A MARINE park in Waitabu, Taveuni, has recorded a significant increase in fish and marine species.
The development comes after the communities of Waitabu, Lavena, Wai, Vurevure and Bouma expressed interest in finding out how the new, seven-month-old tabu tara area directly outside their villages was affecting fish numbers and coral growth.
A group of dedicated marine lovers came together to take part in their annual marine survey.
Host and Island Spirit director Kirsty Barnby said more marine species were sighted compared to last year's survey.
For beche-de-mer (sea cucumber), she said a healthy increase from 107 to 176 were recorded in the tabu tara area this year.
"Baby beche-de-mer are breeding in the tabu tara area and as a result, juveniles are being seen in the tabu tara for the first time — 156 were recorded in the tabu tara area," Ms Barnby said.
For the first time, she said levels of coral have increased and seaweed levels were decreasing in the tabu tara area.
"Due to the increase in coral, 300 ika loa lailai (small surgeon fish) were noted in the tabu tara.
"They feed on seaweed which in turn aids coral growth," Ms Barnby said.
She said the bula (crown of thorns) count in the area more than doubled since last year with a total of 91 recorded there, four of these were in the tabu tara.
"Vivili have continued breeding towards the shore — 39 were recorded in the tabu area and two in the tabu tara.
"Since the introduction of the tabu tara just seven months ago, there has been a fivefold increase in the living coral count in the area.
"It is the first time ever that the levels of the coral have increased," she said.
In total, she said 75 vasua (giant clams) were counted this year, the largest being 80cm in size.
She said small giant clams were being spotted in the tabu tara for the first time.
"The tabu is restocking the tabu tara area.
"The spill-over effect from tabu to tabu tara is evident from this research.
"Fish sizes and counts are expected to increase in the coming months," she said.
Waitabu Marine Park has long since been a pioneering example of a successful managed Marine Protected Area (MPA).
The communities of Waitabu and Bouma came together to protect their native fishing grounds back in 1998.
Their foresight and diligence allows visitors the opportunity to share in the beauty of the Waitabu Marine Park.