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The need for preservation

GERALDINE PANAPASA
Sunday, May 04, 2008

Many a time we hear about the need to preserve our endangered species and still there are many other times when this idea slips out of our minds. Suddenly, the same need for preservation pops up again either in the form of school assignments where students are asked to write essays on the environment or media reports about some-one doing something good or bad for the environment. Recently, a lot of environmental issues have been highlighted to create more awareness on the importance of preserving our environment whether on land or at sea.

There were issues of over-fishing, global warming and even excessive rubbish. People are suddenly becoming more aware of the need to keep our environment clean and safe. Over the years, environmental organisations have come out strong with their messages of conservation and the protection of our natural habitat. One of them is non-government organisation NatureFiji-MareqetiViti which began on June 30, 2007. As new as they sound, this NGO has been working on four different environmental projects including endangered species of Fiji, endangered Fiji sago palm recovery, Fiji petrel recovery, safeguarding Fiji's priority sites through the development of a model site support group. However the organisation is also working on the establishment of the endangered Navua palm in the Garrick Reserve. First off, NatureFiji-MareqetiViti is an arm of the Fiji Nature Conservation Trust which is a non profit, non government, non political and charitable Trust registered in Fiji under the Charitable Trust Act (Cap 67).

A new development in terms of endangered species is the launch of the organisation's Endangered Species of Fiji website on April 25 this year. The aim of the website is to provide information to the public on 50 of Fiji's endangered species.

Conservation Officer for the organisation Nunia Thomas said the aim was to provide this information particularly for high school students, tertiary level students and teachers. She said this was done in the hope the keen interest in students and teachers would lead to more support for conservation of these species. She said funding from the British High Commission was secured in October last year.

"Work on the website began proper in December last year after funds were secured from the British High Commission. This was done so that students and teachers interest will lead them to support the conservation and much needed research on our very own diverse yet threatened flora and fauna. We particularly hope that some will become so enthused with our wonderful wildlife that they will pursue careers in research and conservation.

"The main highlights of the website would be the maps, the ecology of the species, some of the known and potential threats to their survival, the cultural significance and significant information on the species. We have included the cultural significance because these plants and animals are an important part in our culture in being a totem plant or animal.

Much of this information was extracted from the Domodomo journals. We also highlighted some legends in relation to plant or animal. We hope that many people will be able to identify some of the plants and animals we have put up and give us their Fijian name"

Ms Thomas said for most students in Fiji, it is easier to obtain information on Australian or New Zealand's endangered wildlife than our own. She said everyone was responsible for the conservation of our endemic and endangered species.

Ms Thomas pointed out there were a lot of gaps in the knowledge of endangered species which was highlighted in the website. However, she said the challenge was on students, teachers and the general public to find out more about all the other endangered wildlife in Fiji.

"We can only conserve our endangered species if we are provided with the information that will help us do it. It is our endemic and endangered species whose conservation we are exclusively responsible for and no other country can do this for us. We would like to challenge the students and teachers to find out more about all our other endangered wildlife and to take measures to ensure they do not become extinct. We hope they will gain the technical training and expertise to conserve our unique natural heritage through research and conservation management.

"We are very grateful for the support received from the British High Commission. They provided funding which really made this project become a reality. However, research is still ongoing into other endangered species in Fiji. The University of the South Pacific is the best authority on this at the moment with their research and capacity building program. NatureFiji-MareqetiViti is striving to work with USP, government departments, other NGO's and local communities towards empowering young people and out elders to bridge this knowledge gap"

Ms Thomas said the Faculty of Science and Technology as well as the Institute of Applied Sciences at USP have students who are engaged in research work into other endangered species.

The collation of data was done by Ms Thomas through face to face interview, emails and thorough reading through published and unpublished articles and scientific journals. She also spoke to individuals who were known authorities on plants, birds, fish, lizards and insects. According to Ms Thomas, there was also a formatting committee who helped with formatting to ensure the contents would suit high school students. The finalizations of the species accounts was done by Ms Thomas and Dr Dick Watling, the principal and founder of Environmental Consultants (Fiji) Limited.

"I am relieved that all the work that we have been putting together for the past four months is finally out there for students, teachers and communities to own and make use of. It is a very exciting time for me especially when I get feedback from individuals who have just come to learn of an endemic species that occurs in a forest close to their village," said Ms Thomas.

The endangered species website was launched at the British High Commissioner's residence. The British High Commission, through its bilateral funding for small projects provided F$24,052 for the setting up of the website. British High Commissioner Roger Sykes said this was a great source of information for high school students, tertiary students and teachers, NGO's and the general public will have access to a resource not previously available in Fiji. "This website demonstrates how vulnerable the many species that are endemic to Fiji. I very much hope that all Fijians will become aware of their vulnerability and assist organisations like NatureFiji to conserve these species and their environments," said Mr Sykes.

Professor Randy Thaman of USP said the website is a wonderful contribution to the resources available on Fiji's unique flora and fauna.