Ecosystem Profile: Polynesia-Micronesia

Synopsis of Current Investments
This section outlines the current major investments and participants in biodiversity conservation in the hotspot and describes their strategic priorities and accomplishments. The synopsis of current investments is based on information from the following major sources:

Overall investments within the region occur at two scales:

  1. Regional-level investments are programs and projects executed by a regional or international organization and covering a number of countries in the region.
  2. Country-level assistance denotes those projects executed within countries either by government agencies or local NGOs. Funds for these projects are received directly by the executing agency in country.

Across the hotspot, the majority of the bilateral and regional investments include institutional strengthening, climate change and adaptation, energy, infrastructural development, natural resource management, especially fisheries management, and biodiversity conservation. For example, the MacArthur Foundation has made several investments promoting community-based marine management in the South Pacific region, establishing the University of the South Pacific as the focal point for the locally managed marine area network.

The Australian government’s Regional Natural Heritage Program (RNHP) recently supported CEPF in rolling out a series of pilot projects to prevent, control, and eradicate invasive species in key biodiversity areas in the hotspot. Titled Local Action, Local Results: CEPF Invasive Alien Species Program for the Key Biodiversity Sites of the Polynesia & Micronesia Hotspot, Pacific Island Nations, this initiative supported a series of complementary research and demonstration projects that were guided by technical advice from the Pacific Invasives Initiative.

These projects in eight countries addressed conservation outcomes in seven key biodiversity areas and 10 globally threatened species. Rat eradications were successfully conducted on two islands and detailed plans to perform eradications and control programs were prepared for another eight islands. Community engagement and support for this program were significant and the awareness of the threat of invasive species in the region was improved significantly, including rats, myna birds, yellow crazy ants and red fire ants, invasive mosquitoes, rabbits, and invasive weeds such as Merremia peltata.

At the national scale the data accrued are incomplete, especially for some of the smaller political units, for which few data were available. The threat of climate change and its significant local impacts lead the GEF to support the Kiribati Adaptation Program as well as a series of national capacity needs self-assessments.

Given the dispersion of such information, developing and maintaining an up-to-date register of regional and national investments will be a role of the regional implementation team in conjunction with organizations such as Pacific Islands Roundtable Inventory of Conservation Action.

Analysis of Current Investments
Due to the gaps in available information, it is not possible to analyze comprehensively the geographic spread of investments and activity in biological conservation or to make a thorough assessment of the dollar value of investments made in various areas of biodiversity conservation.

In terms of the geographic spread of investments, Fiji has the largest number of biodiversity conservation projects in the hotspot (excluding Hawaii). This should not be surprising considering Fiji is the biggest and most developed independent hotspot country eligible for CEPF funds. Very few biodiversity conservation activities are occurring in the smaller pacific island counties such as Niue, Tokelau, and Tuvalu.

In terms of the thematic spread of funding, the following thematic areas are where funding has been focused:

  1. Resource management – a focus on forests, non-forest products and fisheries resources;
  2. Ecosystem conservation – a focus on coral reefs, marine and coastal areas including mangroves and wetlands;
  3. Species research and conservation – a focus on threatened bird, whale and turtle conservation;
  4. Invasive species – invasive species management projects in Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Palau, Samoa, Tokelau and Tonga; and
  5. Biodiversity conservation planning – NBSAPs in most countries and ecoregional planning in two.

As stated in the ADB (2003) Regional Environmental Strategy, “it is clear that little progress will be made if biodiversity conservation continues to be viewed as an “environmental” issue. Conservation efforts must help to reduce poverty, enhance food security and provide obvious links between the establishment of sustainable livelihoods and the protection of species and ecosystems. This is fundamental to the mainstreaming of environmental considerations—including conservation—at the national and regional levels.” This is a critical point to consider in CEPF’s investment.

Resource Management
Sustainable resource management is the biggest single component of environmental assistance in the Pacific region, including the management of agricultural, marine, forest and other natural resources (ADB 2003). The community-based approach pioneered by the South Pacific Biodiversity Conservation Program (SPBCP) continues to be the preferred approach in the way area and resource management interventions are made. Engaging the local communities from the outset and paying due respect to the culture, traditions and tenure has been underscored by the projects funded by the RNHP funds.

The major areas of assistance are in sustainable forest management and coastal fisheries and marine resource management. Large forest resource management projects have been funded at the regional level by GEF, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) and by AusAID and in Fiji, by USAID.

In terms of marine and coastal resource management, one of the most significant regional programs is the Strategic Action Plan for International Waters and the Pacific Islands Oceanic Fisheries Management Project. These GEF-funded programs actively engage local communities as partners in managing coastal resources and watershed areas.

