Fiji fish arrive in New York – guest post from Amy McDermott

amyFollowing our fish collecting expedition to Fiji in July with Dr Josh Drew here’s a catch up on what’s happened to the fish, in a guest post from Amy McDermott. Amy’s about to start her masters at Columbia University but for now Josh is putting her to work in the lab.

It’s a gray afternoon in Manhattan. A light rain has begun to fall, settling gently over the city. Bundled up in my softest sweater, I sip my coffee and remember warmer days, far from here.

Last month, I was half a world away from this metropolis, conducting fieldwork in Fiji with Dr. Josh Drew, Dr. Helen Scales, and a team of fellow students from our lab at Columbia University. We are broadly interested in the conservation of coral reef fishes and undertook the expedition to characterize fish biodiversity in a newly designated marine protected area (MPA). Through surveys and collections, we worked to quantify diversity in the MPA now, providing information to local managers and creating a baseline to track future changes.

butterfly

In-country, the work entailed an initial period of bureaucracy to obtain necessary permits from the Fijian government. After the legalities were sorted out, we collected fish specimens from a diversity of reef habitats within the new MPA and its surroundings.

Each evening, the team met in the gathering dusk, as fruit bats the size of hawks began their nightly hunt. By the light of our headlamps, we identified the specimens collected each day, took gill tissue for genetic analysis, and then preserved each fish in formaldehyde for shipment back to the US. All told, we took 217 specimens from Fiji, comprising 108 species.

nighttwo wrasse

Now that we’re back in New York (sad to be sans Dr. Scales), the team has been working to catalogue all 217 specimens in the holdings of The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). The museum has one of the world’s largest ichthyological collections, which serves as a database of biodiversity to researchers globally.

fishies in jar

Deep underground in the museum’s ichthyology lab, the Fijian specimens have been sorted by species and collection locale. There they sit, labeled in large glass jars- the newest additions to The AMNH Vertebrate Zoology Collections, preserved for extant and future researchers interested in the fishes of Fiji.

fishies on plate

Photos by Amy McDermott

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