Pacific island Vatuvara wildlife survey


This 2017 video from Fiji is called Vatuvara Private Islands.

From BirdLife:

22 Nov 2017

Exploring the untouched island of Vatuvara

This is the first time a full biological survey has ever been performed on this remote, almost untouched island in the South Pacific. The intriguing and fascinating results have redoubled the Vatuvara Foundation’s efforts to safeguard this lush wildlife haven.

By Steve Cranwell

The island of Vatuvara perfectly embodies the intrigue and beauty of the South Pacific islands. Located in the north of Fiji’s Lau group, the 800-hectare island has been uninhabited for most of human history. This is due in part to the absence of a permanent water source – but the sharp, unforgiving coral terrain certainly doesn’t help.

For a time, the island hosted a fortified village atop the 300-metre summit – no doubt a strategic lookout point for Fijian warriors. But apart from a desperate attempt at coconut production during Fiji’s plantation era, Vatuvara has largely been spared the impacts of human influence. And that includes many invasive species common on other South Pacific islands – making Vatuvara an invaluable refuge for wildlife.

Despite the detailed knowledge of the indigenous Fijians, practically the only formal scientific account of the island comes from the remarkable Whitney Expeditions, which visited Fiji in 1924, identifying the endemic Fiji Banded Iguana Brachylophus fasciatus among other native flora and fauna species.

Now under the care of Vatuvara Private Islands, the island is protected as a nature reserve. In November, BirdLife International Pacific, together with NatureFiji-MareqetiViti (BirdLife in Fiji) and the US Geological Survey, joined the Vatuvara Foundation to conduct a pioneering four-day survey.

The survey initially focused on the island’s reptiles, in particular the Banded Iguana – currently threatened with extinction – and a snake, the Pacific Boa Candoia bibroni. During the night, several sleeping reptiles were stealthily extracted from the branches above for identification.

Coconut crabs Birgus latro proved to be a very visible part of the island fauna. Although active throughout the day, it was at night that the forest came alive to a slow, deliberate dance as the world’s largest arthropods (weighing up to 4kg and a metre from leg to leg) shuffled about the forest floor, or climbed trees and vertical rock faces in search of sustenance. Once common throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans, these unique, long lived terrestrial crabs, who can survive for 40-60 years, are under threat. Considered a local delicacy, crab populations are now increasingly confined to remote inaccessible islands or locally protected areas.

Vatuvara is an island for birds. Dawn and dusk resounded to a cacophony of calls as the Wattled Honeyeater Foulehaio carunculatus, along with the 20 other species we identified, made their presence known. Almost all were forest birds, a validation of the quality of Vatuvara’s forest. A particularly encouraging sighting was the Shy Ground Dove Alopecoenas stairi, threatened with extinction elsewhere due to introduced predators such as feral cats and rats.

In terms of invasive species, no evidence of cats, pigs, goats, Black rats Rattus rattus, mongoose, invasive ants or any of Fiji’s usual suspects could be found. However, the Pacific rat Rattus exulans was present. This non-native rat predates small birds and their eggs, as well as many of Fiji’s invertebrates and fauna.

All good surveys pose as many questions as they answer, and something of a surprise for Vatuvara was the notable absence of seabirds, generating numerous hypotheses, including what influence Coconut Crabs may pose. Ornithologist Vilikesa Masibalavu also noted an unusual phenomenon among the Island’s Fiji Whistlers Pachycephala vitiensis. They weren’t hard to find – but they were strangely silent, and not a single male could be found.

While much still remains to be discovered on Vatuvara, the survey highlighted the Island’s vital importance to Fiji’s natural history. It was found to hold a wealth of diverse native plants and wildlife increasingly under threat on other islands. Future work will build on this baseline, tracking trends in birds, coconut crabs and reptiles and ensuring harmful invasive species don’t establish. In protecting the island, the Vatuvara Foundation have made a visionary commitment to safeguarding a crucial haven for Fiji’s wildlife.

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Fijian ants as agriculturists


This video says about itself:

27 November 2016

Scientists on the island of Fiji have discovered a type of ant that plants, fertilizes & guards its own coffee crops. The ant, known as “Phildris nagasau” has been perfecting this practice for millions of years. The ants reportedly don’t just harvest the nectar from the plants, they also use the coffee plants as a place to live. According to the scientists, this is the first ant to build its own home. In an experiment, researchers discovered that the ants plant six different types of coffee plant in the bark of jungle trees.

From Nature:

Obligate plant farming by a specialized ant

Guillaume Chomicki & Susanne S. Renner

21 November 2016

Abstract

Many epiphytic plants have associated with ants to gain nutrients. Here, we report a novel type of ant–plant symbiosis in Fiji where one ant species actively and exclusively plants the seeds and fertilizes the seedlings of six species of Squamellaria (Rubiaceae). Comparison with related facultative ant plants suggests that such farming plays a key role in mutualism stability by mitigating the critical re-establishment step.

Rarely-seen event of ant brood parasitism by scuttle flies video-documented: here.

