Polynesia-micronesia biodiversity hotspot final draft for submission to the cepf donor council



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The Ecosystem Profile 
The purpose of the ecosystem profile is to provide an overview of biodiversity values, 
conservation targets or “outcomes,” and causes of biodiversity loss coupled with an 
assessment of existing and planned conservation activities in the hotspot. This 
information is then used to identify the niche where CEPF investment can provide the 
greatest incremental value for conservation.  

 
2
 
 
The ecosystem profile recommends broad strategic funding directions that can be 
implemented by civil society to contribute to the conservation of biodiversity in the 
hotspot. Applicants propose specific projects for funding consistent with these broad 
directions and criteria. The ecosystem profile does not define the specific activities that 
prospective implementers may propose in the region, but outlines the strategy that will 
guide those activities. Applicants for CEPF funding are required to prepare detailed 
proposals that specify the proposed activities and the performance indicators that will be 
used to monitor project success. 
 
BACKGROUND 
The Polynesia-Micronesia Hotspot includes all the islands of Micronesia, tropical 
Polynesia and Fiji (Figure 1). Included in this enormous expanse of ocean are more than 
4,500 islands, representing 11 countries, eight territories and the U.S. state of Hawaii. 
Despite its large marine coverage, 2.6 times larger than the continental United States, it is 
one of the smallest hotspots in terms of terrestrial land area, covering only 47,239 km² or 
an area about the size of Switzerland. The total population of the hotspot is 
approximately 3,106,000 but 65 percent of the population is found in Hawaii and Fiji. 
Table 1 is a summary of key geographical data for the 20 political units or Pacific Island 
Countries and Territories (PICTs) in the hotspot. 
 
The ecosystem profile and five-year investment strategy for the Polynesia-Micronesia 
hotspot was developed by the CI Melanesia Program in collaboration with the South 
Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP). In addition, the profiling process 
incorporated regional stakeholder expertise through four subregional roundtables and two 
hotspot-wide workshops. The subregional workshops were held in Fiji, French Polynesia, 
Micronesia, and Western Polynesia and coordinated by the Wildlife Conservation 
Society, Te Ora Fenua (Tahiti Conservation Society), the University of Guam with the 
support of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and Pacific Environment Consultants. More 
than 85 experts and contributors assisted in analyzing current threats to biodiversity,  
inventorying conservation and development investment taking place within the region, 
and defining the geographic priorities for CEPF investment.  
 
This profile focuses on conservation outcomes—biodiversity targets against which the 
success of investments can be measured—as the scientific basis for determining CEPF’s 
geographic and thematic focus for investment. Such targets must be achieved by the 
global community to prevent species extinctions and halt biodiversity loss. 
 
These targets are defined at three levels: species (extinctions avoided), sites (areas 
protected) and landscapes (corridors created). As conservation in the field succeeds in 
achieving these targets, these targets become demonstrable results or outcomes. While 
CEPF cannot achieve all of the outcomes identified for a region on its own, the 
partnership is trying to ensure that its conservation investments are working toward 
preventing biodiversity loss and that its success can be monitored and measured. CI’s 
Center for Applied Biodiversity Science (CABS) is coordinating the definition of 
conservation outcomes across the global hotspots. 
 

 
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Not all political units in the hotspot are eligible for CEPF funds; only countries that are 
borrowing members of the World Bank and are signatories to the U.N. Convention on 
Biological Diversity (CBD) are eligible. Thus five countries and territories in the hotspot, 
including Nauru, the U.S. state of Hawaii and the U.S. territories of American Samoa, 
Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), and Tuvalu are 
ineligible. Eligibility is indicated in the final column of Table 1. While this ecosystem 
profile includes data and analysis from all 20 countries and territories in the hotspot, 
conservation outcomes and CEPF strategic directions only refer to the 14 eligible 
countries and territories. However, it is hoped that this profile will be used to leverage 
funds from other donors to conserve globally threatened species and sites in countries and 
territories not eligible for CEPF funds. 
 
