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Mbengga Island, Fiji.

Fiji, officially the Republic of Fiji, is an island country composed of roughly 332 islands in the South Pacific Ocean. It is a part of Oceania, located northeast of New Zealand, and southwest of Hawaii. Only about 110 of these islands are inhabited by humans, with the majority of Fiji’s population (938,000 people) residing on the two largest islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu[1]. Viti Levu is the largest Fijiian island and is home to lush tropical rainforests on the east, and drier grasslands and sugarcane fields on the west, thanks to the rain shadow cast from the central mountains. The capital city, Suva, which houses 77,300 people is also on this island.[2] Vanua Levu, the second-largest Fijiian island, has coastal areas with mangrove forests, and coral reefs in the waters nearby. Its largest city, Labasa, is home to 27,900 people. Fiji is one of the most developed Pacific island economies, and often reap benefits from the rich biodiversity and natural resources on the hundreds of islands.[3]

Climate and biomes


Fiji & Tongan Tropical Islands are part of the ‘Oceanian’ which includes the following three ecoregions; Fiji Tropical Moist Forests, Tongan Tropical Moist Forests, and Fiji Tropical Dry Forests. Fiji's tropical moist forests are composed of tall, wet, and dense canopies with a highly endemic biota. Tongan tropical moist forests belong to the volcanic archipelago with typical oceanic biota.The Tropical dry forest is a sparse ecoregion and  consist of trees with shorter canopy height and face an average rainfall of less than 2,000mm. [2] The flora and fauna that inhabit this ecoregion adapt to the dry seasons by shedding their leaves thus reducing water loss through evaporation. [4]



The trade winds, Intertropical Convergence Zone, and Pacific Convergence Zone in the Pacific.

On the shores of Fiji the tidal activity is mainly semidiurnal, with a tidal range of 2.3 m [5]. Semidiurnal tides are the occurrence of two high tide and two low tides of about equal size very lunar day[6]. The tides are affected by the easterly winds between March and December and southerly winds that occur for most of the year. The shifting of the South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ) as well as the Fijian island, water depth, and sea bed geomorphology affect surface currents. The change in surface currents can form nutrient-rich and poor areas of eddies, upwellings, and downwellings[5].

Tectonic Plates

The Fijian islands lie on a complex transformation zone as part of the Fiji platform. This zone is driven by the Indo-Australian and Pacific plate boundary. This zone has a complicated history with plate convergence, subduction, and arc-volcanism[7]. File:Map of the Indo-Australian plate and Pacific plate boundary.jpg


Fiji is covered with steep, mountainous land that has been deeply cut through by rivers and streams[8]. Much of Fiji is covered what is known as steepland, which is when the slopes are greater than 18°. The main islands, Viti Levu and Van Leva, are covered by 67% and 72% of steeples, respectively. Taveuni's land is 49% covered by steep land, and 73% for Kadavu, both of which are smaller Fijian islands. Islands with steep slopes also have persistent landslides after heavy rain. The rest of the area's slopes are between 3° - 18°, made up by hilly and rolling country[8].


Broad-scale seasonal sea surface temperature (SST) patterns in Fiji in summer (left) and winter (right) months. SST data at 4 km–monthly resolution.

Fiji's tropical maritime climate means that Fiji has warm temperatures year-round with rainfall seasonality[7]. There are two main rainfall zones: a dry (low humidity and rainfall) area in the northern and western lowlands; and south-east wet area due to south-east facing trade winds[8]. It should be noted that the difference between the windward side and leeward side on smaller islands decreases.

Rainfall Distribution

The rainfall distribution is quite variable across Fiji due to the southeast Tradewinds, containing large amounts of water, and island topography[7]. For example, the mountains in Viti Levu create a drastic difference in the amount of rainfall the leeward side and windward side receive. The Asian-Australian monsoon can occasionally reach as far as Fiji from the Southwest Pacific in the summer which can cause heavy rains, as well as strong tropical cyclones (TC)[7].

