Support needed for Moananui postgrads at the University of the South Pacific

Support needed for Moananui postgrads at the University of the South Pacific

We have some wonderful Marine Studies postgrad students and plastic pollution researchers from the University of the South Pacific who are looking for mentors, supervisors, and general support. Can you help?

These University of South Pacific students located in Marine Studies are looking for thesis mentors, supervisors, and/or publishing support from APPA members with shared research interests. If you are interested in connecting with any of these exceptional scientists (in your capacity as student researcher or research supervisor) to share relevant literature, methodological or analytical approaches, lab protocols, to compare data across the region, or just to talanoa about the thrills and spills of research and publication in your shared field, Trisia would be very happy to connect you.

Please contact T.Farrelly@massey.ac.nz if you can assist in any way.

Student Profiles

Halo oloketa! Introducing Sabrina Pania a current Masters student with the Marine Studies division and a ACAIR scholarship recipient. Sabrina is studying the Nutritional composition of holothuroids in Fiji and the Socioeconomic impacts of harvest bans on rural communities which will help research on production processes to maximize value on the physical and nutritional quality of bech-de-mer and also to bridge the gap between the challenges presented by harvest bans on sea cucumbers and how local fishers have addressed them.

Thesis title: Analysing nutritional composition and optimizing salt curing processing of holothuroids in Fiji and the socioeconomic impacts of harvest ban on rural communities

Expected completion date: 2023

Research aim: The overall aim is to document the salt curing processing of bech-de-mer (BDM) to optimize recovery weight and improve nutritional level of holothuroids; and to analyze the socioeconomic impacts of sea cucumber harvesting ban on Fijian rural communities

Abstract (from research proposal): The bech-de-mer (BDM) processing holds a significant value for local coastal communities in the Pacific. To maximise the value of the BD product, research on the physical quality and nutrient content is vital to provide the best approach guidelines on production processes. The final processed product, BDM is graded into low, medium, or high economic valued products according to aspects like species, appearance, abundance, colour, odour, thickness of the body walls, and market demands. This is important for the research species, with its high and medium equality and demand in the international markets. Over the past years, BDM values have dropped due to inappropriate harvesting techniques and inadequate post-harvest processing and handling. Firstly, this study will document and assess salt curing for the post-harvest chain of research species Deepwater redfish (Actinopyga echinites), Tigerfish (Bohadschia) and Lollyfish (Holothuria atra). Different salting durations will be applied for each set of samples and the BDM will be analysed according to market standards in general appearance and weight. Salt increases the weight of BDM and the different salting curing periods with high recovery weight will be recommended for post-harvest processing. Secondly, is the nutrient level analysis during processing. Tissue samples will be collected during harvesting (fresh), after second cooking, and dried end product. The level of protein, carbohydrates, total lipids, moisture, and ash will be analysed to identify stages of nutritional loss so various alternate processes can be tested to improve the nutrient level. And the final part is to conduct a socioeconomic survey via questionnaires to bridge the gap between challenges presented by the harvest ban on sea cucumbers on locals and how this can be addressed.


Namaskaram and Bula vinaka. Isabell Sami is a current Masters student in the Marine division at the University of the South Pacific. Isabell’s research is based on evaluating the population genetic structure, taxonomy and connectivity of the winged pearl oyster for Fiji and Tonga. Isabell’s research is using two different toolsets: population genomics and oceanographic dispersal simulations to understand the wild winged pearl oyster resource in Fiji and Tonga. Once complete, this work will allow fisheries scientists, Ministry of Fisheries officers, pearl farmers and other stakeholders to better manage oysters grown on farms, conserve wild oysters through sustainable harvests, develop fishery policy on exploitation and also understand where to locate future farms. ACIAR is also supporting this work through linkage with a pearl oyster livelihoods project. For coastal communities in the Pacific islands, pearl oyster culture is a substantial source of income and livelihoods. This is particularly true for communities in Fiji on Vanua Levu, Taveuni, Ra, Kadavu and other island archipelagos.

