In tourist literature around the world, Fiji is often painted as an island paradise: turquoise waters that meet white sand beaches, pure fresh water gushing over waterfalls into pools hidden in dense inland forests, and smiling, friendly island people without a care in the world. The reality is that Fiji faces the same challenges as every other developing country – including promoting development while conserving the environment.
Building on the success of the Sovi Basin
protected area model, CI-Fiji and its partners are working to establish an "islandscape" which includes a central corridor of protected terrestrial and marine areas, linked together by integrated watershed and resource management areas.
Although Fiji is blessed with abundant natural resources, unsustainable development and environmental management practices have led to clearing much of the country's forests for logging and agriculture conversion – practices that threaten not only forest resources, but also viability of the freshwater ecosystem that the forests protect.
CONFERENCE: 2010 World Water Week: The Water Quality Challenge – Prevention, Wise Use and Abatement
On Fiji's main island of Viti Levu, Conservation International (CI) is working closely with local stakeholders to create an "islandscape" – a pioneer model for integrating protected area management from the mountain ridges down to the coral reefs. By balancing conservation with the needs of indigenous communities, resource users, governments and corporations, the initiative is demonstrating how conservation can serve as the foundation for a developing economy.
Sovi Basin: A Model for Forest Conservation
Viti Levu is home to 70 percent of the country's population. A mountain range divides the volcanic island in half; most of the agriculture and tourism is concentrated on the dry western side, with wet forests dominating the landscape in the east.
Declining sugarcane production and a drop in tourism due to political instability has strained the country's economy in recent years. As a result, the government has had to turn to other sectors to address the shortfall, exacerbating forest destruction for logging, mining and agriculture. The Sovi Basin on the south of the island is the last remaining expanse of virgin lowland rainforest in the country – home to many rare species found nowhere else, such as the Fiji tree frog (Platymantis vitiensis) and the long-legged warbler (Trichocichla rufa).
With support from CI-Fiji and other partners, including the FIJI Water Foundation, the National Trust of Fiji, the Native Land Trust Board and the University of South Pacific, the Fiji government recently established the 20,000-hectare (almost 50,000-acre) Sovi Basin Protected Area.
DOWNLOAD: Demonstrating how healthy ecosystems benefit human well-being in Sovi Basin, Fiji (PDF - 1.23 MB)
Indigenous rights and identity play a key role in land-use issues in Fiji; 87 percent of the country's land is privately owned by indigenous groups and under Fijian law can be leased but not sold. The Sovi Basin will be protected through a 99-year lease that has been agreed with indigenous landowners and is currently being finalized with the Native Land Trust Board. The agreement financially compensates these communities to keep their forests standing and allows them to continue traditional subsistence fishing and food gathering practices. CI's Global Conservation Fund and the FIJI Water Foundation have established the Sovi Basin Trust Fund to ensure that long-term funding will be available to meet lease obligations and to manage the protected area.
LEARN MORE: Supporting Communities: People and Nature in Balance
Creating an Islandscape
Building on the success of this protected area model, CI-Fiji and its partners are working to establish an "islandscape" which includes a central corridor of protected terrestrial and marine areas, linked together by integrated watershed and resource management areas. The forests that form the core of the islandscape comprise the watershed for all the major rivers on Viti Levu, which provides fresh water for cities, towns and communities across the island.
We are currently laying the groundwork to replicate the Sovi Basin approach in the Nakauvadra mountain range on northern Viti Levu. Three districts around the Nakauvadra range are serving as pilot sites to demonstrate community-based integrated land-use planning and management that incorporates forest restoration, agroforestry, ecotourism and watershed management. So far, 14 terrestrial protected areas have been agreed upon, and a number of locally managed marine areas are being finalized.
The carbon market is emerging as a promising new incentive for governments and communities to implement forest conservation and reforestation activities. CI-Fiji is currently implementing a reforestation project in the Nakauvadra range in partnership with FIJI Water, providing short-term benefits to indigenous owners through employment and service contracts as well as long-term benefits such as restored forest ecosystems, new timber resources, carbon credits and income-generating initiatives like honey production and sheep farming.
CI-Fiji and its partners are currently conducting studies that assess the economic value of the island's ecosystem services to facilitate informed national and community-level decision-making. A healthy islandscape is crucial to maintain the climate, food and freshwater security that community livelihoods are dependent upon.