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USP embarks on project to restore biodiversity

Tuesday 22 November, 2005

USP embarks on project to restore and protect native biodiversity

The Department of Biology at the University of the South Pacific has embarked on a project to restore and protect the native biodiversity on the island of Viwa in the Fiji group, and enhance the sustainability of its people.

The Viwa Restoration Project was launched recently and is the first time such a project will be carried out in Fiji.

Project co-ordinator and Lecturer in Conservation Biology Dr Craig Morley said plans are in place to eradicate several invasive species such as Pacific rats, feral cats and feral dogs, and later cane toads to help protect the endangered Fijian ground frog which is found on only four mongoose-free islands in Fiji (and a small population recently rediscovered on Vanua Levu).

“There is ample evidence that on other islands Pacific rats have contributed to the decline and extinction of a range of many species,’’ said Dr Morley.

“After the completion of Phase One, we will also aim to eradicate cane toads which are extremely abundant on Viwa. Cane toads compete with Fijian ground frogs for food, as well as preying upon juveniles and adults,’’ said Dr Morley.

“The accessibility of Viwa Island to the Capital City of Suva where USP is located, coupled with the island’s easy terrain and small size (60ha), makes it an ideal site for achieving awareness-raising, community education and research objectives. Viwa also has the potential to become an important eco-tourism destination where people can view several rare endangered species, such as the Fijian ground frog, the banded iguana and ground birds.’’

According to Dr Morley, the island could also be established as Fiji’s first community-based terrestrial wildlife sanctuary. This project will also have numerous socio-economic benefits for the people of Viwa by providing employment, improving the water supply, and improving health standards. The first phase which involves removing a suite of mammalian pests (rats, feral cats and feral dogs), prior to the cane toad eradication (Phase Two) is seen as critical in developing the appropriate infrastructure and capacity for the final cane toad eradication. The mammal eradication operations will help demonstrate eradication techniques to the villagers and will assist in determining whether we can sustain a longer eradication project around day-to-day village life. It will also remove any potential interference of rats, cats and dogs from the cane toad eradication.

“With careful planning, the mammalian eradications are not expected to present major difficulties and can be achieved for relatively little cost (using bait stations, hand broadcasting and traps). An experimental approach will be taken to the eradication of cane toads with progress carefully monitored as the operation proceeds. This will allow for techniques to be adapted and refined as the project proceeds.’’

USP Student Joape Kuruyawa will be the full-time manager of the programme on the island. Joape was the winner of the BP Conservation Gold Award in 2003 for his teams work on the ground frogs on Gau, Taveuni, Ovalau and Viwa.

Dr Morley added that the 104 people who live on the island are extremely interested in being involved and restoring the island. He pointed out that Viwa Island was of historical significance as well as this was the first place where the Bible was translated to Fijian and printed and is also the British commemorative memorial to Rev. John Hunt.

According to Dr Morley the several outcomes of the project include the recovery of the Fijian ground frog population; recovery of other reptile, bird, invertebrate and plant species and the removal of rats from the island is likely to result in a proliferation of forest species, some of which are rare on the mainland (rats affect recruitment of many plants, especially those with large fruits and woody seeds).

As for the socio-economic outcomes, Dr Morley said the positive outcome of this project will help provide employment to the people of the island; improve the water supply and disposal; improve health standards (reduced risk of by the Cooperative Islands Initiative based out of Auckland University in New Zealand and the Department of Conservation in New Zealand.

The Viwa Project is part of a larger programme, leptospirosis); improve agricultural output (harvest surplus); create ecotourism opportunities and increase exposure and pride in the village.

The island would also become suitable for the reintroduction of rare birds, invertebrates and reptiles and has potential to act as an open sanctuary for conservation education and threatened species recovery.

This project has been funded through the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund (CEPF and the Australian Regional Natural Heritage Programme (RNHP). The New Zealand International Aid & Development Agency (NZAID) has supported the initiation and development of the Viwa project. Technical and logistical assistance has been provided the Pacific Invasives Initiative. The programme's objective is to reduce negative impacts of invasive species by effectively managing them primarily at selected demonstration projects in Pacific Islands Countries and Territories. It focuses on raising awareness of invasive species and their negative impacts on biodiversity and people's livelihoods and developing capacity to effectively manage them. The goal is to conserve island biodiversity and enhance people's livelihoods in the Pacific.

ENDS

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