Socio-Ecological Coral Reef systems in Fiji (MASCREF)

Project Leader: Dr Leo Dutra

Team Members:Dr Vina Ram-Bidesi (USP)
Mr Kiniviliame Keteca
Dr Marta Ferreira
Ass. Prof. Nicholas Rollings
Prospect MSc students School of Marine Studies
                        Student 1: Mr Ronick Shedrack
                        Student 2: TBD
International collaborators:
Professor Marcus Haward (University of Tasmania, Australia),
Dr Ilva Sporne (Griffith University, Australia),
Dr Ingrid van Putten (CSIRO Oceans & Atmosphere, Australia),
Dr Manuela Taboada (Queensland University of Technology, Australia),
Mr Davi Candido (Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil / The University of Queensland, Australia)

Funding: FJD $ 49,810

Duration: January 2016 to June 2017

Overview of Project

Managing coral reefs requires a good understanding of ecological, social and management processes. This includes the documentation of long-term reef trajectories and also how communities and management agencies use this information and make decisions (i.e. governance). USP students and staff have been collecting data on biophysical, socio-economic and governance processes; however there is no systematic integration of this knowledge. Also missing (with a few exceptions1), are continuous long-term monitoring data to determine drivers and establish causality and extent of impacts (e.g. climate change and variability and development) on coral reefs, and effectiveness of management actions. There is a strong opportunity systematic data collection through USP courses that re-visit coral reefs on a regular basis. The research aims to use USP data to establish monitoring programs and map coral reef ecosystems, socio-economic drivers of reef resource-use (e.g. community dependence on reef resource, modern/traditional management practices, and income from coral reefs), and related aspects of environmental governance in Fiji. The ultimate goal is to understand how socio-ecological reef systems have been changing in local case studies in Fiji and take the main lessons learnt to inform/develop adaptation options and management strategies at a global scale. The proposal will include USP in an international context where Fijian coral reefs could become one of 6 case studies in which climate vulnerabilities are assessed through the project: ‘Global learning for local solutions: Reducing vulnerability of marine-dependent coastal communities’ funded by the Belmont Forum.

Integrating science, technology and local indigenous knowledge is emerging as a new paradigm for natural resource management. This project seeks to tie rigorous scientific field investigation of pacific island environments with appropriate monitoring and information technology in the context of local community resource management initiatives.

Biodiversity Assessment on the Cloud Forest of Mt. Te Manga, Rarotonga, Cook Islands

On 24th January 2012, this Research cluster was also granted provisional approval for the following research project:

Cluster Sub-theme: Ridge to Reef

Project Team Leader: Marika Tuiwawa

Team Members: Prof. William Aalbersberg, Senilolia H Tuiwawa, Reena Sagar

Funding: F$55,320

Duration of Project: 18 months from January 2012

Overview of the Project:

Cook Islands

Cook Islands

Cloud forest is a vulnerable and threatened ecosystem of which very little or nothing is known. Mt. Te Manga on Rarotonga stands as unique example given its unusual altitudinal height of only 652 m a.s.l., on the volcanic island of Rarotonga, which is the highest point across the Cook Islands.

An ecological survey is proposed whereby several key groups are assessed to determine its vulnerability as the Cloud Forest representative of the Cook Islands. Conservation priority species will be looked at for their composition and distribution at this high altitudinal area with the proposition of reviewing their status.

An Assessment of fishing practices by fishers in Tarawa, Kiribati

Cluster Sub-theme: Sustainable, Peaceful and Innovative Ocean Use

Project Team Leader: Dr Vina Ram-Bidesi

Team Members: Satalaka Petaia, Aranteisi Tekiao, Tuake Teema

Funding: FJD12, 200

Duration of Project: 12 months from date of awarding of funds

Overview of Project:
This project will involve the production and publication of two books which is a collection of research results of a study on Kiribati entitled “An Assessment of Fishing Practices by Fishers in Tarawa, Kiribati”. The book is to be produced in English whilst a simplified version will be preferred in the vernacular (i-Kiribati) language.

The purpose of the book is to inform and raise the awareness of the people of Kiribati, the Government of Kiribati and elsewhere such as Tuvalu and other smaller island countries where fisheries management is poor and non-existent.

The book will provide concrete evidence of the multiple consequences of using methods that are destructive and provide guidelines on how to better manage the coastal fisheries upon which people are heavily reliant on for food and income.