Thesis title: Population genetic structure, connectivity, and taxonomy of the Winged Pearl Oyster, Pteria penguin (Röding 1789) in Fiji and Tonga.

Research aim: The general aim is to examine genetic structure, connectivity of population and taxonomic relationships of Fijian and Tongan Pteria penguin (Röding, 1798). The natural stocks will be investigated using genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers.


BULA RE! Introducing Janice Taga a PEUMP Masters student with Marine Studies Division. Janice is studying Macroplastic impacts on the Photosynthetic Activity in Corals, which will help address knowledge gaps that can be considered for coral biological monitoring and management in the Pacific region, in particular Fiji.

Thesis title: Macroplastic Impact on Photosynthetic Activity of the Symbiotic Zooxanthellae in Corals

Expected completion date: 2022

Research aim: To investigate the impact of macroplastics on physiological and cellular responses of scleractinian corals

Abstract (from research proposal): Coral reef health is threatened by the growing problem of plastics in the environment. Plastics have identified as the most dominant pollutant-type polluting our oceans. These macroplastics (particle size of greater than 5mm in diammeter) are likely to be found entangled on branching coral colonies. Their presence on the reef significantly increases the chances of diseases and mortality in corals. The Pacific Island Countries (PICs) are surronded by large coral reef ecosystems and are depended on by the local communities for livelihood and coastal protection. However, the impact of these coral-plastic entanglements are largely unknown in the PIC. In this study, we aim to measure the impact of thick plastic bags on the health of the Indo-Pacific coral, Acropora millepora (Ehrenberg, 1834). We explored intergrated biological approaches using, in-situ field surveys and cellular diagnostics to quantify the impact of plastics on corals. Understanding these practical biological approaches can be used to make recommendations for coral reef management in Fiji.


Bula, My name is Lekima Copeland. I am currently a PhD candidate in Marine Science on a PSERI scholarship. I am studying the life-history, reproductive biology and feeding ecology of the largest endemic riverine fish in the South Pacific (Mesopristes kneri). In has several local names, but in the provinces of Serua and Namosi where my research is based it is called Makocini.

Thesis title: The Life-History, Feeding Ecology and Reproductive Biology Aspects of the Fiji Endemic Orange Spotted Therapon (Mesopristes kneri)

Expected completion date: 2024

Research aim: To determine the life-history ecology and reproductive biology of the endemic Mesopristes kneri

Abstract (from research proposal): Information on the biology and ecology of fishes is essential for resource management. However, knowledge of the biology and ecology of many of Fiji’s riverine fish is incomplete. The life-histories of Pacific Island riverine fishes, including those of Fiji are poorly understood. Most species are diadromous (migrate between marine and freshwater habitats), or have diadromous ancestors. Diadromous species are either amphidromous (tiny larvae migrate to the sea followed by a period of pelagic larval rearing) or catadromous (adults migrate from freshwater and spawn in the sea, followed by a pelagic larval phase). Diadromous fish are particularly sensitive to environmental change given their long and vulnerable migratory pathways. The pelagic larval phase of these species is also the critical life-history stage that maintains connectivity between populations in different catchments and on different islands. Across the Pacific Islands, understanding the different environmental conditions that drive the different life-histories is central to understanding the ecology of fish community structure and evolution, and for the effective management and conservation of native freshwater fish stocks. Mesopristes kneri is the largest endemic fish in the South Pacific. This study aims to elucidate the pelagic life-history, feeding ecology and reproductive biology of this poorly studied fish. The Navua River on the island of Viti Levu is earmarked for this study. We envisage carrying out monthly sampling over a 12 month period to determine important aspects of the ecology and biology of this species. The extraction of otoliths (fish ear stones), examination of stomach contents and gonads over a 12 month period will provide valuable insight on this species. Novel information gathered from this thesis study will be used for fisheries management plans.


