Fiji comprises an archipelago of more than 332 islands, of which 110 are permanently inhabited and the rest comprises uninhabited islands with over 500 islets. The two major islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, account for 87% of the population of almost 850,000. Fiji covers a total area of some 194,000 square kilometres of which around 10% is land.
The islands are mountainous, with peaks up to 1,300 meters, and covered with thick tropical forests. Fiji's flora and fauna are relatively few in number but higher proportions are endemic (found nowhere else in the world). Ten per cent of the 476 indigenous Fijian plant species identified are endemic. Fiji also has a few rare reptiles and birds. Archeological research has found bones of extinct crocodiles, giant tortoises and giant Fiji pigeons.
The diversity of freshwater and marine flora and fauna across the Fiji Islands is exceptional. Fiji’s marine habitat consists of estuaries, mangrove communities, sea grass beds, macroalgal assemblages, and sand and mudflats. An abundance of coral life has resulted in many reef forms: fringing, platform, patch, barrier, oceanic ribbon, and atolls (accounting for almost 4% of the world’s total reef area). Recent research has revealed presence of over 340 species of reef-building corals, more than 1200 species of reef fish (including 15 known endemics to the Fiji-Tonga region), over 475 species of mollusks, 17 species of cetaceans, and 5 species of marine turtles.
WCS’s team of Fijian staff helped Vatu-i-Ra’s KUBULAU DISTRICT to implement a network that includes 17 community managed marine protected areas plus 3 offshore no fishing areas, including the Namena Marine Reserve [www.namena.org]. Nearby, WCS helped to identify the site for a proposed priority forest reserve, supporting the government’s commitment to protect 40% of its remaining natural forest and highlighting the linkages between healthy forests and healthy reefs. With partners, we developed a comprehensive ‘ridge to reef’ management plan for Kubulau—the first of its kind for Fiji—that has been endorsed by the Kubulau Council of Chiefs, which is vested with authority to make management decisions over. WCS leverages additional support for Kubulau through conservation finance, business management, and enforcement initiatives. With partners, we have also provided training, equipment, and vessels to strengthen enforcement of the new protected area regulations. Building Fijian conservation leadership is a cornerstone of WCS’s work in Fiji.
In addition to providing scholarships to rising Fijiian scientists, WCS hosted the inaugural Fiji Islands Conservation Science Forum in 2009 and has supported the use of protected area fees to fund local scholarships. With many reef areas still intact and thriving, Fiji faces the challenge of deploying its conservation resources in a cost- and conservation-effective way. WCS’s research has helped the government and communities identify national priority reefs, forests, and ecosystem connectivity sites. Our research is contributing to Fiji’s new National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, an obligation to the Convention on Biological Diversity which lays out a road map for wildlife conservation in Fiji over the next two decades.
RIDGE-TO-REEF (ECOSYSTEM BASED MANAGEMENT)
‘RIDGE-TO-REEF’ is a holistic conservation and management approach that links conservation action across watersheds and adjacent coastal ecosystems. Wildlife depend on vital connections between land and sea, and this approach applies science-based management across the land/seascape, from forested ridges downstream to rivers and estuaries and further along to coastal mangroves, seagrass meadows, and coral reefs. Ridge to reef conservation is most successful when communities and government collaborate to develop management interventions that address key threats to wild places and wildlife of both land and sea—for healthy people and ecosystems.