- no data available, ** Society Islands only. Note that species totals are not always additive because some species are distributed in more than one country.
Sources: i. van Royen, P., and Davis, S.D. (1995). Centres of Plant Diversity, except Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) data which are from UNDP (2002) and
Samoa data which are from Whistler (pers.comm. 2003)
ii. WCMC. (1994). Biodiversity Data Sourcebook. World Conservation Press, Cambridge
iii. Flannery, T. (1995). Mammals of the South-West Pacific and Moluccan islands. Cornell University Press, New York
iv. Dr Robert Cowie (pers. comm.), except for Marshall Islands which is Vander Velde (pers.comm. 2003)
v. Allison, A., and Eldredge, L. 2004. Polynesia and Micronesia. in Mittermier et al. Hotspots Revisited.Cemex and Conservation International
vi. McCormack, G. 2002. Cook Islands Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan. UNDP
vii. Eldredge, L., and Evenhuis, N.L. In Press. Hawaii’s Biodiversity: A detailed assessment of the numbers of species in the Hawaiian Islands
. Bishop Museum
viii. Cowie, R. 2000. Non-indigenous land and freshwater molluscs in the islands of the Pacific: conservation impacts and threats. In Invasive Species in the
Pacific: A Technical Review and Draft Regional Strategy
. Sherley, G. (Ed.). SPREP, Apia. (Note that the figure includes all Pacific islands except New Zwaland
There are only 15 native terrestrial mammals in the hotspot and all are bats (Allison and
Eldredge 2004). Eleven species, or 56 percent of the bats, are endemic, all fruit bats
(ibid). Most of the bats are found on the high islands in the north and west of the hotspot,
and all, bar the single Hawaiian sub-species, Lasiurus cinereus semotus
, are related to
Indo-Pacific groups. None of the rat species, which inhabit most of the islands in the
hotspot, are believed to be native; all are assumed to have been introduced by the early
inhabitants, or by Europeans (Allison and Eldredge 1999)
Invertebrates have been poorly studied globally despite the fact that invertebrates make
up 99 percent of all animal species (Lydeard et al
In Press). This is also true of the
Polynesia-Micronesia Hotspot, where very few invertebrate groups
, such as the land
snails, have been studied comprehensively. Globally, the greatest snail diversity and
endemism appears to be in isolated environments such as islands and in mountains
(WCMC 1992). This is certainly true in the Pacific where land snail diversity is
particularly high – approaching 4,000 species (Cowie 2000). In the hotspot, the greatest
land snail diversity is on certain extremely isolated islands such as Rapa, Oahu and
Mangareva (Cowie 1996). Pacific land snails are dominated by a relatively small number
of families including the endemic Partulidae, Achatinellidae, Amastridae, and
Endodontidae and the nonendemic Charopidae, Pupillidae, Helicinidae, Helicarionidae,
Although this ecosystem profile focuses on terrestrial biodiversity, no summary of the
biodiversity of an essentially oceanic region such as Polynesia and Micronesia could be
complete without a brief description of the marine biodiversity. The Western Pacific has
the highest marine diversity in the world, with up to 3,000 species being recorded from a
single reef (SPREP 1992). Overall, the Pacific region has the most extensive coral reef
system in the world, the largest tuna fishery, and the healthiest remaining global
populations of many marine species such as whales and sea turtles (UNESCO 2003a).
Unlike the relatively depauperate terrestrial mammal fauna, the marine mammal fauna of
the region is quite rich (Allison and Eldredge 1999). As with the terrestrial realm there is
a gradient of decreasing numbers of species from west to east, but there is a second
gradient from warm equatorial waters to more temperate waters away from the equator as
well (Dahl 1984). There is evidence that widely distributed species are a larger
component of marine, rather than terrestrial, flora and fauna (ibid).
There have been a number of attempts to classify and map the ecosystems of the Pacific
region, but none specifically for the hotspot. In 1974 IUCN classified and mapped the
Pacific into 19 terrestrial biogeographical provinces based on island type
, climate, and
vegetation affinities. Dahl (1980) later modified the classification to 20 biogeographical
provinces (terrestrial and marine) and classified the region into biomes and thence into 74
ecosystems, including about 27 terrestrial ecosystems, 12 freshwater ecosystems, and 35
marine ecosystems (ibid). Terrestrial biomes were distinguished according to vegetation
type, while for the marine biomes, the substrate, as well as the dominant plant or benthic
animals, was used to determine the classification.
