Fiji Expedition: The Future of Trees on Viti Levu

Protecting our planet’s ecosystems and natural resources is a big job, and no one can do it alone. Collaboration between the world’s leading scientists is crucial in order to combine valuable data and convince decision-makers to take action. In the latest collaboration between Conservation International (CI) and the New England Aquarium (NEAq), Dr. Les Kaufman from CI’s Marine Management Area Science program is joining a team of researchers from NEAq, Monterey Bay Aquarium and other partners as they travel to Fiji’s coral reefs to survey marine life and further examine the connections between land and sea. Here is an excerpt from his most recent update from the expedition; read the full post on the NEAq Global Explorers blog.

There's a reason they call this a "rain"forest! The rented HiLux comes through for us, if just barely. Photo: Keith Ellenbogen

While everybody else packed off to Nadi International Airport, Stacy, Keith and I packed—and I do mean packed—into a station wagon taxi with all our gear for the drive east along the Coral Coast, toward our final adventure on this expedition. Rain had started and quickly grown torrential. Stoic cruise ship visitors paraded by in the rain, barely clad and in fleshy abundance, as Fijian farmers coast to coast celebrated a welcome reprieve from the cursed grip of drought. There would be crops in the dry west of Viti Levu. There would be food and trade, after all.

The villages we were visiting are all participants in a plan to restore the coastal native rainforest of northeastern Viti Levu, in the Nokoratubu and Rakiraki districts. These lovely, scenic hills, drenched in magnificent forest within the memories of village elders, now stand stark naked, crisped by frequent fires set in accidents and bouts of boredom. When rain pours from the sky, mud pours from the land into the sea, Earth’s blood shed away carrying precious nutrients that would otherwise have nourished a dalo plant or a tree, and in turn, the people of Fiji. That mud slides over coastal reefs, cutting off the sun, choking corals and their associated denizens, and fueling harmful algal blooms.

Vesi (Intsia bijuga) seedlings ready for outplanting in areas slated for native forest restoration. Photo: Keith Ellenbogen

There is a solution: put the trees back. Restore the native forest. Keep steeps and highlands and river corridors under old, closed-canopy forest. Rebuild corridors from mountaintop to beach to maintain all of Fiji’s beautiful animal and plant species—a quarter to a third of which or more occur nowhere else in the world. Further enhance forest services by including extensive plantings of commercial timber as one of the crops. Food crops will be freer of pests as birds and other farmers’ friends mass in the adjacent plantation and natural forests. The beauty of the scenic landscape will be restored as well, boosting tourism and revitalizing Fijian culture. So many trees have been cut that great forest trees that play a crucial role in traditional practices and arts have been brought to the verge of extinction in Fiji. Fiji forests host hundreds of woody plant species, many providing fruits to eat, flowers to string on welcoming garlands, and gorgeous woods.

The past few years have seen a burst in reforestation activities in Fiji, linked to both biodiversity conservation, and long-term human welfare. Fiji has launched a campaign to plant a million trees, an excellent start in reclaiming the legions of scorched hills for nature’s life support system. Conservation International and the Institute of Applied Science (University of the South Pacific) have been collaborating with local villages, encouraging residents to germinate seeds of diverse and useful native trees and grow them out to bring new life to the bare, burned hills.

After a new planting field has been laid out and cleared, planting proceeds by first loosening the soil to ready it for its new inhabitant. Photo: Keith Ellenbogen

A close partner in this work is FIJI Water. Bottled water is an environmentally controversial commodity, so FIJI Water is striving to achieve a carbon-negative operation (remove more carbon from the atmosphere than it generates in the bottling and shipping of water). It is doing so by preserving native forest and adding to the forest estate of Fiji through new planting. We visited several of the cooperating villages, shared kava and songs, fawned together over the rows of young trees under innovative bamboo nursery shelters, and laughed and joked in the pouring rain.

Read Les Kaufman’s full post on the NEAq Global Explorers blog.


  1. Eberhard says

    Awesome, good work. I definitely can recommend this work. Great to grab articles worth reading. I guessI will subscribe to your rss feed into my feeder.Thanks and keep up the nice posts.

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