Ni sa bula vinaka. Introducing Salanieta Kitolelei PhD student with the Marine Studies Discipline sponsored by the Pacific-European Union Partnership (PEUMP) Scholarship. Sala’s using Indigenous and Local Knowledge of fishers across Fiji to fill knowledge gaps present in the conservation/management of marine and freshwater resources.


Halo Olgeta! Introducing Joycinette Botleng, a Vanuatu Masters student with the Marine Studies division. Joyce is studying Microplastic concentration and viral identification in freshwater mussels (Batissa violacea) in five natural rivers in Fiji Islands which will help provide baseline information to inland fishery communities.

Expected completion date: 2023


Halo olketa! Introducing Melody Sandra Vanukon current master student in Marine sciences. Melody is studying the concentration of microplastics and viruses in edible oysters and growth rate of oysters in Vutia, Laucala Bay, Fiji Islands. Melody’s research will help promote the edible oyster industry in Fiji. Her research is an important aspect of food safety, not only to inform seafood industry and the general public about the potential risks but also to improve community/ women livelihoods trough aquaculture.

Thesis title: Microplastic and growth rates of edible rock oysters in Vutia, Laucala Bay, Fiji Islands

Research aim: To quantify microplastics concentration in aquaculture and wild oysters in Vutia, Laucala Bay and determine the growth rate of edible oyster for a period of 12 months. Knowledge on the rock oyster aquaculture is essential for scientists, industry, and policy-makers to promote oyster aquaculture as a sustainable business. This research will help improve community/ women’s livelihood in Fiji and will help bring in Foreign exchange through exportation of edible oysters from Fiji.


Malo Bula, Susana Vulawalu, A socio-ecological study of climate change perception and
climate change in Lau. This is to understand local perceptions of climate change and inform
climate adaptation policies to ensure local perceptions, experiences and priorities are
addressed.


Ei gude wie!!!! Introducing Jasha Dehm a current PHD student with Marine Studies discipline and ARTS Fellow via the IRD. Jasha is studying patterns of corals relative to 3D coastal hydrodynamics (currents), physiochemical water parameters and nutrients and will make projections on how coral communities will shift relative to future climate predictions. His work will make available an updated and validated coastal current model for other dispersal/predictive studies and will allow for educated planning/strategic placement of long term management practices such as tabu areas and MPAs.

Thesis title: Assessing coral assemblage distribution patterns within the Suva Urban Marine Environment in relation to drivers for change

Expected completion date: Aug 2023

Research aim: The overarching goal is to identify how coral community assemblages are spatially distributed relative to natural and anthropogenic variables. The study will include spatial analysis of physiochemical properties, essential nutrients and selected pollutants. Coastal hydrodynamic modelling using the CROCO (Coastal and Regional Ocean Community) model specially adapted to the coastal suva urban marine environemnt will allowfor understanding circulation patterns and hence ‘flow’ of the studied variables. By simulating projected climatic conditions (from the IPCC) within the model, the potential changed in ‘flow’ of the paramters will be projected and used to hypothesis changed in coral community distribution patterns.


Introducing Amelia Taukeinikoro a current Masters student with the Marine Studies division, sponsored under Pacific Scholarship for Excellence in Research and Innovation (PSERI). Amelia is studying Laundry as the main source of Microplastics along the Southern coast of Viti Levu, Fiji with Sigatoka river as the focal point of transport into the open ocean. The freshwater mussel Batissa violacea, is also analyzed to determine whether microplastics enter the food chain. This study will hopefully help policy makers realize the state of the wastewater treatment facilities along the southern coast of Viti Levu and try to make the necessary policies to efficiently dispose greywater discharges from the different communities especially along the Sigatoka river. It will also help the communities realize how their actions are unknowingly affecting the one main source of protein which in turn may affect their health.