The natural vegetation of the Pacific islands has been recently refined into 12 principal
biomes (Mueller-Dombois and Fosberg 1998). Along the shores of most Pacific islands is
salt and wind tolerant strand vegetation composed of herbs, vines and low shrubs.
Fringing some sheltered shores, often where there is some freshwater source, are
mangrove swamps composed of shrubs and trees. In inland areas on large, wet islands are
various types of rain forest with a rich and diverse floristic composition of epiphytes,
shrubs and trees. The natural vegetation at low elevations is coastal and lowland rain
forest, although this has been eliminated on most islands in the hotspot. At higher
elevations the rainforest changes to a lower stature
, shrub and epiphyte-rich montane
rainforest. At or above the cloud line on the highest islands are dwarf statured cloud
forests. Above the cloud line on Hawaii and Maui the vegetation is a montane grassland
or savanna mixed with xerophytic shrubs and trees while on the dry leeward slopes of
some Hawaiian and Fijian islands is a mesophytic, or seasonally dry, evergreen forest
composed of grasses and sclerophyllous shrubs and trees (ibid).
Wetlands have not been well studied in the Pacific, except in Hawaii and current and
former U.S. territories (Scott 1993). However, some general statements can be made. On
the whole, the atoll states have few, if any, significant wetlands other than reef systems.
On the larger volcanic islands in the hotspot there are significant areas of wetlands of two
main types, intertidal mangrove forests, and freshwater lakes, marshes, swamps and
rivers. Fiji in particular has a diverse variety of inland wetlands including distinct sago
swamps, peat bogs and pandanus savannas. Large mangrove forests are still found in
coastal areas of Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and Palau and to a lesser
extent Tonga and Samoa. Mangrove forests are particularly important for fish,
invertebrate and avian diversity, including a number of threatened migratory shorebirds.
Freshwater wetlands such as coastal marshes, upland swamps and marshes, crater lakes
and rivers cover a very small area overall but have unusual and poorly known floras and
fish and invertebrate faunas. Many wetlands in the hotspot are threatened by
development, pollution, invasive species and habitat conversion.
After centuries of human impact, the dominant vegetation types on most islands are now
human induced or anthropogenic plant associations ranging from agroforests and
secondary forest to grassland and savanna. It is estimated that more than three quarters of
the original vegetation of the hotspot has been damaged or destroyed (Allison and
Eldredge 1999). The forested area varies significantly from country to country in the
hotspot but tends to be highest on the volcanic islands such as Fiji, Palau, and Samoa
with 30-60 percent forest cover and lowest on the low islands and atolls from 5-40
percent forest cover (FAO 2003).
Recent assessments of globally significant ecosystems have identified a number of
critical ecosystems or ecoregions in the hotspot. This could be interpreted as a strong
endorsement of the choice of the hotspot by other environmental organizations. As
mentioned, the hotspot includes four centers of plant diversity (van Royen and Davis
1995). Twenty two of the 867 global terrestrial ecoregions identified and mapped by
WWF are in the hotspot, including all of the island groups in the hotspot (Olson et al
2001). Pacific terrestrial ecoregions have recently been revised slightly to take into
account the latest information on invertebrate distribution (Olson pers. comm. 2003).
Many of the ecoregions mapped by WWF correspond closely to the biogeographic
provinces of Dahl (1980). The main ecosystem represented in these ecoregions is tropical
rain forests. However, included in the 22 ecoregions are a few occurrences of tropical dry
forests in Hawaii, Fiji and Micronesia and shrublands and scrub in Hawaii. WWF’s
Global 200 list of the most outstanding examples of the world’s ecosystems includes
three terrestrial ecoregions in the hotspot, namely Hawaii’s rain forests, Hawaii’s dry
forests and the South Pacific island forests which includes the rain forests of the Cook
islands, Fiji, Tuamotus, Tonga, Society islands, Samoa, Marquesas, and Tubuai (Olson
and Dinerstein 1998).
Assessments of global marine ecosystem diversity have identified a number of sites of
global significance in the Pacific. WWF’s Global 200 list includes five outstanding coral
ecoregions in the hotspot, namely Palau, Tahiti, Hawaii, Rapa Nui (Easter island), and
Fiji (Olson and Dinerstein 1998). Conservation International has identified 18 global
marine centers of endemism based on the number of restricted range reef fish, corals,
snails and lobsters (Roberts et al
2002). There are two such centers in the Polynesia-
Micronesia Hotspot, namely the Hawaiian Islands and Easter Island.
