Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Fiji Islands Marine Ecoregion

Fiji Islands Marine Ecoregion

The Fiji Islands Marine Ecoregion (view larger map) is considered the crossroads of the Pacific, by virtue of its geographical location. It is host to a unique ecological lattice threading and weaving together large expanses of coastal wetlands and mangroves; seagrass and algal beds, mudflats, lagoons; and a large diverse array of coral reefs. Encompassed within this vibrant ecological framework are over 390 coral species in a complex coral system housing over 1200 varieties of fish and a multitude of invertebrates.

Mangrove and seagrass habitats act as breeding and feeding grounds for the various species of fish, invertebrates, reptiles and seabirds of this ecoregion. The ecoregion is also home to some unique marine life, like an endemic seabird, the Fiji petrel. There are seven known endemic species of fish in the Fijian waters and it's also a spawning ground for the endangered humphead wrasse and the worlds largest parrot fish, the bumphead parrot fish.

Five of the seven species of marine turtle migrate through Fiji’s waters; the green, hawksbill, loggerhead, olive ridley , and leatherback turtle. Green and hawksbill turtles most commonly nest in Fiji, where the sea grass meadows are a critical foraging area for the green turtles.

Critically endangered turtles like the leatherbacks also use these waters as feeding and migratory paths. The warm waters are also important migratory routes for 12 species of whale. Four of these species, the blue whale musculus), sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis), the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) and sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), are considered to be endangered or vulnerable. In 2003, the Fiji government offered protection to these species by declaring Fiji’s territorial waters as a whale sanctuary.

Fiji's marine resources are important to its people from both a cultural perspective, and as a major source of food, minerals, pharmaceuticals, construction material and a vast range of useful products, as well as livelihoods and a source of cash income. The open seas within this region maintain viable offshore fisheries with great populations of tuna. Significantly, traditional patterns of community marine tenure, as well as indigenous ecological knowledge, can be incorporated into sustainably managing marine resources.

Good local management with full community involvement is a strength of FIME conservation efforts and will ultimately contribute to both the sustainable livelihoods and empowerment of the communities involved. The islands economy depends heavily on its foreign exchange earnings from Fisheries and Tourism and there are high hopes that within the next few years these industries would be earning the tiny islands over a billion dollars.