The book will be produced in a small B5 format which will have maps, illustrations and discussions on the fishing methods, their impacts on the environment and resources and the socioeconomic consequences of current practices.

This will not only demonstrate the direct costs but also the opportunity costs for the people. The book will also outline the steps that could be taken to reduce such socioeconomic and environmental costs.


The search for bio-active compounds from marine invertebrates of the Solomon Islands

Cluster Sub-theme: Sustainable, Peaceful and Innovative Ocean Use

Project Team Leader: Prof. William Aalbersberg

Team Members: Rohitesh Kumar, Klaus Fessner, Pritesh Prasad, Dr Katy Soapi, Dr Luke Mani, Dr Ramesh Subramani, Prof. Mark Hay, Prof. Julia
Kubanek, Dr Paul Jensen

Funding: FJD35, 353

Duration of Project: 2 years from April 2012 to April 2014

Overview of Project:
Although considerable advances have been made in modern medicine, there are many diseases that still affect our societies and the marine environment represents a rich source of novel natural products with great potential for drug discovery.

This project will focus on the search for bioactive compounds from marine organisms especially sponges with the potential to be developed as pharmaceuticals to address diseases of people in the developing world, especially in the South Pacific.

Marine invertebrates will be identified through DNA and morphology, and tested for their bioactivity against relevant models including drug-resistant bacteria, fungi, malaria and cancer.

This research will also lead to a better knowledge of the biodiversity of marine invertebrates of the Solomon Islands.


Meta-population dynamics, population genomics and determination of management units of tuna species in the WCPO

Project Leader: Prof. Ciro Rico

Team Members: Dr John Hampton (OFP of SPC Manger, co-investigator)
Dr Peter Grewe (CSIRO Senior Scientist and co-investigator)
Dr Amandinr Marie (USP Research Fellow and co-investigator)
Mr Monal Lal (PhD candidate at JCU)
Dr Kyall R.Zenger (Associate Professor at JCU)
Ms. Janice Natasha (PhD student)
Ms. Rolselene Dayal (MSc student)

Funding: $37,662


Duration: 1st July 2016 to December 2017 (18 months)

Overview of Project

Tunas are among the most demanded and valued wild caught fishes of the world, accounting for up to 8% of total fish and shellfish products in the international seafood markets and thus, most species are either fully exploited (37.5%) or overexploited (33.5%) worldwide2. In the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO), four species account for most of the tuna fishery: albacore (Thunnus alalunga), bigeye (T. obesus), yellowfin (T. albacares) and skipjack (Katsuwonus pelamis), and represent 2.6 million tons of the total tuna industry; that is 60.5% of the 4.3 million tons of the 14 tuna species exploited worldwide2. One of the most common problems in fisheries is the definition of management units. The number of genetically distinct populations in tuna species that have been identified using different molecular markers hitherto exceeds the number of stocks managed by Regional Fisheries Management Organisations, suggesting an urgent need to re-evaluate fishery management policies in these tunas3. The primary aim of this project is to conduct population genomics of the most commercially important four tuna species in the WCPO to fill important gaps in the current knowledge of tuna meta-population dynamics and focuses on the structure of stocks, their adaptive divergence and the genetic connectivity between these biological and management units. Testing the same hypothesis, namely “tuna populations follow a metapopulation dynamics model with clearly differentiated management and evolutionary significant units focusing on their adaptive divergence and connectivity”, on species with different life history strategies and under different fishing pressure is highly recommended, as it allows to identify general processes in nature responsible for the maintenance and distribution of the neutral and adaptive genetic diversity. To do so we will characterise the neutral and adaptive genetic diversity and structure of skipjack, yellowfin, bigeye and albacore tuna stocks throughout the WCPO by obtaining at least 10,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) in each species through a genotyping by sequencing of reduced representation library protocol such as DArTseq which provide a significant advantage via an intelligent selection of genome fraction corresponding predominantly to active genes.