A number of ecosystems and habitats in the hotspot have been identified as having
national or even international significance and have been declared as protected areas-
including national parks, reserves, and conservation areas. These sites are discussed in
the next section.
Level of Protection
A protected area is defined by IUCN-The World Conservation Union (IUCN 2004a) as,
“an area of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of
biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed
through legal or other effective means.
” This definition encompasses government
managed strict nature reserves through to areas managed by customary landowners for
conservation and resource management.
There are at least 356 protected areas recorded within the hotspot covering approximately
1,872,196 hectares (18,722 square kilometers) of land and sea, however almost one-third
of these are found in Hawaii alone. Excluding Hawaii
, 154 of the hotspot’s protected
areas (60 percent) are terrestrial, covering an area of approximately 199,750 hectares
(1,998 square kilometers) or 6.7 percent of the land area of the hotspot. Table 3
summarizes the known protected area coverage in hotspot political units.
General assumptions on the effectiveness (i.e. representativeness and functionality) of the
coverage of protected areas within the hotspot are subjective. Almost 40 percent of the
protected areas listed in the Pacific Protected Area Database
developed by Conservation
International, have no recorded size. This may be because many of these areas have not
been delineated. This deficiency in the data has meant that the size estimates for each
country and the whole hotspot are skewed and extremely misleading. For example, 17 of
Fiji’s 38 listed terrestrial protected areas have no size estimates. In general, where the
land area covered by a protected area is defined, it is a general estimate or a contested
figure. In addition, many of the areas listed are coastal areas with a terrestrial and marine
component. There is often no clear distinction between the individual size of each
(marine and terrestrial). Therefore, the summarized area listed in Table 3 may incorporate
the marine component of a protected area in addition to the terrestrial component.
Table 3. Summary of Protected Areas by Political Units in the Polynesia-Micronesia
Note: The data in this table represent available information for each country, state, and territory at the time
of compilation. The accuracy of the data is unknown at this stage and may be inaccurate and not necessarily
representative of actual area protected. The information should therefore be treated with caution and should
not be used as a guide to compare country coverage or to assess general protected area coverage within
Source: Conservation International’s “Pacific Protected Area Database”
except data for Hawaii, which is
from SPREP (1999).
- no data available
The lack of information regarding size, boundaries and, in many cases, even location
information, in part reflects the unique nature of customary land tenure and resource
rights within the Pacific region. Information identifying a protected area that is locally
owned, used, and managed may encompass sensitive local and or traditional knowledge
State or Territory
(marine & land)
107 398,825 56
- - -
US Minor Islands
65 77,641 38
184 1,395,730 165
Wallis et Futuna
that the land and resource owners do not want revealed or publicized. In addition, most
countries do not have a centralized up-to-date record of their protected areas due to
limited government resources and capacity, and lack of national coordination between
bodies responsible for protected areas.
When considering protected area coverage for the region it is important to recognize that
many Pacific “protected areas” are not dedicated primarily for the purposes of
biodiversity conservation. Many are areas that have been established for utilitarian
purposes of resource management as well as the maintenance of ecological systems for
continued sustainable use. The conservation of biodiversity may occur but it is not the
primary objective of these areas.
Pacific island communities have traditional systems of “setting areas aside.” These areas
form part of the community’s culture, customs, and traditional resource management
practices and include areas such as “mo” areas in the Marshall Islands, “ra’ui” areas in
the Cook Islands, and “tabu” areas in Fiji. These areas may be temporary closure areas
such as Pouara Ra’ui in the Cook Islands, closed for two years, or permanent closure
areas. National governments often do not recognize these traditional conservation and
resource management arrangements. The Pacific Protected Area Database
encompasses permanent protected areas where they are publicly known. Subsequently
many traditionally protected areas are not listed in the Database or included in Table 3.
These areas play a vital role in the conservation effort within the hotspot and should not
Protected Area Classification
Protected areas are dedicated and managed for a variety of purposes including scientific
research, wilderness protection, preservation of species and genetic diversity,
maintenance of environmental services
, protection of specific natural and cultural
features, tourism and recreation, education, sustainable use of resources from natural
ecosystems, and maintenance of cultural and traditional attributes (IUCN 2004a). IUCN
developed six protected area management categories, illustrating the range of purposes
and objectives protected areas can serve. The classification system provides a rationale
for why the protected area was established. Increasingly along the continuum (from Ia –
VI), emphasis is placed on direct human use and resource development.