History of the Hotspot 
Until the establishment of SPREP as the regional agency with the mandate to protect and 
improve the Pacific islands environment, most conservation activity in the Pacific was 
conducted in an ad hoc manner at the national level. The need for a Pacific-wide regional 
environmental agency to coordinate effort was first formally recognized in 1969 at an 
IUCN-World Conservation Union Conference in Noumea, New Caledonia. However, it 
was not until 1982 that a formal agreement established SPREP as a program hosted by 
the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), formerly the South Pacific Commission, 
in Noumea. In January 1992 SPREP moved from New Caledonia to its permanent 
headquarters in Apia, Samoa (SPREP 2001).  
 
Table 1. Key Geographical Data for Hotspot Political Units 
 
Hotspot Country, 
State or Territory 
Physical 
Geography 
Land 
Area 
(km
2
)

Population

GDP/ 
capita

(US$) 
CEPF 
eligibility 
MICRONESIA 
 
3,214 495,416   
 
Commonwealth of the 
Northern Mariana 
Islands 
volcanic/uplifted 
coral 
471 69,221 10,401 
No 
Federated States of 
Micronesia 
volcanic/coral 
atolls 
701 107,008 
1,822 
Yes 
Guam 
volcanic/uplifted 
coral 
541 154,805 
20,164 
No 
Kiribati 
low and uplifted 
coral atolls 
811 84,494 625 Yes 
Marshall Islands 
coral atolls 
181 
50,840 
1,961 
Yes 
Nauru uplifted 
coral 
atoll 
21 
9,919 
7,292 
No 
Palau 
volcanic/uplifted 
coral 
488 19,129 8,000 
Yes 
FIJI 
volcanic/a few 
coral islands and 
atolls 
18,333
 
900,000 5,880 Yes 
POLYNESIA 
 
24,941 1,874,703  
 
American Samoa 
volcanic/coral 
atolls 
200 57,291 3,833
 
No 
Cook Islands 
volcanic/coral 
atolls 
237 18,027 4,727 
Yes 

 
4
 
 
Easter island 
Volcanic 
166

3,000

6,000
 
Yes 
French Polynesia 
volcanic/low and 
uplifted coral atolls
3,521 245,405  17,398 
Yes 
Hawaii 
volcanic/coral 
atolls 
16,642

1,224,398

26,000
 
No 
Niue uplifted 
coral 
259 
1,788 
4,375 
Yes 
Pitcairn Islands 
volcanic/low and 
uplifted coral atolls
39 48 
-  Yes 
Samoa 
Volcanic 
2,935 200,000  5,854 Yes 
Tokelau 
low coral atolls 
12 
1,537 
2,759
 
Yes 
Tonga 
volcanic/uplifted 
coral 
649 100,000 
6,992 
Yes 
Tuvalu coral 
atolls 
26 
9,043 
571 
No 
Wallis and Futuna 
volcanic/low coral 
255 
14 ,166 
1,666
 
Yes 
TOTAL HOTSPOT 
 46,488 
3,270,119 
 
14 of 20 
Key: -  no current data available 
Sources: 
1. UNDP Human Development Report 2005 
2. SPC 2003a (
http://www.spc.int/demog/demogen/english01-2/recentstats/2003/03/poster.xls
)  
3. Crocombe, R. 2001. The South Pacific. USP, Fiji. 
4. U.S. Census Bureau 2003. (
http://eire.census.gov/popest/estimates.php

 
 
 
The development of the profile, especially the investment strategy, has been guided by a 
number of regional and national environmental management plans and strategies. The 
major regional strategy is the Action Strategy for Nature Conservation 2003-2007 
(SPREP 2003a). The Action Strategy is a five-yearly strategy that reflects the approach of 
“mainstreaming nature conservation.” The strategy provides a framework for 
mainstreaming conservation into all development sectors and involving partnerships 
between conservationists, governments, the private sector, and civil society. The strategy 
provides broad 30-year goals under each of the three main pillars of sustainable 
development: environment, cconomy, and society. Under each broad goal are five-year 
objectives or targets in the short term. 

 
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Figure 1. Map of the Polynesia-Micronesia Hotspot 

 
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At the national level many countries have undergone a series of conservation planning 
exercises. In the early 1990s SPREP executed a regional project to develop State of the 
Environment Reports and then National Environmental Management Strategies (NEMS) 
for seven PICTs. More recently, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) 
implemented a regional project on the development of National Biodiversity Strategy and 
Action Plans (NBSAP) reports for 13 of the 14 independent countries in the region. The 
development of NBSAP reports is an obligation under Article 6 of the CBD. 
 