Evolutionary Ecogenomics and Conservation of Scalloped Hammerhard Sharks in the WCPO: Implications for the Assessment of Non-Detrimental Findings under CITES regulations

Cluster Sub-theme: Sharks Project

Project Team Leader: Prof. Ciro Rico

Team Members: Dr Colin Shelley, Dr Cara Miller, Dr Jennifer Ovenden, Dr Christine Dudgeon, Dr Susanna Piovano, Johnson Seeto, Kelly Brown, Celso Cawich

Funding: F$53,464

Duration of Project: 3 years (Sep 2014 to Sep 2017)

Overview of the Project:

Three sharks die every second worldwide either because of their fins, as by-catch of tuna and other fishing industries, or through the destruction of their natural habitats and thus are among the most vulnerable fishes in the world. The Scalloped Hammerhead Shark (SHS) (Sphyrna lewini) is among the most globally threatened shark species and has recently being included in the Appendix II of CITES. Establishing a sound scientific program to acquire additional data to determine Non-Detrimental Findings (NDFs) for hammerhead sharks in the region and to establish a network of regional collaboration to assess the hammerhead stocks is a priority identified in the last Regional Workshop on the Implementation of CITES Appendix II Shark Listings. The primary goal of this research program is to test the general hypothesis that the SHS populations follow a metapopulation dynamics model with clearly differentiated management and evolutionay significant units focusing on their adaptive divergence and connectivity.

Keeping balance: the status and importance of seagrass ecosystems in the Pacific Oceanscape

Project Leader: Dr Gilianne Brodie

Team Members: Dr Jeremy Hills, IMR
Ms Cherie Whippy, IMR
Dr Posa Skelton, Oceania Research & Development Associates
Dr Katy Soapi, SBCS (Solomon Islands)
Postgraduate students * 2 to be determined

Funding: $49,240

Duration: 2 years (starting July 2016)

Overview of Project

Seagrass is a highly important ecosystem in the Pacific Islands both in terms of biodiversity but also as a provider of ecosystems services, such as fish and crustacean nursery areas. However, the status and change in seagrass ecosystems in Pacific Oceanscape is poorly understood; this research project brings together the latest information on seagrass in the region in order to help deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 14) for seas and oceans. A substantial review of existing information, complemented by a 10-year monitoring data set will be used to assess the status and trajectory of seagrass in the Pacific. The portfolio of investment in the seagrass ecosystem through development partners will also be determined. The information gaps and areas for effective targeted investment to lead to a sustainable future for seagrass in the Pacific will be identified as a contribution to achieving the targets of SDG14.


Getting it Right: Analysis of Biodiesel Blends in Fiji

Cluster Sub-theme: Energy Security

Project Team Leader: Dr Atul Raturi

Team Members: Prof. William Aalbersberg, Dr A Singh, Vincent Lal, Pravin Singh (DO Energy)

Funding: FJD38, 000

Duration of Project: 2 years

Overview of Project:

Bio Fuel

Bio Fuel

Most countries are keen to substitute expensive fossil fuels with renewable alternatives. This can have environmental (less greenhouse gas emissions) and socioeconomic benefits (more jobs, lower import costs, perhaps lower diesel prices).

In Fiji Cabinet has mandated introduction of biodiesel with up to 5% component of plant-derived oil combined with diesel. At the same time there are reports though that vehicles trialing such blends incur higher engine wear and mechanic costs. There are a number of “biodiesel” products:

• esterified waste cooking oil
• esterified coconut oil
• coconut oil and emulsifier catalyst

These are all mixed with diesel up to 5%. Oil sources from other plants are also being explored. It is very important then to evaluate the quality and performance of these biodiesel blends before they are introduced throughout Fiji (and the region). Currently a fleet of government vehicles are using these blends plus some environmentally-conscious consumers.

The project seeks to check the performance of biodiesel products currently in use in Fiji, especially in the automotive industry. Performance will include:

• meeting international quality standards
• engine performance
• waste emissions

How does a DFL student succeed at USP?

Cluster Sub-theme: Human Security

Team Members: Dr Theresa Koroivulaono, Rokosiga Morrison, Jane Kanas, Anare Tuitoga, Ivy Pagolu, Neelam Narayan, Kerishma Seth, Akanisi Sakuwai, Maxine Valentine, Mohammed Hussein, Sera Rokodi, Makarita Erasito, Evonne Inia, Campus Directors, ITS Net Operators, Teachers/TAs, Support Services staff

Funding: $32,582

Duration of Project: 12 months from July 2012

Open Educational Resources: a regional university’s journey

Trained USPNet operators and relevant support staff in the region

Koroivulaono, Theresa (2014) Open educational resources: a regional university’s journey. RUSC. Universities and Knowledge Society Journal, 11 (3). pp. 91-107. ISSN 1698-580X

Marine Plants of Samoa: A field guide to the marine plants of Samoan Archipelago

Book – Skelton, P. A. & G. R. South. 2014. Marine plants of Samoa: A field guide to the marine plants of the Samoan archipelago. USP Press, Suva. (available at the Book Centre and at the Library)

