New insights into the incredible animals of Fiji’s Great Sea Reef

A healthy patch of coral reef with purple and blue corals and a school of small bright blue fish

Fiji’s Great Sea Reef, often called the GSR, is the third-largest barrier reef in the world and is known for amazing and diverse wildlife—from huge parrotfish to branching black corals. But after a series of tropical storms and under the rising concern of climate change, the health of the reef was unknown.

Scientists from WWF, Fiji, and partner organizations spent 20 days scuba diving around the reef to collect data on the wildlife and ecosystem that they’ve compiled into a new report.

The report contains both hopeful and worrying results about the health of the GSR, including how these animal families—some of the most important on the reef—are doing:


Groupers are commonly sold in restaurants and grocery stores and eaten locally, making them a very valuable family of fish. Importantly for fishers, the researchers found it likely that overall, grouper populations have slightly increased since a previous reef survey in 2004, although many fishing areas along the reef are still seeing declines. One sad example is the camouflage grouper—a species that has been banned from fishing in some parts of Fiji, with help from WWF, because its numbers are worryingly low. Where bans aren’t in place, other protective measures for the species, like requiring a higher minimum size to keep an individual fish, are being discussed to help the population return to higher numbers.


Wrasse is one of the most colorful families of fish on the reef and consists of hundreds of different species. This survey focused on just one type of wrasse, the humphead wrasse, which is endangered around the world. The Great Sea Reef researchers were on the lookout for these enormous fish (they can grow over six feet long!) but spotted just 15 over the course of the 71 survey locations, indicating that the species needs greater conservation attention.


Parrotfish are a family of herbivorous fish that like to feed on algae—keeping it from taking over coral structures. They are considered a key fisheries family for the GSR and were regularly observed by the survey team. However, their total populations are in decline, likely due to overfishing. Like the wrasse, there is a large species of parrotfish—the bumphead or green humphead parrotfish—whose rarity was particularly evident as only one was seen during the entirety of the trip. Bumpheads can live for decades, taking a long time to mature and reach their average size of five feet, making population growth challenging.


Researchers have good news to share about Fiji’s top underwater predators. Five different shark species were observed across the research trip—whitetip reef and grey reef sharks were most common followed by blacktip reef, bull, and silvertip sharks. Even though overall there weren’t many sharks spotted across the sites surveyed, overall numbers have slightly increased compared to previous surveys. Despite this positive news, healthy coral reefs need much higher shark numbers to keep the ecosystem balanced, so further conservation measures are needed to rebuild the populations of these magnificent predators.


Over three-quarters of the world’s known hard and soft coral species support more than 2,340 non-coral species around Fiji! Black corals are one of the country’s most unique species—providing important shelter to other wildlife on the reef. They’re also sometimes polished and used for jewelry. One of the most positive results from the survey was learning how healthy and widespread coral cover is, including hard corals and black corals. While climate change is these unique animals’ biggest threat worldwide, Fiji’s hard corals have recovered well from past bleaching events and cyclones. Through programs like WWF’s Coral Reef Rescue Initiative, the reef will receive needed priority conservation attention that will keep corals thriving for as long as possible.

The future of Fiji’s underwater wildlife

Management is a key component to keeping all five of these animal groups present on the Great Sea Reef. WWF works with the Fiji government and communities to implement conservation and protection measures that fit alongside the local culture. While fishing is a major part of Fijian life, communities are encouraged to add additional sources of income—such as tourism-related businesses, creating beauty supplies, and artisanal crafting—that can help take pressure off both fishers and wildlife.