The Polynesia-Micronesia profile was developed by a Profile Development Team. 
During the process, three subregional roundtable meetings were conducted, one in each 
of the following subregions: Western Polynesia, Fiji, and Micronesia. More than 50 
participants from government and nongovernmental and scientific organizations 
participated in these roundtables. In addition, two expert roundtables involving 
participation from key regional environmental, educational, and donor agencies were 
conducted in Apia, Samoa. 
 
The development of the profile dovetailed with the development of the “Living 
Archipelagos” initiative of the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. The objective of the Living 
Archipelagos initiative is to identify and help protect a select group of priority sites of 
high ecological value that can be quickly saved with relatively modest investment. The 
Living Archipelagos Program will use the findings of this profile to help identify up to 10 
of the most biologically important archipelagos, including both terrestrial and marine 
biological diversity, in the region. 
 
Geography of the Hotspot 
The Pacific region is characterized by high levels of biodiversity and species endemism, 
extreme vulnerability to a wide range of natural disasters, and a diversity of cultures and 
languages, traditional practices, and customs focused on the environment (UNEP 1999). 
There is still a high cultural and economic dependence on marine and terrestrial resources 
for daily needs such as food, water, shelter, and medicine. Biodiversity conservation is 
therefore critical for social and economic development, as well as for the maintenance of 
essential ecosystem function.  
 
The islands of the hotspot display great diversity in origin, geology, size and climate. 
Most of the islands in the region were originally formed from geological “hotspot” and 
fracture zone volcanism (Allison and Eldredge 1999). Physically the islands can be 
classified into several categories: younger volcanic islands, older volcanic islands, almost 
atolls (which have volcanic remnants surrounded by atoll islands), coral atolls, raised 
limestone islands (usually elevated atolls), mixed volcanic and limestone islands, and 
continental islands derived from fragments of old continental plates (SPREP 1992). A 
number of islands are currently or potentially active volcanically, including islands in 
Hawaii, Tonga, Samoa, and the Northern Mariana islands (Allison and Eldredge 1999).  
 
The hotspot can be considered to have a maritime tropical climate, with relatively warm 
and constant temperatures except at high elevations. The climate is influenced largely by 
two major external factors: atmospheric currents and ocean currents. Internal influences 

 
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such as island shape, size and relief are also important but variable from island to island 
(Nunn 1994). Rainfall varies significantly horizontally across the hotspot, vertically 
within high islands, and seasonally. The wettest area is in the northwest of the hotspot in 
western Micronesia and the driest part of the hotspot is in the east around the Marquesas 
and Easter Island where an anticyclone persists for most of the year. Irregular climatic 
phenomena such as cyclones and the El Niño southern oscillation are important climatic 
events in most parts of the hotspot and have a significant environmental impact at times.  
 
BIOLOGICAL IMPORTANCE OF THE HOTSPOT 
The geographic complexity and isolated nature of Pacific islands have led to the 
development of extremely high levels of endemism in this hotspot. The various 
mechanisms of island biogeography and evolution have been able to work particularly 
clearly in the Pacific free of continental influences (Dahl 1986). However, the extreme 
vulnerability of island ecosystems and species to impacts such as habitat destruction and 
invasive species has resulted in the flora and fauna of this hotspot being amongst the 
most endangered in the world. In fact, species extinction rates in this hotspot approach 
the highest in the world, especially for birds (Steadman 1995) and land snails (Cowie 
2001).  
 
The present distribution of flora and fauna across the Pacific has resulted from the 
complex interplay of many factors in both time and space (Dahl 1984, Stoddart 1992). 
Endemism is a product of isolation, marginal environments, chance dispersal events like 
storms, and time (SPREP 1992). One of the key factors is the distance of an island from 
the major centers of evolution and distribution, such as Southeast Asia, the Indo-Malay 
Peninsula, Australia or America (MacArthur and Wilson 1967, Dahl 1980). The closer an 
island is to a center of evolution, the greater the opportunity that species from that area 
will have been able to colonize it (Dahl 1980). Other factors influencing Pacific 
biogeography are island size, type and precipitation (Mueller-Dombois 2002) and deep-
sea trenches, such as the Tonga trench (Stoddart 1992). 
   