Field Guide to the Marine Flora and Seaweeds of Samoa, South Pacific

Cluster Sub-theme: Understanding and Maintaining the Ocean

Project Team Leader: Prof. G Robin South

Team Members: Dr Posa A Skelton

Funding: FJD10, 000

Duration of Project: 12 months from date of awarding of funds

Overview of Project:
The publication of a Field Guide to the Seaweeds and Marine Plants of Samoa is in-keeping with t a world-wide trend to provide field identification guides to marine plants, which in the past have been difficult to work with for non-experts. The consequence has been that seaweeds, which are important primary producers in coastal environments, have been neglected in surveys of coral reefs and other habitats because non-experts had difficulty in identifying the species.

Seaweeds are good indicators of environmental health and good indicators of environmental change such as climate change. Recent high quality guides to marine plants have been published for example for Kwazulu, Natal, South Africa; for French Polynesia; for the Indian River Lagoon in Florida; and Hawai’i. There is a regional guide to marine plants produced by Mark & Diane Littler. This provides much useful information but is not on a country basis and does not include any material from Samoa. In addition, there are errors in the identification and taxonomy of a number of species – these would be corrected in the Samoan Guide.

The Field Guide will be based on the formal taxonomic flora of Samoa recently published (P.A.Skelton & G.R.South. 2007. Nova Hedwigia Beiheft 132); this was the outcome of Posa Skelton’s PhD thesis (2005). The Field Guide will focus on the most abundant macroscopic of the 360 species now recorded from Samoa. Each will be illustrated in colour, accompanied by a short description using non-technical terms as far as possible.

The Firld Guide will greatly assist in the identification of the commonest of the Samoan seaweeds and marine plants (seagrasses and mangroves). It will also have relevance to nearby countries such as American Samoa, Fiji, Tonga and Wallis & Futuna, which share a large portion of the same species found in Samoa. It is estimated that the Field Guide will run to some 250 pages.


Building scientific and technical skills of humpback whale watch operators in the Kingdom of Tonga

Cluster Sub-theme: Improving Ocean Governance and Collaboration

Project Team Leader: Dr Joeli Veitayaki

Team Members: Prof. David Harrison, Dr Stephen Pratt, Dr ‘Ana Koloto, Dr Cara Miller, Cherie Morris, John Cvetko

Funding: FJD26, 000

Duration of Project: 9 months from January 2012 to September 2012

Overview of Project:
This project will provide an avenue for USP to position itself as a key technical and scientific resource for the humpback whale watch (WW) industry in the Kingdom of Tonga.

The USP Team will approach this from both an ecotourism and marine science perspective. In addition, progress will be made toward the development of a naturalist and guiding course to be offered through the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management (STHM) with collaboration and input from the School of Marine Studies (SMS)’ Research opportunities for research students at the University will also be progressed.


* Whale Watch Training Workshop held in Vava’u from April 26th to May 1st 2012
* In August Cara Miller prepared a facts and information sheet for all workshop participants based on the questions   compiled at the April workshop

* After the completion of the workshop TBEC ran a domestic TV ad promoting the completion of the course.  A youtube version of this advert is available at

Thesis: 1 MSc Thesis opportunity & proposal submission (follow-up email sent to Dr Joeli)

* Whale Watch Training Workshop held in Vava’u from April 26th to May 1st 2012
* In August Cara Miller prepared a facts and information sheet for all workshop participants based on the questions compiled at the April workshop

Thesis: 1 MSc Thesis opportunity & proposal submission (follow-up email sent to Dr Joeli)



Project title – Marine Plants of Samoa: A field guide to the marine plants of Samoan Archipelago

  • Book – Skelton, P. A. & G. R. South. 2014. Marine plants of Samoa: A field guide to the marine plants of the Samoan archipelago. USP Press, Suva. (available in the Book Centre and in the Library)

Technical Reports


Project title – Building scientific and technical skills of humpback whale watch operators in the Kingdom of Tonga

  • Algal Workshop and Sponge Workshop
  • Whale Watch Training Workshop held in Vava’u from April 26th to May 1st 2012
  • In August Cara Miller prepared a facts and information sheet for all workshop participants based on the questions compiled at the April workshop

Conference Presentations

Project title – An Assessment of Fishing Practices Project

  • Paper presentations at the 12th Pacific Science Inter-Congress