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Ecosystem Profile: Polynesia-Micronesia

Executive Summary
The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) is designed to safeguard the world's biodiversity hotspots. CEPF is a joint initiative of Conservation International, l'Agence Française de Développement, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the World Bank.

A fundamental purpose is to ensure that civil society, such as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), community groups, and private sector partners, is engaged in efforts to conserve biodiversity in the hotspots. An additional purpose is to ensure that those efforts complement existing strategies and frameworks established by national governments.

The purpose of the ecosystem profile is to provide an overview of biodiversity values, conservation targets or “outcomes” and causes of biodiversity loss coupled with an assessment of existing and planned conservation activities in the Polynesia-Micronesia Hotspot. This information is then used to identify the niche where CEPF investment can provide the greatest incremental value for conservation. The ecosystem profile recommends broad strategic funding directions that can be implemented by civil society to contribute to the conservation of biodiversity in the hotspot. Applicants propose specific projects consistent with these broad directions and criteria. The ecosystem profile does not define the specific activities that prospective implementers may propose in the region, but outlines the strategy that will guide those activities.

The Polynesia-Micronesia Hotspot includes all the islands of Micronesia, tropical Polynesia, and Fiji. Included in this enormous expanse of ocean are more than 4,500 islands, representing 11 countries, eight territories and one U.S. state (Hawaii). Despite its large marine coverage, 2.6 times larger than the continental United States, it is one of the smallest hotspots in terms of terrestrial land area, covering only 47,239 square kilometers or about the size of Switzerland. The total population of the hotspot is approximately 3,120,000 but 65 percent of the population is found in Hawaii and Fiji.

Not all countries and territories in the hotspot are eligible for CEPF funds; only countries that are World Bank members and signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity are eligible. Thus six countries and territories in the hotspot, including Nauru; the U.S. state of Hawaii; the U.S. territories of American Samoa and Guam; the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Tuvalu are ineligible. While this ecosystem profile includes data and analysis from all 20 countries and territories in the hotspot, conservation outcomes and strategic directions only refer to the 14 eligible countries and territories. However, it is hoped that this profile will be used to leverage funds to conserve threatened species and sites in countries and territories not eligible for CEPF investment.

The geographic complexity and isolated nature of Pacific islands have led to the development of extremely high levels of endemism in this hotspot. The various mechanisms of island biogeography and evolution have been able to work particularly clearly in the Pacific free of continental influences. However, the extreme vulnerability of island ecosystems and species to impacts such as habitat destruction and invasive species has resulted in the flora and fauna of this hotspot being amongst the most endangered in the world. In fact, species extinction rates in this hotspot approach the highest in the world, especially for birds and land snails.

Plant, bird, and invertebrate diversity in the hotspot are particularly high, but diversity of non-volant mammals, reptiles and amphibians is low. Overall the hotspot is home to approximately 5,330 native vascular plant species, of which 3,074 (57 percent) are endemic, 242 breeding native bird species of which approximately 164 (68 percent) are endemic, 61 native terrestrial reptiles, of which 30 (49 percent) are endemic, 15 native mammals, all bats, 11 (73 percent) of which are endemic, and three native amphibians, all endemic. Although there are no true native freshwater fish, at least 96 marine species are found as adults in freshwater and 20 species are endemic. Knowledge of invertebrate diversity is very patchy, but for many groups that have been studied, it is high. Land snail diversity is particularly high with over 750 species in Hawaii alone and perhaps 4,000 species in the insular tropical Pacific.

The major threats to Pacific biodiversity are human induced and include invasive species, habitat alteration and loss, destructive harvest techniques, and over-exploitation of natural resources. An analysis of data on the globally threatened species in the hotspot indicates that habitat loss and invasive species are the two most serious threats. The impact of extreme natural events such as cyclones, drought, and fire may also be significant at times. The future impact of climate change and sea level rise is uncertain at this stage but could be significant, especially on the low lying islands and atolls which could disappear completely. While many of the threats to native Pacific biodiversity are similar to those in other tropical regions of the world, Pacific island biotas are particularly vulnerable because the biota evolved in the absence of mammalian predators, grazing herbivores, and many of the diseases that evolved on larger land masses. Furthermore, the small size and isolated nature of Pacific islands results in increased vulnerability to disturbances that may be relatively minor on a larger land mass.

There are a number of constraints to mounting an effective response to environmental threats in most countries in the hotspot. Except in the larger, more developed states and territories, the major constraints include a paucity of technical infrastructure and expertise, a lack of current information on the state of natural resources and biodiversity, a poor understanding of environmental issues among the general population, and poor integration of environmental issues in national development planning. An analysis of current investments and strategies in the hotspot indicates that significant implementation gaps remain in a number of areas. Terrestrial conservation efforts in general and species and site conservation efforts in particular are chronically under-funded. The taxonomic groups that have been least well supported include the flying foxes, land snails, and plants. Furthermore, while a number of national and regional conservation strategies have been developed, they need significant resources for implementation.