The origins of most Pacific biodiversity are in Southeast Asia and New Guinea with a 
general attenuation in marine and terrestrial biodiversity from west to east. Thus there are 
no native amphibians east of Fiji and there are no native terrestrial mammals east of the 
Cook Islands, except for a single Hawaiian sub-species (a bat which originated from the 
Americas). The eastward diminution of biodiversity reflects several factors. The filtering 
effect of the ocean would be expected to filter out species that are not adept at crossing 
ocean gaps. Furthermore, island size and rainfall generally decrease eastwards and the 
greatest complexity of island types occurs in the west with continental islands not 
occurring east of Fiji (SPREP 1992). Last but not least, humans, who played a major role 
in the dispersal of species into the Pacific, migrated predominately from west to east 
(SPREP 1992). 
 
Biodiversity of the Hotspot 
In this section a brief summary of the terrestrial biodiversity of the hotspot is provided. 
The focus here is on hotspot biogeography and endemic species. In the subsequent 
section on ecosystems the emphasis is on the habitats, specifically on the biomes and 

 
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ecosystems, of Pacific islands. In the later chapter on conservation outcomes, the focus is 
on the globally threatened species listed in the IUCN Red List (IUCN 2003) at the time of 
the expert roundtabes. 
 
Plant, bird, and invertebrate diversity in the hotspot are particularly high, but diversity of 
non-volant mammals, reptiles, and amphibians is low. Overall the hotspot is home to 
approximately 5,330 native vascular plant species (Allison and Eldredge 2004), of which 
3,070 (58 percent) are endemic, 242 breeding native bird species of which approximately 
164 (68 percent) are endemic, 61 native terrestrial reptiles, of which 30 (49 percent) are 
endemic, 15 native mammals, all bats, 11 (73 percent) of which are endemic, and three 
native amphibians, all endemic (Allison and Eldredge 2004). Although there are no true 
native freshwater fish, at least 96 marine species are found as adults in freshwater and 20 
species are endemic (ibid). Knowledge of invertebrate diversity is very patchy, but for 
many groups that have been studied, it is high. Land snail diversity is particularly high 
with over 750 species in Hawaii alone (Cowie 1996) and perhaps 4,000 species in the 
insular tropical Pacific (Cowie 2000). A summary of the number of known native and 
endemic species by political units for each taxonomic group is shown in Table 2 and a 
description of the distribution of each group follows.  
 
In the Pacific the islands that tend to have the largest and most varied biodiversity are the 
bigger, higher, older, volcanic and western-most islands close to land masses of 
continental origin. Such islands have a far greater range of habitats and niches for 
colonization and speciation than the low coral islands. Similarly, elevated atolls have 
higher biodiversity than reef islands just at sea level (Dahl 1980). However, although the 
more isolated oceanic islands may have fewer biological groups, those that managed to 
colonize such islands may have undergone intense speciation to form many new species 
(SPREP 1992). The Hawaiian islands, for example, are one of the most isolated island 
groups in the world and have no native amphibians and no endemic reptiles but do have 
very high rates of endemism for some taxonomic groups, approaching 98 percent for land 
snails and 83 percent for vascular plants. 
 
The diversity of most taxonomic groups follows the general pattern already described for 
biodiversity in the hotspot as a whole. Plant diversity is highest on the larger and higher 
volcanic archipelagos such as Hawaii, Fiji and Samoa. These three island groups, along 
with the Marquesas islands, have been identified by WWF/IUCN as Centers of Plant 
Diversity in the hotspot (van Royen and Davis 1995). Such centers are areas with high 
plant diversity (although the actual number of species present may not be accurately 
known) and high plant endemicity (ibid). 
 
Although bird diversity is not very high by global standards, endemism is very high 
(Allison and Eldredge 1999) as are the numbers of globally threatened birds (Stattersfield 
et al 1998). Threats to bird species are not a new phenomenon in the Pacific. In fact, the 
Pacific islands are believed to have had more than 2,000 bird extinctions since human 
colonization (Steadman 1995). The highest diversity and endemism is in Hawaii, Fiji and 
French Polynesia. There are a total of 15 Endemic Bird Areas (EBAs), as defined by 

 
9
 
 
BirdLife International (Stattersfield et al 1998) in the hotspot. These are as follows, with 
the number of restricted range species in each EBA in brackets.  

