Tropical Dry Forests in Fiji
By Helen Nguyen
By Helen Nguyen
HISTORICAL STATE OF THE ECOSYSTEM
The 300 islands that make up Fiji are mostly remnants of once active volcanoes continually drifting as a result of tectonic plate movement. The combination of consistence trade winds and a rain shadow, which exists to the northwest of high mountain areas, creates the perfect conditions for the development of tropical dry forests. Historically, the tropical dry forests of Fiji have suffered as a result of many human disturbances, beginning with the early arrival of Polynesians and Melanesians from over 3500 years ago. As mankind continued to populate the area, large amounts of tropical dry forest were eventually converted to savannas due to extensive burning by its inhabitants. Subsequently, the region was extremely degraded even before Europeans were introduced into the area. Once they arrived, they further saw to the reduction of tropical dry forest by bringing in non-native tree species and foreign commercial agriculture. Lowlands were additionally made into sugar cane plantations by the English colonists, which greatly disrupted the natural cycle of the dry forest ecosystem. As of today, the tropical dry forests of Fiji have been officially declared endangered and are in great need of conservation in order for them to be restored to their former state.
Forest plantation area in Fiji in 2000, as reported in FRA 2000
Area by main purpose or use
Area by ownership/management
CURRENT IMPACTS ON THE ECOSYSTEM
The tropical dry forests of Fiji have greatly suffered from the negative impacts of colonization and development ever since the early human settlement in the region. Although the ecosystem has been steadily degrading over a long period of time, there still exist many human impacts today that further threaten the survival of the tropical dry forests. The most prominent threat to the ecosystem is currently the introduction of non-native animals, which breaks the natural order of entire populations of indigenous species and affects the growth and dispersal of tropical dry forests. Furthermore, continuous burning of the forests by settlers and the subsequent erosion that occurs has destroyed the soil and land, greatly decreasing the prominence of tropical dry forests. Most areas have also been converted into sugar cane fields or grazing lands, so that the soil can only support grassland. As of now, none of the remaining dry forest areas are officially protected in reserves.
Total forest area in Fiji
Area (in ha)
Dense natural forest
Medium dense natural forest
Total: natural forest
Total: forest plantations
Scattered natural forest
Total: other wooded land
Total: forest and other wooded land
FUTURE PROSPECTS FOR THE ECOSYSTEM
If everything continues as it has been for the last few years, the tropical dry forests could disappear entirely from existence in the Fiji Islands. The constant burning and clearing of the land by humans degrades the soil to the point where it is unable to sustain vegetation. Since the ecosystem has yet to be protected, the likelihood that this will continue is very high; therefore, it is only viable that the area of forestry will also rapidly decline if there is no clear intervention. Because very few accept the responsibility of maintaining the indigenous plants and animals, the ecosystem is spiraling out of control with non-native species. There must be a drastic change in order to remove the tropical dry forests of Fiji off the endangered list.
HOW TO IMPROVE
|Industrial roundwood production, consumption and trade in Fiji|
Foremost, the tropical dry forests of Fiji must be internationally protected and established as a reserve. The fact that there is still no official protection for the forests means that there is still a strong danger of them being completely cleared and destroyed. There should be an international effort to survey and save these lands before more of the ecosystem is harmed. Furthermore, education and awareness needs to be better advocated. There are many study abroad programs for students to travel to countries that have endangered ecosystems, but the islands of Fiji have yet to be a prominent concern. By targeting the younger activist generation, there could be more awareness and knowledge about the state of Fiji’s forests. More care must also be taken on the islands themselves, to ensure that the ecosystem is balanced. There should be a system set up to closely monitor non-native plants and animals, which inherently destroy the ecosystem. Measures should also be taken to ensure that clearing and burning of the forests does not occur until it can be protected and surveyed.
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