Saving bats in Fiji


This video says about itself:

24 April 2011

Here we have a fruit bat enjoying a ripe papaya in the backyard of the house in Savusavu. A bat is a mammal and there are lots of them here in Fiji.

From BirdLife:

What does the Bat say??…..SAVE ME

By Steve Cranwell and Sialesi Rasalato, 30 Oct 2016

Bats are the only remaining native mammals that survive the gruelling impacts of mother-nature, developments, poaching and invasive alien species predation in Fiji and likewise in most Pacific countries. Studies reveal that there are six species of bats in Fiji, three of which are cave dwelling; Fijian Blossom bat (Notopteris macdonaldi), Pacific Sheath-tailed bat (Emballonura semicaudata), the Fijian Free-tailed bat (Tadarida bregullae), and three are tree dwelling; Samoan Flying fox (Pteropus samoensis), Pacific Flying fox or the Insular Flying fox (Pteropus tonganus ) and the Fiji Flying fox (Mirimiri acrodonta). All six species of bats are native, of which one is endemic, the Fiji Flying fox.

BirdLife International’s Sialesi Rasalato has been providing technical support to Fiji partner organisation, NatureFiji-MareqetiViti on various projects over the years and one in particular is its current work on the conservation of the endangered Fijian Free-tailed bat (also known as the Fijian Mastiff bat) – one of its species based project.

The Fijian Mastiff bat roosting sites are only found in Nakanacagi, a village on Vanua Levu, the second largest island in the Fiji group; and in Santo and Malo Islands in Vanuatu. NatureFiji-MareqetiViti and is partners has been working tirelessly at the Nakanacagi cave, carrying out community awareness since 2012. Sia has local connections and his links and enthusiasm have been a big part of getting local support. With funding received from Bat Conservation International in 2014, NatureFiji-MareqetiViti was able to acquire fieldwork technical support from The University of the South Pacific’s Institute of Applied Science and from BirdLife International – a classic example of conservation organisations teaming up to undertake a common goal. Activities orchestrated included mapping of the cave and its boundaries, a two year population assessment (2014 and 2015), organising community awareness and consultations with the local resource users and landowners.

As a result of this continuous organised awareness, local resource users have all agreed to put to a stop the harvesting of the Fiji Mastiff bat and the collecting of bat guano for farming purposes. A road that the locals follow to reach their farms and plantations has also been diverted from its original route (which crosses the cave tunnels) to a mere track circumnavigating the roosting site. Decades of trampling this track have resulted in parts of the cave falling off and forming spontaneous cave-ins. Resource users have been advised to follow a controlled method of burning while clearing their farms. Forests surrounding the cave were previously battered with bush fires which are evident and illustrates a very unpleasant sight.

Even though the momentum of implementing sustainable practices and gaining a protection status is gradual, the team involved in this project have started planning future activities which generally revolves around the management, protection, betterment and rehabilitation of the roosting site and its surrounding areas. The success story behind this is that the landowners together with the resource users are supportive of the project and discussions are underway so as to secure the caves in perpetuity in protecting the Fiji Mastiff bat population.

The project is a collaboration between NatureFiji-MareqetiViti, Bat Conservation International, University of the South Pacific, National Trust of Fiji, Department of Cooperative – Fiji, Matasawalevu Farmers’ Cooperative, Community of Nakanacagi, Amrit Sen Solicitors and BirdLife International, with the support of the Fiji National Protected Areas Committee.

Colouring-in book about Fijian birds to save them


This video says about itself:

The collared lory (Phigys solitarius) is a monotypic species of parrot in the Psittaculidae family, and it is the only species in the genus Phigys. It is endemic to the islands of Fiji. It is the only Fijian rainforest bird to adapt to urban landscapes and can be found in urban Suva. Measuring 20 cm (8 in), it has bright red underparts and face with a purple crown and greenish upper parts. Males and females are similar in plumage, although the latter have a paler crown.

From BirdLife:

Colouring-in to save the wonderful birds of Fiji

By Mike Britton, Wed, 14/10/2015 – 21:20

When people think of a Pacific paradise it is often the images of Fiji that come to mind. It is a wonderful place with untouched forests and exotic wildlife. But protecting nature and birds can only happen with the support of the local communities – and with resources. BirdLife’s Fiji partner, NatureFiji-MareqetiViti is working with these communities to help them protect the nature that is special to them and develop sustainable livelihoods to support them into the future.

Growing the appreciation of nature in communities is the secret to saving it. That is the motive behind the Colour-In Paradise, an adult colouring-in book developed by Anne and Cathy O’Brien. Adult colouring books are hugely popular for their stress relieving properties and their ability to bring out our inner child. The aim is that as people colour the beautiful hand drawn impressions of Fiji’s unique creatures, they will not only relax and have fun as they de-stress, but also fall in love with the animals and plants they are colouring.

The books will have 20 intricate drawings of Fiji’s beautiful flora and fauna and be perfect for anyone interested in wildlife or looking to make a difference. The money from the sale of books and associated products will go towards helping many of the creatures that are being coloured in: the Fijian flying fox, red throated lorikeet, Fiji petrel and crested iguana to name a few.