 
In Polynesia : Hawaii (15), Central Hawaiian islands (23), Laysan island (2), 
Samoan islands (20), Southern Cook islands (7), Rimatara (2), Marquesas islands 
(10), Society islands (8), Tuamotu archipelago (8), Henderson Island (4), and Fiji 
(27).  

 
In Micronesia: the Mariana islands (12),  Palau (16), Yap (7), and East Caroline 
islands (18).  
 
Terrestrial reptile, mammal, and amphibian diversity in the hotspot are all quite low but 
endemicity is high. None of these groups are very vagile, especially at dispersing across 
large ocean gaps. The greatest diversity of all three groups is in the west and north of the 
region close to the biological source area (for most of the groups) of Southeast Asia. Of 
the 61 native terrestrial reptiles, Fiji and Palau have the greatest diversity. The terrestrial 
species include seven species of snakes and 53 species of lizards, mostly skinks and 
geckos but also two iguanas that are endemic to the Fiji-Tonga area (Allison and 
Eldredge 2004). Amphibian diversity in the hotspot is extremely low with only three 
native amphibians known to occur, all three endemic ranid frogs of the genus Platymantis 
(ibid). Two of the species are endemic to Fiji, the third to Palau and all three are believed 
to be related to species found in the Solomons and Papua New Guinea respectively 
(Allison and Eldredge 1999).  

 
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Table 2. Numbers of Native and Endemic Species in Major Taxonomic Groups by Political Units for Polynesia-Micronesia 
 
Native Vascular 
Plants
(i) 
Breeding Birds
 (ii) 
Native Mammals
 
(iii) 
Terrestrial  
Reptiles
 (ii) 
Native 
Amphibians
 (ii) 
Native Land 
snails 
(iv) 
Hotspot 
Country, State 
or Territory 
Species 
known 
Percent 
endemic 
Species 
known 
Percent 
endemic 
Species 
known 
Percent 
endemic 
Species 
known 
Percent 
endemi

Species 
known 
Percent 
endemic 
Species 
known 
Percent 
endemic 
American 
Samoa 
373 
3  34 
0  3  0  11 
0 0 0  47 

CNMI 
221 
37 28 
7  2  0  11 
0 0 0  -  - 
Cook Islands 
284 
12 
27 
26 


1
(vi) 
0 0 0  45 
(vi) 

Easter 
Island 
-  -  - -  0 0  - - 0 0  0 0 
FSM 782
 
25 40 
45 
6 83 - - 0 0  - - 
Fiji 
1,628 
50  74 35  6  17  25 36 2  100 -  - 
French 
Polynesia 
959 
58 60 
43 0  0  10 
0 0 0  >160
**
 - 
Guam 
330 
21 18 
11 2  0  11 
9 0 0  27 

Hawaii 1,200 
83 
112 
(v) 
55 
(v) 
1 0  3
(vii) 
0 0 0  763 
98 
Kiribati 
22 9  26 
4  0  0  -  0 0 0  -  - 
Marshall 
Is 100 
5  17 
0  0  0  7 0 0 0  >6
 

Nauru 
54 2  9 11 -  0  -  0 0 0  -  - 
Niue 
178 
1  15 
0  1  0  4 0 0 0  -  - 
Palau 
175 
?  45 
22 2  50 22 
5 1 100 
68 

Pitcairn 
Islands 
76 18 19 
26 0  0  -  0 0 0  ~30 
~15 
Samoa 
770 
15 40 
20 3  0  8 0 0 0  64 

Tokelau  32 0  5 0  0  0  7 0 0 0  -  - 
Tonga 
463 5 
37 5  2  0 
6  17 0  0 
-  - 
Tuvalu 
44 0  9 0  0  0  -  0 0 0  -  - 
US Minor 
Islands 
-  -  - -  0 0 
 - - 0 0  - - 
Wallis 

Futuna 
475 
15 25 
0  1  0  -  0 0 0  -  - 
1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   ...   17


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