Walter-Lieth diagram Fiji.png

Variation in the annual rainfall can be caused by El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events. Such as, La Niña, which creates wetter than usual season, with heavy rains and floods. El Niño creates drier than usual season[7]. El Niño is formed due to the Inter-Tropical Convergence zone (ITCZ) moving closer to the equator (north) as well as the reversal and weakening of the trade winds. At this event warm water moves eastward creating high-salinity and low surface temperature differences. The highest sea surface temperatures happen between March and December every year[5]. The image on the right is a Walter-Lieth diagram which displays the annual rainfall and temperatures of Fiji from 1970 to 2000. It displays that Fiji has a wet season between November and April (summer time), and a dry season between May and October (winter time). There are no extreme wet or hot temperatures. The wet season and rain production is controlled by the SPCZ and southeast Tradewinds.


Patterns of Biodiversity and Geographical History

The biodiversity in Fiji is close to unbeatable. Not for nothing is the Island Nation known as a “biodiversity hotspot,” of which there only exist 36 in the world [9]. The varying habitats and large amount of endemic species that inhabit the multitude of existing niches contribute to this label.

From close to 3000 species, 431 are found to be endemic, meaning that they are only found here [9]. The reason for such varying species co-existing in the same area of the world is because of the geological history of the Nation.

Satellite Image of the Volcanic Island Taveuni, Fiji [10]

Tens of millions of years ago, Fiji was connected to Tonga and New Zealand by a volcanic belt, visible as a mountain range. However, due to Tectonic plate activity, the Samoan Seamount Chain subducted leading to the breakup of this volcanic belt and the formation of Fiji as an Island [11]. Thus, volcanic activity is the main driver for the topography of Fiji, which is also known as being located in the “rim of fire,” an around 40,000 kilometer long path along the Pacfic Ocean that is notorious for volcanic activity and frequent earthquakes [12]. These are also vicariant events that cause geographic barriers between populations of the same species. The reproductive isolation that occurs can lead to the evolvement of new species. In the case of Fiji, splitting of landmasses led to water being the main barrier between populations, which explains the high abundance of endemic species on the various islands that makeup the Nation.

Around 50% of the Island Nations plant and bird species, as well as over 90% of insect groups are endemic [9]. Not only is this high pattern of endemism seen in the animal kingdom, but also in the plant kingdom. Of around 2600 Treophyta species, 1600 are unique to Fiji [9]. While the marine species found in the water surrounding the Islands of Fiji cannot be classified as endemic, they contribute to the high level of biodiversity. The list of marine habitats ranges from estuaries, maro-algal assemblages to lagoons, exposed soft shores and coral reefs. Fiji also has the third largest area of groves in the Pacific Island region. Over 2000 fish species, 1000 marine invertebrates and 1000 coral species inhabit these varying marine habitats [9]. One example of an endemic Marine species is the Nautilus vitiensis.

Endemic Diversity

Nautilus vitiensis

Nautilus spp.

Nautilus vitiensis (Nautilus vitiensissp. nov.) is a newly identified endemic marine mollusc species to Fiji (Barrod et al., 2023), and an example of vicariance [13]. This recent discovery contributes evidence of the important role of geographical history in evolution and speciation in the Fiji Island Archipelago. Nautilus spp. are nektobenthic, meaning they live and forage close to the bottom of the seafloor. Nautilus vitiensis are found in the coastal waters of Fiji at Suva Harbour, Viti Levu and Pacific Harbour around 200-400m. Although Nautilus vitiensis has not yet been assessed by the IUCN Red List, this newly identified species is predicted to be endangered. While Nautilus are normally found in deep oceans, the shell surrounding their bodies is prone to implosion at depths exceeding 800m. The formation of the ocean basin around the Fiji islands has led to ocean depths exceeding 800m surrounding the archipelago. Since Nautilus survive metres from the ocean floor, the bathymetry creates a barrier to gene flow around Fiji since the ocean depth exceeds 800m in all directions.

Fijian Crested Iguana

The critically endangered Fijian Crested Iguana (Brachylophus vitiensis).