Anne and Cathy are raising £4000 to enable them publish the book, postcards and prints. You can help my making a small donation. Please visit the site below and make a contribution to this different but fun initiative.

How Adult Coloring Books Can Bring Out the Artist in You: here.

Fiji: Cyclone Winston decimates ‘Bird Island’ (Vatu-i-Ra) Important Bird Area: here.

Saving wildlife in Fiji, 2011


Wedge-tailed shearwater

From BirdLife:

Invasive species Cast Away in Fiji

Thu, Dec 1, 2011

Goats and rats have been removed from two Fijian islands in a joint operation conducted by BirdLife International’s Fiji Programme and the National Trust of Fiji aimed at protecting unique wildlife on Monuriki and Kadomo. “This is a massive achievement which will provide benefits for the iguanas, birds, plants and people of these islands”, said Sialesi Rasalato from BirdLife International.

The Mamanuca island chain is a well-known tourist destination and nationally important for some unique and threatened wildlife. The islands of Monuriki and Kadomo are among Fiji’s most critical islands for burrowing seabirds and endemic iguana.

Monuriki was the location for the Tom Hanks film Cast Away which depicts his successful attempts to survive on the island following a plane crash. In real life, the 41 hectare island is home to less than a hundred Critically Endangered Fijian Crested Iguana Brachylophus vitiensis which are found on only a few islands, in the dry western side of the Fijian archipelago. Both Monuriki and Kadomo also provide vital habitat for nationally significant breeding colonies of Wedge-tailed Shearwater Puffinus pacificus. Thousands of the fish-eating seabirds have excavated burrows across the islands in which to rear their chicks, and can be heard making their strange ‘baby-crying’ calls after dark.

In 1999 and 2003, the National Trust of Fiji surveyed a few islands in the Mamanuca Group detecting a rapid decline in the iguana population as a result of major habitat degradation by goats. In 2009, BirdLife International undertook surveys that showed that rats and goats were also posing severe threats to the breeding seabirds on both islands.

Fiji: Cyclone Winston hits Castaway Island – home to Wedge-tailed shearwaters: here.

Fiji shark conservation helps


This video says about itself:

Bull Shark feeding in Fiji – Benedict Cumberbatch narrates, South Pacific – BBC

Dec 26, 2012

Fishermen of Fiji make more money feeding sharks for tourists then killing the sharks and selling the meat. The divers at Bega Lagoon get a rare treat as a massive bull shark, nicknamed Scarface, comes to feed.

From Wildlife Extra:

Fiji Marine reserve ‘swarming with sharks’

Study by WCS and University of Western Australia finds reef sharks two to four times more abundant in a marine reserve compared to nearby fished areas

July 2013. Fiji’s largest marine reserve contains more sharks than surrounding areas that allow fishing, evidence that marine protected areas can be good for sharks, according to researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Western Australia.

2-400% more sharks

In a study of the no-take reserve’s shark populations, the researchers found that the number of sharks in Namena Reserve-located on the southern coast of Fiji’s Vanua Levu Island-is two to four times greater than in adjacent areas where fishing is permitted.

The researchers conducted their study during a three-week period in 2009 in Namena, a 60-square-kilometer reserve established in 1997 and managed by local communities. In order to survey the sharks, Goetze and the WCS Fiji team used stereo baited remote underwater video systems to record data at eight sites within the reserve and eight outside the reserve at both shallow and deeper depths (between 5-8 metres, and 25-30 metres respectively).

“The study not only provides evidence that Fiji’s largest marine reserve benefits reef sharks, but achieves this in a non-destructive manner using novel stereo video technology,” said Goetze, the lead author of the paper.

Five different species of reef shark

The 60-minute video segments taken captured images of five different species of reef shark, providing the researchers with data on shark abundance. In addition, Goetze and the research team also were able to estimate the length and size of the sharks whenever the animals were within eight metres of the camera, enabling them to generate estimates on biomass for Namena Reserve.

Fewer sharks in fishing zones

Outside the reserve, in areas where fishing is permitted, the researchers found fewer sharks. The researchers note that, because local Fiji communities traditionally considered sharks to be sacred, eating them is typically taboo. The most likely driver of higher shark densities within the reserve, assert the authors, is the significantly higher availability of prey fish that WCS researchers have found within the reserve boundaries compared with adjacent areas.

As demand for shark products grows, higher prices are driving some locals to catch sharks, while Fiji shark populations are also vulnerable to foreign fishing fleets. Worldwide, increasing rates of harvesting are leading to the depletion of many of the world’s shark species.

Positive effect of marine reserves

“The news from Fiji gives us solid proof that marine reserves can have positive effects on reef shark populations,” said Dr. Caleb McClennen, Director of WCS’s Marine Program. “Shark populations are declining worldwide due to the demand for shark products, particularly fins for the Asian markets. We need to establish management strategies that will protect these ancient predators and the ecosystems they inhabit.”

The study was made possible by the generous support of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, and the University of Western Australia (UWA) Marine Science Honours program.

The study appears in a recent edition of the journal Coral Reefs. The authors include: Jordan Goetze of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Western Australia; and Laura Fullwood of the University of Western Australia.