Biodiversity Issues in the Pacific Islands
World-wide, the largest number of documented extinctions (28 between 1600 and 1899 and 23 this century) has occurred on islands of Oceania which now have more threatened species (110) than any other region. Dahl (1984) estimates that there are roughly 7 times more endangered bird species per capita in the South Pacific than in the Caribbean, 50 times more than South America, and a hundred times more than in North America or Africa.
The plants and animals that inhabit Pacific islands are often found nowhere else on Earth. They are often adapted to specialized habitats, and limited to only a small part of a few islands. These creatures are especially vulnerable to extinction from habitat destruction (for example by fire or deforestation), competition from introduced organisms, agricultural poisons, or harvesting.
The isolated small islands of the Pacific have fostered the evolution of myriad species of plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth. These creatures can be adapted to specialised micro-habitats, on only a limited portion of a few islands. They are especially vulnerable to extinction from habitat destruction (for example by fire or deforestation), competition from introduced organisms, agricultural poisons, or harvesting.New Caledonia, for example, has been isolated from other lands for 80 million years. Seventy six percent of the flora and fauna evolved on the island. Several plant species, unique in the world, are limited to only a small area of one mountain and are represented by only a few specimens. The rich and diverse genetic heritage is of such scientific importance that Myers, 1988, lists New Caledonia as one of the 10 hot spots in the world where the primary forest is at once exceptional and endangered. New Caledonia has the most diverse bird life in the Southwest Pacific, with 68 species. Twenty-two species of birds (32%) and thirty sub-species, are found only in the Territory.
The decline of the biodiversity of the Pacific islands began with the arrival of the first humans. Archaeological investigations discovered an even more phenomenal bird fauna existed in New Caledonia before the 18th Century, including a giant flightless bird, like the famous (and also extinct) New Zealand Moa. The extinction of these birds coincides with the arrival of the Melanesians about 900 years ago, and was likely caused by fire, slash and burn agriculture, and hunting. The arrival of European settlers towards the end of the last Century greatly accelerated the loss of biodiversity. A combination of logging, mining and natural drought conditions resulted in massive fires that destroyed a majority of the natural habitats on the southern part of the island.
This pattern was repeated throughout the Pacific. In the Marquesas, for example, the Polynesian settlers exterminated eight of twenty sea birds, including shearwaters, petrels, and boobies. Fourteen of the 16 land birds, primarily flightless rails, pigeons, doves, parrots and songbirds became extinct. On Easter Island, the early settlers denuded the entire island of trees and exterminated 22 species of sea birds and all six species of land birds. The Maori people arrived in New Zealand about 900 years ago and by the time the Europeans arrived in mass in the 1840ís, most of the countryís unique avifauna was extinct and nearly 30% of the native forests were cleared.
The European invasion of New Zealand resulted in the most extensive and complete biotransformation of any large island in the Pacific. This was a deliberate effort of "Acclimatisation Committees" to make New Zealand more like "home" and included removal of all but 20% of the native forests, filling all but 10% of the wetlands, and importation of over 3198 species of plants and animals. Australians were less successful than the New Zealanders in the biological transformation of their country, largely because of the sheer size of the landmass and the unsuitability of many areas to British plants and animals. In turn, the Australian and New Zealanders imported their favourite plants and animals into many Pacific island countries.
Endemic species can be lost in the space of a few months through the destruction of critical habitat or through the introduction of predator, insect pests and diseases. The loss of any habitat on a high island is likely to mean the extinction of species of plants or animals.
Recognition of the significance and value of biological diversity is growing within the region. In fact, the economic value of ecosystems was recently carried out in Fiji under its present Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan project. The value of Fijiís ecosystem services is about FJD1 billion per year. It goes to support the need to look after the ecosystems not only for the resources but for the services they provide to the people. (Sisto, 1998). A number of other Pacific countries such as Samoa, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands are also currently undertaking similar biodiversity strategy and action plans to support their existing protected are systems.
The economies of most PICs are still subsistence based. This means that most Pacific islanders are dependant on local biological and other natural resources for survival. Biological resources not only provide food, clothing, tools, medicines and other material products, but are also critical component of Pacific island cultures- providing the objects of myths and legends. Thus, in the Pacific islands, biodiversity conservation is much more than an economic and an ecological issue, it is also a social and cultural issue. While great strides have been made to protect biodiversity in the region in recent years, the rapid increase in the number and magnitude of threats to biodiversity highlights the need for much greater effort to be placed on biodiversity conservation in the future.