This ecosystem profile includes a commitment and emphasis on using conservation outcomes—targets against which the success of investments can be measured—as the scientific underpinning for determining CEPF’s geographic and thematic focus for investment. Conservation outcomes can be defined at three scales – species, site, and landscape, reflecting a simplification of a complex hierarchical continuum of ecological scales. The three scales interlock geographically through the presence of species in sites and of sites in landscapes. They are also logically connected. If species are to be conserved, the sites on which they live must be protected and the landscapes or seascapes must continue to sustain the ecological services on which the sites and the species depend. Given threats to biodiversity at each of the three levels, quantifiable targets for conservation can be set in terms of extinctions avoided, sites protected and, where appropriate, biodiversity conservation corridors created or preserved. This can only be done when accurate and comprehensive data are available on the distribution of threatened species across sites. However, in the context of the archipelagic Polynesia-Micronesia Hotspot, only species and site outcomes have been defined since landscape-scale outcomes are not considered appropriate.

Species outcomes in the Polynesia-Micronesia Hotspot include all those species that are globally threatened according to the 2003 IUCN Red List, the most recent Red List at the time the outcomes were defined in the profiling process. These comprise 476 globally threatened terrestrial species in all the countries and territories of the hotspot. However, almost half (232 out of 476) of the threatened species in the hotspot are in countries and territories that are ineligible for CEPF funding. The vast majority of the species in ineligible countries (214 species and almost half of all threatened species in the hotspot) are in Hawaii alone. The remaining 244 species in CEPF eligible countries define the universe of species outcomes for this hotspot. Species outcomes have been prioritized into six classes based on three major criteria: Red List Category; Taxonomic Distinctiveness (a measure of the uniqueness of a species); and need for species-focused action (i.e. a measure of whether a species needs special attention, such as the control of invasive species or harvesting).

Based on this objective analysis, 67 species belonging to priority classes one and two were selected for CEPF investment. However, it should be noted that given limitations in data availability and quality, the prioritization is an initial attempt and may change as more accurate data become available.

Site outcomes were determined by identifying the sites in CEPF eligible countries that contain populations of at least one globally threatened species. Key data sources for this analysis included published scientific articles, the IUCN-World Conservation Union regional ecosystem survey, a number of Geographical Information Systems data layers, data from the World Database on Protected Areas, National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan reports, ecological survey data, subregional workshops and communications with many scientists and stakeholders. Data on restricted-range species and globally significant congregations were not available for this analysis.

In total, 161 sites were identified for the hotspot, each containing at least one globally threatened species. The 161 sites are too many for one fund to handle alone. Consequently, sites were prioritized based on irreplaceability (whether the site contains taxa found in no other site); and vulnerability. Due to a lack of comprehensive threat data for each site, the threat status of a species found within the site was used as a proxy for vulnerability. A total of 60 sites were identified for CEPF support.

A niche for CEPF investment has been developed based on an analysis of three major themes: species and site outcomes; major threats to endangered species; and current environmental investments together with national and regional conservation strategies. Major findings of this analysis include the following: our knowledge of the hotspot's biodiversity is patchy, incomplete and poorly managed; terrestrial species and site conservation is currently weakly supported; conventional forms of protected area management have been largely ineffective; and invasive species are the major threat to native biotas, but tackling invasive species is relatively poorly supported. Finally, while there are many existing regional and national conservation strategies, these strategies need much stronger support for implementation.

The niche of CEPF in the Polynesia-Micronesia Hotspot will be to catalyze action by civil society to counteract threats to biodiversity, especially from invasive species, in key biodiversity areas in the Polynesia-Micronesia Hotspot. The geographic focus for CEPF intervention in the hotspot will be on CEPF eligible countries only. The three primary strategic directions are:

  • prevent, control and eradicate invasive species in key biodiversity areas;
  • strengthen the conservation status and management of 60 key biodiversity areas; and
  • Build awareness and participation of local leaders and community members in the implementation of protection and recovery plans for threatened species.

A fourth strategic direction is to provide strategic leadership and effective coordination of CEPF investment through a regional implementation team and therefore complements the three primary strategic directions.A number of necessary interventions or investment priorities to achieve each strategic direction are outlined in the full ecosystem profile.

In conclusion, the species and ecosystems of the hotspot are among the most highly threatened in the world and yet terrestrial conservation activities are severely under funded and our biological knowledge of the hotspot is very incomplete and poorly managed. There are significant opportunities for CEPF to fund actions that empower the stewards of the biodiversity of the Polynesia-Micronesia Hotspot - the island communities and institutions - to have better knowledge, tools, and capacities to conserve biodiversity more effectively, especially those species and sites that are globally threatened. Since Pacific communities are still highly dependent on biological resources for survival, the achievement of biodiversity conservation outcomes is critical not only for the maintenance of essential ecosystem function, but is also essential for sustaining human livelihoods.

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