Conservation talk in Oceania

2014 Conference of the Society for Conservation Biology – Oceania (SCBO) Fiji

Pacific Islanders, and the environments they live in, face some of the most pressing conservation challenges on the globe. These include habitat loss (due to logging), land clearance, over-harvesting, overfishing, invasive species, pollution, climate change, rising sea levels and extreme weather events. In an effort to constructively engage with these challenges, the 2014 Conference of the Society for Conservation Biology (Oceania section) was held in Fiji in July this year. The event brought together a wide range of scientists and conservation practitioners working across the whole spectrum of theory and practice.

Conservation scientists on the look-out over Oceania.

Conservation scientists on the look-out over Oceania.

The University of the Southern Pacific, the region’s leading research institution, co-hosted the Conference in Suva. Over 50 of their local students participated as volunteers giving them experience and contacts. The conference brought together more than 200 scientists from 25 countries from all over Oceania. Matching this diversity of nations was the variety of disciplines on show, with researchers presenting work from social, ecological and political spheres, coming from backgrounds in policy, non-governmental conservation agencies, planning, humanitarian institutions and universities.

Besides the tremendous exchange and discussions of different ideas for addressing conservation challenges, generous refreshments, and engaging activities, a silent auction raised AU$1500 for Nature Fiji- MareqetiViti (see http://www.naturefiji.org/). This local environmental group was set up to enhance biodiversity and habitat conservation, endangered species protection and sustainable use of natural resources of the Fiji Islands.

Twenty researchers from CEED and NERP (EDG) nodes participated in various symposia at the conference. They inspired their audiences with the EDG approach of incorporating economic data into conservation decision-making and discussions on interactions among multiple threats.

CEED researchers Hugh Possingham, Carissa Klein and Jutta Beher organised and chaired a symposium on integrated land-sea planning, an emerging field that focuses on the interactions between marine and coastal ecosystems. The main emphasis was on the implications of sediment and pollution runoff from land. Additional and related discussions were focused on the conservation of species that migrate between fresh and salt water, human population growth, and infrastructure for fisheries. The range of topics in this symposium covered social, political and ecological dimensions, with key take home messages including:

• It is crucial to consider cost-effective investment options across the land and the sea. They can help inform transparent funding decisions and can deal with uncertainties.

• The theory and models exist for decision-making under multiple threat scenarios, and we need to improve their uptake by decision makers.

Conservation actions taken on land can sometimes have a greater benefit for marine ecosystems than conservation actions in the sea.

• Case studies on sediment runoff from industrial and pristine regions demonstrate that runoff does not always pose more of a threat at higher concentration as its impact depends on the ecosystems and local oceanographic characteristics.

The most-effective conservation examples involve collaboration with local communities and involve stakeholders from an early stage.

Conference participants discussed and agreed upon general resolutions of the conference. These emphasised the importance of integrating the needs and knowledge of indigenous communities into conservation efforts to secure the best outcomes. Of no less importance is a strong connection to local stakeholders and communities.

The resolutions were framed around work in Oceania but apply just as much to any conservation project. The time is right for research and conservation collaborations across the Pacific. Through symposia such as this, and by making informed choices in addressing conservation challenges, Oceania may still hope to maintain its unique wildlife and environments.

Most Pacific Islands are surrounded by vast reefflats. Fishing and collection of seafood is a tradition in most coastal communities. The loss of species through overharvesting is even described in indigenous poetry, as was presented in a plenary talk.

Most Pacific Islands are surrounded by vast reef flats. Fishing and collection of seafood is a tradition in most coastal communities. The loss of species through over-harvesting is even described in indigenous poetry, as was presented in a plenary talk.


SCB Oceania

The Society of Conservation Biology (www.conbio.org) was founded in 1985 and focuses on advocating support for conservation science, as well as increasing the application of science to management and policy. The society’s global journal is Conservation Biology and their regional journal for Oceania is Pacific Conservation Biology which recently featured a special issue on the conference (Volume 20 issue 2) titled “Conservation of Biodiversity in the Pacific Islands of Oceania”. The Oceania section and the detailed resolutions of the conference can be found at http://www.conbio.org/groups/sections/oceania.


More info
Contact Jutta Beher j.beher@uq.edu.au