Protected areas for nature conservation have been an integral part of Pacific island countries for thousands of years. Pacific island reserves were established by taboos to prevent anyone from entering the area, with the express purpose of allowing the wildlife to recover. Taboos were placed on garden areas as well as on coral reefs and lagoons. In some instances, particular species were protected. These practices endure in rural areas of some Pacific island nations. Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji and Samoa acknowledge the value of community law in their national legislation and have recently made progress in forming partnerships between communities and national agencies for conservation.
In the 1980ís SPREPs conservation programme was modelled on the European concept of establishing National Parks owned and controlled by National governments as they are in New Caledonia, Australia and New Zealand. But its member Pacific island governments did not own very much land, and had no mechanism by which custom land could be appropriated or even purchased. Consequently, even though international funds were available to set up and manage national parks, very few were created. Previous colonial efforts at park formation had met with little practical success because people continued to use the areas for subsistence activities. The governments were unwilling to arrest and prosecute indigenous people for fishing or hunting for food. In fact, independent Pacific island governments have never prosecuted any of their citizens for violating national conservation laws or fishery laws. However, people who violate taboos set by local communities are dealt with effectively and quickly.
Following a 1992 SPREP conference on nature conservation in Nukuíalofa Tonga, where NGOs from around the Pacific were able to illuminate SPREP on some of these issues, the organisation began a different, community based approach to nature conservation. In 1993, the SPREP South Pacific Biodiversity Conservation Programme (SPBCP) began. The focus was on strengthening the knowledge and skills of the communities who own the natural resources so they can make their own plans for protecting and managing biodiversity, and develop new ways of generating income from their resources without destroying them. By the end of 1998, 17 Conservation Areas had been established in 12 countries. These projects were located in the Cook Islands, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia (2), Kiribati (2), Marshall Islands, Niue, Palau (2), Samoa (2), Solomon Islands (2), Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu (2).
Ideally, the Conservation Areas are planned, managed, and owned by local communities with government agencies and NGOs offering support as needed. This approach helps communities feel the Conservation Areas are their own decision on how best to utilise their own land. National Governments find the approach far more economical than the former National Park approach as the actual day to day management, including enforcement of rules, is done by the people themselves.
SPREP assists the local training programme by inviting members of the Conservation Area management teams to regional workshops where they can share experiences and learn conservation management tools such as monitoring and evaluation. Exchange study tours by land owners from different conservation areas help long term understanding of conservation area management.
A further 17 Community based conservation projects have been set up by other groups. New Zealand Overseas Development Assistance supports a conservation area in PNG (Maisin land, Oro province), a bird park in Tonga, and eco-tourism areas in World Heritage sites at Rennel and Marovo Lagoon in the Solomon Islands. The Nature Conservancy helped establish a Marine Conservation Area in at Kimke Bay in PNG. The United States provided support for the Crater Mt Wildlife Management Area in PNG, a Community Marine Conservation and Enterprise Development in the Solomon Islands, Community based conservation areas in Fiji and Vanuatu (in association with SPACHEE and the Bio Conservation Network). WWF assisted with the creation of marine conservation areas in PNG, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, and the Cook Islands.
The Biodiversity Conservation Network was a US$20 million, 6-year programme funded by the US Agency for International Development through the US-Asia Environmental Partnership. BCN is part of the Biodiversity Support Program, a consortium of the World Wildlife Fund/US, The nature Conservancy, and the World Resources Institute. BCN provided twenty sizable grants to organizations in seven countries to set up or maintain enterprises that are linked to biodiversity. The bulk of the projects involve harvesting or processing non-timber forest products, and eco-tourism projects. BCNís mandate includes the analysis of the effectiveness and impact of enterprise based conservation strategies. The project wound up in September 1999 leaving 20 conservation based enterprises in various stages of development.
The AusAID funded Samoan Fisheries Extension Project encouraged coastal villages to set up their own coastal resource management plans that included coral reef conservation areas. The Cook Island Fisheries Department and the Vanuatu Fisheries Extension programme both encourage the creation of community conservation areas. Custom taboo restrictions are now recognised by the Vanuatu Government as a valuable conservation tool. Some Vanuatu villages have spontaneously set up their own conservation areas, complete with village by-laws, and without outside financial assistance or economic goals.
The French and American island territories of the Pacific have established national park areas that function as they do in their parent countries. For example, in New Caledonia there is a sophisticated network of forest and marine parks that are carefully supervised and well developed for tourism purposes. They are zoned parks, with areas set aside that do not permit entry for any reason without special permit. In total, 3.3% of the land is set aside as forest parks, representing most of the remaining forest types. New Caledoniaís marine parks total 59,469 hectares. The Southern Lagoon Park system includes one section that is perpetually closed to entry of any kind except for licensed scientific investigations. The Southwest Lagoon permanently protects a large section of the barrier reef and a series of lagoon islands and reefs. Tourism is allowed in these areas but not fishing. The response of the sea life to total protection has been rewarding. Isle Canard, for example, directly off the major tourist beach area of Noumea, has a flourishing coral reef that is a popular snorkelling site. The fish have become extraordinarily abundant and divers hand feed swarms of them.
The Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific International (FSPI) and its local NGO affiliates, identified conflicts over the utilisation of natural resources as a major stumbling block for community participation in biodiversity conservation. In the Pacific islands, the problems are amplified by high levels of dependency on natural resources for both subsistence (food and fuelwood) and national wealth creation (timber, commercial agriculture, and fisheries). Land and resource ownership patterns complicate decisions on resource use, generating a wide range of conflicts. These are summarised by in Conflicts.rtf. National examples are provided in Pohnpei CA.rtf and Vanuatu CA.rtf. Participatory processes helped resolve conflicts in both these examples. Where conservation areas were reasonably free of community conflicts, they were implemented with much less difficulty. Examples are given in Samoa CA.rtf and Conservation Area Tuvalu.rtf.
A number of Conservation Areas have made progress in developing sustainable benefit-generating activities such as eco-tourism, handicrafts, agroforestry, alley-cropping, whale watching, butterfly ranching, and others. These types of activities improve the potential sustainability of the projects. SPREP assists by providing training in small business management and regional conferences on eco-tourism. However, small eco-tourism operations in the Pacific islands, have not yet been economically sustainable and none bring in the level of funding needed for long-term conservation area management.
Funding is basic to the sustainability of community based conservation areas. Wealthy countries like Australia, New Zealand, or New Caledonia can afford to create, maintain and protect National Parks. But the small Pacific island countries simply do not have the funds to support conservation areas, and SPREP has proposed a Pacific Island Regional Conservation Trust to help meet conservation costs. ESCAPís Pacific Operations Centre prepared a concept paper for the framework of the trust fund (Rosenberg 1998). The Trust will have an initial target funding level for grants of US$ 1 million, based on the current SPREP expenditures for Conservation Areas. This will require a principal of about US$ 30 million. Possible donors include GEF, UNDP, UNEP, ADB, EU, bilateral aid, private donors and foundations.
SPREPís Natural Resource Conservation Programme focuses on endangered species, like Sea Turtles and Dugongs. SPREP organised the 1995 Year of the Sea Turtle that spawned turtle conservation programmes in their member countries that are expected to run for many years. In Fiji, the Government of Fiji responded by placing a moratorium on the commercial harvesting of sea turtle and has developed a long-term strategy for the conservation of this valuable resource.
A new programme on invasive species was implemented in 1998 to eradicate or control non-indigenous species that threaten native ecosystems, habitats and species in the region. The project will review invasive species issues as they pertain to conservation values and work with the United States on methods to deal with the brown snake problem in Guam. Invasive species introduction through ballast water on ships will be addressed through SPREPís Marine Pollution Programme.
8. The SPREP Coastal Management and Planning Programme
The Coastal Management and Planning Programme is intended to assist SPREP members with the planning and managing the multiple use, ecologically sustainable development and conservation of coastal areas. The programme is based on an Integrated Coastal Management (ICM) framework loosely built on the theme of a holistic local community response. The ICM programme requires (i) extensive consultation at all levels of decision making; (ii) education and awareness; (iii) ample time to develop and mature; (iv) sanction and support from the highest levels; (v) a high degree of flexibility; (vi) development based on a specific issue; and (vii) initial compatibility with existing institutional capacity and data available (Kaluwin 1996).
The ICM project has made little headway. The project held sub-regional workshops on Coastal Reef Survey and Monitoring Techniques in Palau and in Vavaíu, Tonga. The training exercise included coral reef survey techniques as part of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network. SPREP is co-ordinator for this programme in the Pacific Region. SPREP produced a directory of agencies involved in coastal management in the Pacific islands region and a directory of institutions and educational courses available for coastal management training.
In 1997 SPREP organised the Year of the Coral Reef to heighten public awareness about coral reef problems and what people can do to help them recover. Eighteen Pacific island countries participated, each appointing a national campaign co-ordinator. SPREP assisted financially with the development of information materials, displays and videos to heighten community awareness on the biology and plight of coral reef ecosystems.
The SPREP project was part of the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), a world-wide group concerned with the global decline of coral reefs. In 1999 the Secretariat passed from Australia to France and called for a major thrust to bring the issue to the subsistence fishers who are one of many contributors to the declining vitality of coral reefs. The public awareness programme tries to mitigate abusive and unsustainable use of the coral reef by educating the public on coral reef conservation measures