Ecosystem Conservation
There is little emphasis in establishing strict “protected areas” such as parks and reserves in most countries in the hotspot. New additions to the region’s protected area network are mainly through community-based conservation areas promoting conservation through sustainable resource use. CBCAs have had some success in curbing the over-harvest of resources in many islands and this trend is set to continue based on recent successful experiences in several places. However, seriously threatened endemic species and ecosystems demanding strict protection may not always be adequately protected in the CBCAs.

Terrestrial ecosystem conservation is not well supported at a regional level in the hotspot, and few initiatives exist to protect terrestrial areas of regional or global significance. One exception is the Sovi Basin Nature Reserve and endowment fund in Fiji. The Global Conservation Fund has supported the establishment of the Nature Reserve and the development of a village trust fund for the management of the reserve and to support village development efforts.

The only regional terrestrial conservation program to speak of, aside from ad hoc support for ex-SPBCP projects came under the recent RNHP program through CEPF. However, there is continuing interest and funding for coastal ecosystems and coral reef conservation in many parts of the hotspot as evidenced by the French-funded Coral Reef Initiative for the South Pacific (CRISP), the Moore Foundation-funded Marine Managed Areas Science program, and support from CI’s Global Conservation Fund for creation of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area in Kiribati.

On 18 August 2006, the World Heritage Centre approved the Phoenix Islands inclusion on Kiribati’s Tentative List during the Cabinet meeting (No. 37/2006). This was largely the result of efforts by the Kiribati Ministry of Environment and Social Development with support provided by Conservation International and the New England Aquarium.

Of the 14 countries in the Polynesia-Micronesia Hotspot eligible for CEPF grants, only Fiji has a specific indicative allocation under the GEF’s new Resource Allocation Framework. The amount tentatively indicated for Fiji is $5.1 million over the next four years. All the other small Pacific island states are part of the “group allocation” of $146.8 million, which will be divided among 93 countries not receiving a specific amount. While none of these allocations is guaranteed, they all will be made to governments, and the prospect of funds reaching civil society organizations is small. The average amount available to countries in the group allocation is about $1.6 million through phase four of the GEF. While CEPF investments will need to be closely coordinated with the specific decisions about spending GEF funds in this region, the potential overlap is small.

Species Research and Conservation
There are relatively few terrestrial species research and conservation efforts in the hotspot. Furthermore, current efforts focus on birds with few initiatives targeting the conservation of other highly threatened groups especially flying foxes, land snails and plants. In addition, much of the terrestrial species conservation effort is being conducted in only two countries- Fiji and French Polynesia, with relatively little species conservation work occurring in the smaller countries, especially the atoll states. A similar geographic focus exists with respect to research into species populations, distribution, threats and conservation requirements.

In Fiji, WCS has coordinated a number of research and conservation projects on some of the more threatened endemic species, such as the crested iguana, giant long horn beetles and landsnails. Much of the research is being conducted with the assistance of University of the South Pacific students. In French Polynesia, a number of biotic surveys and biogeographical studies have been conducted in recent years, much of it coordinated by the Délégation à la Recherche (the research division of the Environment Ministry) in collaboration with a number of partners. Examples of recent plant research include the preparation of the Flora of French Polynesia (Florence, 1997), the Vascular Flora of the Marquesas, studies into the impact of Miconia calvescens and other invasive plants on native flora (e.g., Meyer and Florence, 1996), scientific expeditions to assess the terrestrial biodiversity of the Austral Islands, botanical field-trips in the Society Islands and conservation plans for protected plants. Most of the research remains unpublished (Meyer, pers.comm, 2004). At the current time, the Délégation is working on a revised list of threatened plants in French Polynesia, the exact location of their populations, and current threats. Other taxonomic groups well studied in French Polynesia include the freshwater fish and crustacea (Keith, P. et al 2002), land snails (Cowie et al and Coote et al) and terrestrial arthropods (Gillespie, R.G. et al).

A conservation program is being developed by the Zoological Society of London with local partners on the highly threatened land snail fauna of French Polynesia, but no major land snail conservation programs have been conducted anywhere else. Plant conservation initiatives show a similar pattern. There is a regional AusAID funded project on the conservation of forest genetic resources, but this only targets species of high timber value and not other plant species or native ecosystems in the hotspot region.

BirdLife International’s Pacific IBA program is a key regional bird conservation program. The project aims to build NGO capacity, perform research and initiate community based conservation action through their well-established IBA process. The program is based in Fiji and has funds for work in Fiji, Palau, New Caledonia and French Polynesia from 2003 to 2007. There are a number of small bird conservation projects being coordinated in Fiji (by WCS and others) in French Polynesia (mostly by SOP-Manu) and in Samoa (coordinated by the Ministry of Environment with support from CI and funding from RNHP). The bulk of these projects target conservation, translocation and habitat restoration (such as control of invasives) of critically endangered bird species especially monarch, pigeon and ground dove species.

