Finding Napo: conservation of Napoleon Wrasses and rare corals at Namu Atoll

Maria Berger

Rare coral reef animals are highly endangered by the present threats imposed on reefs, yet a lack of information on their distribution, abundance and population dynamics means that rare species are seldom considered in conservation planning. The Napoleon wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus, Napo) is a rare exception. It has recently been granted threatened species status due to extensive exploitation throughout its range. Yet there is still a lack of information regarding the abundance and habitat use of this important species. The vast majority of rare marine species from highly vulnerable coral reef habitats are not recognized as threatened. For example, recent coral biodiversity studies in the Republic of the Marshall Islands have identified many rare Acropora (staghorn coral) species in this isolated region. With no nearby source populations, the threatened status of these peripheral rare coral populations may be high, however this has not been established. Hence, rare coral species receive no particular management attention. In collaboration with the local government, the team aims to study the abundance, distribution and habitat preference of Napo's and Acropora corals at Namu Atoll. This project has a number of benefits. It will facilitate the conservation of the threatened and potentially threatened rare marine species; build capacity amongst local stakeholders and future marine scientists; provide strategic advice to support local government plans to develop representative marine protected areas at Namu Atoll; and promote a global approach to conservation by bringing together a team of local and international participants.