The Fijian Crested Iguana (Brachylophus vitiensis) is endemic to Fiji and specialized to the dry tropical forests on a small number of western Fijian islands, predominantly on Yadua Taba Island [14] [15]. Brachylophus vitiensis are listed as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List and the dry forest habitat where Fijian Crested Iguanas are found is globally threatened, and declining in Fiji. The steep volcanic topography of the islands creates a rain-shadow effect on western slopes at high elevations and on offshore small islands. The resulting drought regime along with low annual rainfall (<2000mm) has allowed rare pockets of tropical dry forest to form. The speciation of Brachylophus vitiensis is somewhat of biogeography riddle since phylogenetic studies have revealed the closest relative of South Pacific Iguanas to be found across a vast stretch of the Pacific in the Americas. Three extant species from the genus Brachylophus occur in the South Pacific; two in Fiji (B. vitiensis and B. bulabula) and one in Tonga (B. fasciatus). The sister group to Brachylophus is the whole clade Iguanidae of the Americas. The 8000km distribution of Brachylophus to Fiji and Tonga from the Americas is hypothesized to be the furthest overwater dispersal event within vertebrates [16].

Papilio schmeltzi

Papilio schmeltzi.

Millions of years of geographic isolation has led to high levels of endemism in the Fiji archipelago and complex species interactions, especially among insects [17]. Papilio schmeltzi, a swallowtail species is one of two endemic Fijian butterflies. Papilio schmeltzi have coevolved with indigenous shrubby host plant Micromelum minutum. Chandra et al. (2018) conducted a study to compare the preference of Papilio schmeltzioviposition with other shrubby host plants closely related to M. minutum [18]. The study results suggest that Papilio schmeltzi have evolved to identify host plants and non-host plants, potentially from plant-specific chemical cues, to select host plant Micromelum minutum for oviposition.

Human influences

Historical Influences

Around 1300 Ad, there was a transition period between the Little Climatic Optimum and the Little Ice Age, characterized by a temperature drop, sea level fall - by an estimated 20 to 30 inches - and a short period of an increased rate of precipitation. These changes impacted the flora and fauna present in the Pacific Island region and thus affected the human communities that inhabited the spaces. At the time of the last millennium, human influences did not play a very large role in shaping the ecology of the dominant ecosystems of Fiji [19]. This is because settlements were not permanent and the density of settlements was low. The tropical ecosystem was and to this day still is high in resiliency, thus humans did not impact the ecology to a large extent. Our diet mainly consisted of marine species and litterfall, cultivation of crops was not yet a common practice. However, this changed during the transition period from the Little Cimpatic Optimum to the Little Ice Age, which led to a more arid environment and groundwater rations decreasing. Communities grew a variety of root vegetables, specifically taro, on agricultural terrace systems, and built canals and aqueducts to fullfill their water needs [20]. This growth in artificially constructed systems led to the previously scattered and scarce settlements to converge and grow as the population grew as well [20].

These early communities settled by the coastal regions of Fiji, mainly because of food availability. There are anthropological accounts of settlements being built not even on the coast, built on the water using stilted houses [21]. This is attributed to their seafood based diet, however as this transition period between the little climatic optimum and the little ice age changed climate patterns, so did it effect marine species thus the communities food security. The sea level fall exposed coral reefs, the most fertile region of marine habitats suddenly died, the water table dropped thus cultivated crops withered. Settlements started to move land inward and so called “hillforts” became the norm [21].

Like many tropical areas all over the world, Fiji was colonized by the British empire. From 1874 to 1970, resources, especially marine systems, were exploited by the colonialists [19]. The soil, highly fertile from the volcanic activity, was used to farm sandalwood on a large scale. Sugar plantations and processing mills became a central part of the economy, but in turn, the soil was depleted of nutrients in little more than a decade. This led to the collapse of the commercial sandalwood stands as well [19].

British colonialism was the advent of large scale human influences on the environment in Fiji. Mining activity, more intensive forestry, and land use changes to convert plots into arable farm land have all increased since the Colonial era. These human influences have caused irreversible changes to the nations biodiversity and continue to degrade ecosystems through increased sedimentation, contaminating streams and rivers, pollution and soil erosion [22]. Fiji, as a region of very high endemism, is incredibly susceptible to biodiversity loss when ecosystems are disturbed by human activity. Like everywhere in the world, a want and need for more materials has been a driving factor in more intensive resource use.