Thesis title: Is laundry the main source of microplastics in rural areas of the southern coast of Viti Levu, Fiji?

Expected completion date: December 2023

Research aim: To investigate whether laundry is the main source of microplastics in rural coastal waters in Cuvu, Fiji?


Rufino Varea – PhD Marine Science

Thesis title: Applying biomarkers for monitoring the effects of pollution in the marine environment in Viti Levu, Fiji.

Expected completion date: June 2023

Research aim: The aim of this research is to identify sentinel species as indicators of pollution in estuarine and coral reef ecosystems that are reliable responders to a collection of biomarkers, as early warning signs of ecosystem degradation, for the purpose of monitoring the effects of pollution in Pacific Island Countries.

Abstract (from research proposal): Pacific Island Countries (PICs) are under constant threat of marine pollution associated with growing population and economic development. Food security and the reliance of PICs on their surrounding ocean resources are of crucial importance. The issue of food security and resource allocation has drawn special focus by regional governments and NGOs in PICs in recent years. Biological monitoring using marine species as early warning signals of pollution effects in the marine environment has been widely used. In different government legislations and regional frameworks, the inclusion of biomarker responses shows the importance of considering biological effects in environmental monitoring. However, in PICs, biological monitoring is still not recognised or incorporated for pollution monitoring purposes. More mainstream techniques such as chemistry-based surveillance in sediments, waters and marine species are still being employed. However, such methods do not indicate the associated biological effects of pollution exposure in marine organisms. Thus, the application of biological monitoring is of utmost importance in PICs that are heavily reliant on the ocean for food source, income, trade, recreational activity, and tourism. Hence, this research aims to validate the use of selected biomarkers assessed in marine organisms (vertebrate and invertebrate) in two different ecological systems (coral reef lagoon and estuaries). The research will also consider natural occurrences of the selected species, and the response to pollution effects in two seasons (dry and wet) to help identify the appropriate and most reliable bioindicator species for biological monitoring purposes.


Kelly T Brown – PhD Marine Science

Thesis title: Assessment of sandfish (Holothuria scabra) population genetic structure and connectivity for fishery management in the South Pacific region.

Expected completion date: 2024

Research aim: The overall goal of this research will be to investigate the stock structure, connectivity, local adaptation and taxonomic identity of H. scabra, to inform fishery management policy and sustainable aquaculture and restocking efforts.


Renee Hill-Lewenilovo – Masters student

Thesis title: Life history characteristics of coral reef species Naso lituratus (Forster, 1801)

Research aim: The aim of this research is to determine the maximum size N. lituratus can reach as well as the age and length the species reaches at maturity using the jungle histology analysis method. The research will also use ecotoxicology to assess the level of polycyclic hydrocarbon metabolites and biomarkers. The results will be used to compare the size capture limits of Acanthurids in the Fisheries Act and assist in policy making.


Komal Prianka – MSc student

Thesis title: Investigating the fundamental nutritional requirements of the Orange-Spotted Therapon (Mesopristes kneri): establishing the aquaculture potential of a novel fish species

Research aim: To establish baseline nutritional requirements for Orange Spotted Therapon and assess the fish’s aquaculture potential through “in-situ” feeding experiments

Abstract (from research proposal): Orange Spotted Therapon fish is native to Fiji and lives in fresh, brackish and marine environment. The therapon is yet to be domesticated in Fiji and this research will determine baseline nutrient requirements for this fish, formulate feeds and determine the optimum salinity range for its growth performance. There is little to no information available on this fish species, as it is an endemic species to Fiji only and has not been studied in much details previously. This research project will derive new information on the species, leading more detailed further research. The research which is to be conducted in this project is feeding of commercially available formulated feeds for other fish species to therapon to determine its dietary requirements. Measurements to be taken would be weight gains, growth rates, time taken to eat the food, feed acceptability and water quality control. Fishes will also be exposed to different salinities in order to determine ideal conditions for its farming conditions. If the study has positive outcomes, then a new culture species of fish for Fiji will be identified and this could potentially replace introduced species such as tilapia or at least provide an alternative species for fish farmers.


