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Keeping Pacific biodiversity SAFE
From the dew-splashed blade of grass and dampened soil from which it springs, to the tiny critters crawling around its base targeted by winged spies looking for their next meal; a vibrant web of life emerges called an ecosystem.
Ecosystems exist all around us. In the trees home to birds, insects and animals, and in the ocean, with its reef communities of fish, coral, and other aquatic animals and plants. These diverse ecosystems make up biodiversity and are essential to all life on Earth. The International Day for Biodiversity is celebrated annually on the 22nd of May to raise awareness of the importance of biodiversity to human, animal and plant life.
The Pacific is one of the world’s richest hubs of biodiversity.
Our region spans 15 per cent of the world’s surface and is home to 44 per cent of the world’s endangered species and thousands of endemic animal and plant species. Together, these ecosystems, across ocean and land, have a especially deep cultural significance for the people of the Pacific who are dependent on their bountiful natural resources for their livelihoods.
Despite this invaluable life-giving role, the Pacific is seeing a rapid loss of biodiversity, with increased rates of deforestation and more species becoming endangered. For example, Fiji lost 7,280 hectares of humid primary forests from 2002 to 2021, representing a loss of 1.4 per cent of its total. Primary forests are some of the densest, wildest, and most ecologically significant forests on Earth. Papua New Guinea lost 820,000 ha of humid primary forest for the same period, with the Solomon Islands losing 130,000 ha. This trend across the Pacific is due to increased urbanisation, human-made activities, and unsustainable agricultural practices. Other threats include invasive species, population increase and climate change. Invasive species, pests and diseases can be devastating to the environment and human health, threatening native animals and plants, and even negatively modifying their natural habitats and ecosystems.
To combat this, one of the first lines of defence is strengthening biosecurity in the region to minimise the introduction of harmful exotic pests and diseases.
Biosecurity is the focus of the Safe Agricultural Trade Facilitation for Economic Integration in the Pacific (SAFE Pacific) project implemented by The Pacific Community (SPC) with funding from the European Union. SAFE Pacific works across 15 countries, including Cook Islands, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. The project supports these countries to address trade barriers in the region, towards strengthened economic integration to improve livelihoods for communities, create jobs and reduce poverty.
The Pacific economy relies heavily on its biodiversity for natural resources, food security, medicine, and other commodities. Through SAFE Pacific, SPC works closely with its member countries and relevant key partners to improve biosecurity in the region and strengthen legislation and compliance with international and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards. These standards are part of internationally accepted biosecurity and quarantine measures and procedures necessary to protect human, animal and plant health and life. As part of this, capacity building and training workshops are being facilitated by SPC for relevant national Ministries and biosecurity agencies to enable them to better carry out important tasks at the pre-border, border and post-border levels.
SAFE Pacific also focuses on improving animal health and production in the region through addressing animal pests and diseases. The project facilitates paravet training and provides equipment to build the capacity of vets and animal health and livestock officers. This includes ensuring access to accredited laboratories and improving diagnostic capabilities, as lab services are critical to detecting potential threats efficiently and accurately.
The project promotes sustainable agricultural value chains, with a particular focus on coconut, coffee, turmeric, and kava. As environmental threats such as deforestation are being driven by agricultural value chains and other economic pursuits, the project engages with farmers and enterprises to address to ensure a sustainable solution to export market access, as well as overcome trade barriers.
Lastly, the SAFE Pacific project works to strengthen online databases and websites such as the Plant Pest List Database and Biosecurity Information Facility, as well as establishing a Pacific Regional Pesticide Registration Scheme that will ensure member countries are aware of the human carcinogenic effects of obsolete and dangerous synthetic chemicals and refrain from importing them.
The Pacific’s rich bounty of biological life makes it critical to raise awareness and ensure its protection in the face of emerging risks such as exotic and invasive pests and diseases, climate change and urbanisation. Our biodiversity has sustained life in the Pacific for generations and is critical for our food and nutrition security, economic livelihoods, health, and wellbeing. SAFE Pacific and similar projects must continue to recognise this and incorporate responsive and sustainable planning that leaves no one behind.