Contemporary Influences

Nowadays, tourism makes up 25% of the Island Nation's economy [23]. Fiji is home to the third largest continuous coral reef in the world, so it is no wonder that people travel across vast distances to come see it. Inhabiitants also congregate around this area, with one third of the population living within and from the Great Sea Reef [23]. These active human influences, tourism and fishing, have harmed the coral reef, with passive influences causing even more damage. Since Fiji is made up of over 300 islands and is located in the South Pacific Ocean, it is highly susceptible to cyclones and floods [24].These damage the coral reefs beyond repair since the reefs are the first barrier between the ocean and land. Climate change has increased the amount of cyclones and also their power as temperatures rise, more water evaporates and is stored in hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones, forming over the ocean and sweeping away everything they come across. However, the Government has taking a strong stance against further damage done by active and passive human influences [24]. Conservation practices have been, and continue to be, a human influence that has made significant positive impacts on Fiji’s environment.


Soft Corals in Fiji.

Fiji consists of over 300 islands and atolls, and is important globally as a center of biodiversity and endemism in forests and corals reefs. Over 900,000 people live in Fiji making the country a population center in the South Pacific [25]. Climate change and other human impacts threaten Fiji's biodiversity, food and water security, and economic prosperity [26]. Sustainability has been integral to Fijians for generations, and many conservation initiatives in Fiji are community led.

Manta Project Fiji

Manta ray.

The Manta Project Fiji is a project of the Manta Trust which works with the local Fijian government to protect mobula rays in Fiji [27]. All species of mobula rays are listed as either Vunerable or Threatened on the IUCN Red List due to human impacts such as fishing bycatch. The Manta Project Fiji organization has established long-term manta ray monitoring programs throughout Fiji, as well as partnered with local communities through both research and manta-related tourism. An example of this is in the Yasawa Island group at Barefoot Manta which offers reef manta snorkelling experiences [28]. Barefoot Manta is operated in partnership with the local Mua-ira Village. The resort operates a Marine Conservation Centre which contributes data collected from manta snorkelling tours to The Manta Project Fiji, such as identification photos of mantas. The undersides of mantas have unique patterns which identify individuals. The photo identification and sightings location data provides important information about the population and their movements in Fiji. The Marine Conservation Center at Barefoot Manta also runs a coral restoration project at the local reef. The Manta Project has been a success in terms of meeting goals for both human and manta well-being. Barefoot Manta in the Yasawas employs Fijians from the Mua-ira Village supporting their land management, economic and conservation goals. In addition, the project has provided over 10 years of data on the identity and geographic distribution of Mantas in Fiji. Recently the project documented the first scientific observation of the Oceanic Manta (Mobula birostris) in Fiji, and identified an important feeding area for Oceanic Mantas in Laucala Bay, Suva [29].


Forest in Fiji.

REDD+ is an Indigenous led carbon credit project in Fiji [30]. Indigenous landowners in the Drawa rainforest in Fiji receive income through carbon credits in exchnage for protecting some of the last old growth forests in Fiji from deforestation on their lands.The project has been in operation for five years and was conceptualized as a climate change mitigation strategy, as well as a way to compensate Fijian landowners for resisting commercial offers to log on their property. Timber harvest and agriculture are the main divers of deforestation in Fiji. Community members in Drawa have been trained as Park Rangers and the project has created opportunities for community members to start rain forest honey businesses. The project is stil in relatively early stages and some challenges such as how to scale honey businesses remain. Carbon credits are purchased from the community through Plan Vivo and 1 carbon credit represents 1 tonne of sequestered carbon dioxide [31].