Alex Kwaoga – MSc student

Thesis title: Characterisation of marine debris and heavy metals bounds to microplastics in Laucala Bay, Fiji.

Expected completion date: 2023

Research aim: To characterise marine debris at Luacala Bay and evaluate the concentration of heavy metals bound to microplastics marine litter

Abstract (from research proposal): Plastic-based marine debris is the most populated debris commonly found in the marine environment. More recently, microplastics (5 mm or less in size) have been classified as an emerging plastic-based pollutant easily bio-accumulated in marine water organisms. It also becomes part of the food chain and could contribute to human health implications. This study will investigate the types of plastic-based marine debris present in the surface water and sediments of the Laucala Bay Suva, Fiji. The plastic-based debris collected in this study will be identified and catalogued, and separation of microplastics will be done to investigate the heavy metals such as; mercury, cadmium, chromium, lead, zinc, and mercury using cold-vapor atomic adsorption spectrometry (CV AAS). There were scientific evidences that the heavy metals adsorbed onto microplastics provide a pathway for the bioaccumulation of these heavy metals in marine organisms. Firstly, the study will produce noble data on the characterisation of marine debris at Laucala Bay. It will also provide insights into where concerted mitigation efforts are needed to curb marine debris and protect the ocean system from plastic based pollution. This research will provide data on the type and concentration of heavy metals found in microplastics in Laucala Bay Lagoon. In addition, it will also address whether or not the observed concentration of heavy metals in microplastics could pose any significant transmission route for bioaccumulation in marine organisms. This study will address the knowledge gap in the area of heavy metals bounded on microplastics and could serve as the basis for baseline data for the Pacific island countries and is very timely as it addresses the SDGs 6, 13, 14, and 15, in particular, goal 14.1 and is aligned to the Commonwealth Blue Charter.


Sera Lewanuya – MA student

Thesis title: Analysing nutritional composition and optimizing salt curing processing of holothuroids in Fiji and the socioeconomic impacts of harvest ban on rural communities

Expected completion date: 2023

Research aim: The overall aim is to document the salt curing processing of bech-de-mer (BDM) to optimize recovery weight and improve nutritional level of holothuroids; and to analyze the socioeconomic impacts of sea cucumber harvesting ban on Fijian rural communities.

Abstract (from research proposal): The bech-de-mer (BDM) processing holds a significant value for local coastal communities in the Pacific. To maximise the value of the BD product, research on the physical quality and nutrient content is vital to provide the best approach guidelines on production processes. The final processed product, BDM is graded into low, medium, or high economic valued products according to aspects like species, appearance, abundance, colour, odour, thickness of the body walls, and market demands. This is important for the research species, with its high and medium equality and demand in the international markets. Over the past years, BDM values have dropped due to inappropriate harvesting techniques and inadequate post-harvest processing and handling. Firstly, this study will document and assess salt curing for the post-harvest chain of research species Deepwater redfish (Actinopyga echinites), Tigerfish (Bohadschia) and Lollyfish (Holothuria atra). Different salting durations will be applied for each set of samples and the BDM will be analysed according to market standards in general appearance and weight. Salt increases the weight of BDM and the different salting curing periods with high recovery weight will be recommended for post-harvest processing. Secondly, is the nutrient level analysis during processing. Tissue samples will be collected during harvesting (fresh), after second cooking, and dried end product. The level of protein, carbohydrates, total lipids, moisture, and ash will be analysed to identify stages of nutritional loss so various alternate processes can be tested to improve the nutrient level. And the final part is to conduct a socioeconomic survey via questionnaires to bridge the gap between challenges presented by the harvest ban on sea cucumbers on locals and how this can be addressed.