A number of regional and national species conservation projects target marine mammals and turtle species with the result that terrestrial species conservation efforts in general, and flying fox, plant and land snail conservation in particular, represent a significant funding gap.

Invasive Species
Invasive alien species are well documented to be one of the major threats to biodiversity in the hotspot. While a number of global and regional initiatives conduct research on invasive species, disseminate knowledge and skills on invasives and develop new techniques for invasives control, relatively few projects currently underway for actively eradicating or controlling invasive species in the hotspot. Rat control projects have begun on a number of islands with important bird populations, especially in the Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Tonga and Samoa. Brown tree snake control, eradication and prevention projects in Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas are being coordinated by the U.S. Forest Service. Some research into the impact of other predators, such as the impact of the mongoose and cane toad in outer Fiji islands, is underway. With regard to the control of plant invaders, very few projects exist other than an ongoing program on a number of islands in French Polynesia targeting Miconia calvascens and a few small weed control projects in Samoa, Fiji, FSM, and elsewhere.

SPREP is executing a regional invasive species program titled Pacific Invasive Learning Network (PILN) that focuses on conducting training workshops in different sub regions along with pilot projects such as offshore island weed and rat eradication in Samoa and testing of mynah control and eradication techniques. The project aims to build Pacific Island country and territory capacity to control, prevent and eradicate priority invasive species through strengthening national legal and institutional frameworks to prevent the arrival of new invasive species and through improving individual and collective understanding, skills and organization. The project will also undertake some customized island restoration activities. However, given the scale of the threat posed by invasive species, the fact that the GEF project requires co-financing for project implementation and that it will not include the French Territories, Pitcairn Islands, Tokelau and Easter Island, there is still significant scope for CEPF investment in this area.

An important new initiative relating to invasive species is the pilot Pacific Invasives Learning Network (PILN). This initiative aims to empower more effective invasive species management through a participatory driven network of conservation area managers. PILN, which held the inaugural meeting in Palau in May 2006 has created a network to foster the development of innovative and adaptive approaches to invasive species, help prevent, detect and respond rapidly to invasives and serves as a learning vehicle and peer review of practitioner’s work. The network is a partnership venture with TNC taking the operational lead, but with SPREP, the Pacific Invasive Initiative, and the Invasive Species Specialist Group of IUCN as partners.

Biodiversity Conservation Planning
Many countries in the hotspot have undertaken national biodiversity strategies and actions and are in the midst of implementing add-on projects emanating from these plans. These have been driven by obligations under the CBD and supported by funding received through the GEF. Most of these planning documents are general in nature and are strategic only within the context of national priorities. Funding received through existing sources may well contribute to the protection of species and areas of national significance but may not necessarily contribute to regional or international conservation priorities. However, TNC’s pilot ecoregional planning project in FSM (and another underway in Palau) should contribute significantly to conservation planning for terrestrial biodiversity in Micronesia. SPREP has also formulated with its member countries regional strategies for invasive species and birds but need funding to implement priority actions.

Pacific Biological Survey
A major constraint to biodiversity conservation planning at all levels is the lack of up-to-date information on the status of the region’s biodiversity. NZAID has contributed to the development of the Cook Islands biodiversity database and Samoa has developed a similar database and undertaken an ecosystem mapping exercise including the identification of priorities for conservation. However, few countries in the region have thorough biodiversity inventories or databases and even fewer have current data on the conservation status of threatened species. Furthermore, data that does exist is scattered widely in museum collections, in the scientific literature and elsewhere, making it difficult to access and use.

Recognizing the lack of up-to-date information on the region’s biodiversity and difficulties in accessing it has led to the development of the Pacific Biological Survey by the Pacific Science Association. The Survey will include regional biological inventories and taxonomic capacity building (Allison pers.comm. 2003). The survey will be modeled on the highly successful Hawaii Biological Survey and will involve developing comprehensive web accessible bibliographic databases, comprehensive species checklists, development of species databases and improved interconnection among them, along with the use of literature and specimen databases to identify research and survey priorities. Survey data will be linked with U.S. National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII)/Pacific Basin Information Node (PBIN). PBIN will seek to integrate data for the region and to make data available to a wide range of users over the internet (Allison, 2003). PABITRA will provide the ecosystem framework for the Pacific Biological Survey (Mueller-Dombois, pers. comm., 2004) while the Bishop Museum will be the executing agency (Eldredge, pers.comm, 2004).

GEF Small Grants Program for the Pacific
The GEF Small Grants Program (SGP) for the Pacific follows on from the successful implementation of SGPs in other regions. The Pacific program has established programs in Fiji, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, and Samoa. The SGP awards grants of up to $50,000 to NGOs and community-based organizations to deliver global environmental benefits in the areas of biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation, protection of international waters, prevention of land degradation (primarily desertification and deforestation), and elimination of persistent organic pollutants through community-based approaches.

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