Shark Project

One conservation project initiated in the south coast of Viti Levu, Fiji involves the protection of South Pacific sharks. The government of Fiji has made shark conservation one of its top priorities and has partnered with the UN at the start of the  project in 2014. Sharks are one of the top predators of marine food chains and essential species to ensure and equilibrium within ecosystems. The number of sharks has been declining for decades and even with marine protection areas set up, the numbers are still shrinking at an alarming rate. The loss of this species would lead to trophies cascades, changing the state of the ecosystem leading to a different alternate state, one where biodiversity is lost forever. This project aims to help inform conservation policies for sharks by collecting data on marine life, planting mangroves, promoting sustainable living communities and raising awareness about the importance of sharks.[32]

Marine Conservation Agreements and Marine Protected Areas

A map of Fiji which contains approximate location and area of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Fiji established through Marine Conservation Agreements (MCAs). Red is MCAs that are currently active, yellow is MCAs that are in formation, and green is MCAs that have lapsed.
Approximate location and area of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Fiji established through Marine Conservation Agreements (MCAs). Red is MCAs that are currently active, yellow is MCAs that are in formation, and green is MCAs that have lapsed.[33]

Fiji is a biodiversity hotspot and major tourism destination for people worldwide. Thousands of people visit Fiji every year to experience the beautiful, seemingly pristine coastal environment, making the value of marine ecosystem services within Fiji’s tourism industry approximately $573.6 million USD per year. As the marine environment is key to the tourism industry which is such a big contributor to Fiji’s economy, people have incentive to protect it. To do this, Fiji has implemented Marine Conservation Agreements (MCAs) between tourism operators and local communities. MCAs are contractual agreements where ecosystem services are provided to achieve a conservation goal. The implementation of MCAs has led to the creation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) which cover approximately 26,625 ha in Fiji, 21,000 ha of which is deep water and offshore reefs. Within these MPAs, 48% are no-fishing agreements, and 52% have additional bans on reef walking, shell collecting, and/or the use of motorized water sports. The majority of these MPAs are protecting marine environments with the goal of sustaining the health of the ecosystem for tourism use, while some also list sustaining the resource for biodiversity conservation as a reason for protection. The study provides five MCA case studies which highlight different means of protection in Fiji, and how well they have or have not worked. Overall, the use of MCAs and MPAs in Fiji has been very successful at protecting marine ecosystems, even if their main incentive for protecting them is tourism.[34]

Vatu-i-Ra and Cakau Levu Reefs Seascape Project

Coastal management in developing countries is commonly found at the local or community level which has insufficient scientific data on the coastal zone. Over the last few years, NGOs and donors have been funding science-driven conservation projects to manage the relevant datasets to aid community members in using effective conservation approaches. The Vatu-i-Ra and Cakau Levu Reeds Seascape project is an NGO-led ecosystem-based management project also known as EBM. The purpose of this project was to present the success of the EBM models when natural and social scientific considerations are taken into account for EBM and conservation. To test their objective a prioritization tool was utilized to separate the world's biodiversity, habitats, and ecosystems into ecoregions to layout their conservation action. The project was carried out at two sites in Fiji; a district of the Bua province, Kubulau and four districts of the province, Macuata. The findings from the datasets were shared with the chiefs and the traditional leaders, who ultimately make the final decisions. Not all the science-driven recommendations were considered by the community leaders; however, the datasets provided references for research protocols. [35]

Global Trees Campaign - Fiji

The tree conservation project in Fiji focuses on the need for the preservation of the country's rich biodiversity, especially its dry forest habitats. The rationale behind the initiative lies in Fiji's status as a biodiversity hotspot, harbouring 1,600 endemic plant species and 742 tree species, many of which face the threat of extinction due to the rapid loss of dry forest habitat. [36] The once-dominant dry forest on Viti Levu, the largest island, is reduced to only 1% of its original cover due to uncontrolled fires during the dry season and conversion into farmlands. A collaboration between the Global Trees Campaign (GTC) and NatureFiji-MareqetiViti (NFMV), aims to build structures for prioritising and conserving threatened trees while restoring dry forests. Key strategies include red-listing workshops to assess the conservation status of native tree species, training on the IUCN Red List process, and field surveys to identify and collect data on threatened species. The success of the tree conservation project includes the identification and assessment of priority tree species through red listing workshops, resulting in 32 species being recognized as threatened with extinction. These assessments provide an important basis for prioritising conservation actions. This project uses a collaborative approach by including local communities in the development and actions of their plans, ensuring that the local people have a say in the plans for their lands.[36]


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Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
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