Each country, state, and territory has an individual protected area categorization system,
often outlined in the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plans, where these exist.
These national interpretations exist in addition to the IUCN system. The difficulty in
standardization lies in the different, and at times inaccurate, interpretations of the IUCN
Classification system between countries and organizations. Some protected area sites
have been allocated more than one category by different sources; the same site may be
listed as a category II (National Park) in one source and as a category IV (Managed
Resource Protected Areas) in another source. This may be due to the various
interpretations of the classification system and to the multiple use nature of many
protected areas and the different zones of management within many sites.
A number of sites in the hotspot have been identified as internationally significant and
have been declared either World Heritage sites, Biosphere reserves, or Wetlands of
International Importance (Ramsar sites). Three areas have been declared by the United
Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as World Heritage
sites for their globally significant cultural and or natural heritage. The Hawaii Volcanoes
National Park was declared a World Heritage site in 1988 for its unique geology,
including one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Rapa Nui National Park on
Easter island was inscribed in 1995 for its unique cultural heritage and monumental
basalt figures called moai.
Henderson island in the Pitcairn group was inscribed in 1988
due to its pristine environment and large number of endemic terrestrial species. Many of
the islands in the Central Pacific, including the Line islands and a number of reefs and
islands in three countries, have been proposed as a combined World Heritage Site for
their relatively intact and undisturbed natural communities with significant marine and
avian biodiversity. Other sites in the hotspot, including sites in Fiji and a proposed
Samoan Archipelago site, are also being assessed.
There are two Man and the Biosphere reserves in the hotspot, selected by UNESCO for
their outstanding biological values and potential for scientific research. These two sites
are the Atoll de Taiaro in the Tuamotu group of French Polynesia - declared in 1977 due
to its pristine and unusual atoll environment, with a completely enclosed inner lagoon,
and the Hawaii Islands Biosphere Reserve - declared in 1980 for the unique, highly
endemic and threatened biodiversity of the Hawaiian islands. Only one site in the hotspot
has been declared a Ramsar wetland site- Lake Ngardok, on Palau, dedicated in 2002.
This 493 ha site has significant fish and avian fauna, including the national bird of Palau,
the Palau Fruit Dove or “biib” (Ptilinopus pelewensis
). Other sites in the hotspot have
been nominated as Ramsar sites
, including Lake Lanoto’o in Samoa, but have not yet
Many of the protected areas within the hotspot are managed for sustainable use of natural
ecosystems (Category VI) but have small traditional closed (no-take) areas within them.
This category is generally more appropriate within Polynesia and Micronesia because of
the predominance of customary land ownership and the economic, social, cultural, and
spiritual connection and dependence land and resource users have with their environment.
The regional trend for networks of small locally managed areas particularly in the marine
sector should be noted. Small-scale protected areas linked by networks and supported by
external organizations (NGO, private, or government) are considered more socially
appropriate, financially feasible and managerially sustainable within the Pacific region.
The Locally Managed Marine Area Network in the Western Pacific provides a good
working example of this approach.
A variety of protected area models and governance arrangements occur within the
hotspot. Most countries within the hotspot now have a centralized system of land and
resource management, in line with western approaches to governance. Commonly these
systems of governance have often been superimposed onto existing customary structures.
Due to the unwritten nature of customary tenure and law, this has occurred in some
nations relatively quickly. However, there is now a renewed emphasis on people-oriented
conservation initiatives within the region such as community-based conservation areas
and co-managed protected areas. These governance structures can cover the
full plethora of protected area categories and encompass a wide range of stakeholders and
support including private, NGO, and government. National governments often have
limited knowledge, involvement, and jurisdiction over community conservation areas.
Despite this, national governments are generally the primary body responsible for
reporting on the protected area status of their countries.
In recognition of the great diversity of protected area governance types and the influence
these have on the management of a protected area, a typology of protected area
governance was recently added as an extra dimension to the IUCN protected area
categories. This was an outcome of the 2003 V
World Parks Congress in Durban, South
Africa. A protected area will therefore be any combination of the four types of PA
and six IUCN management objective categories. This new dimension of
classification will be invaluable when considering the conservation status of the
Polynesia-Micronesia Hotspot in the future.
Community Conserved Areas
The status and management effectiveness of most of the protected areas summarized in
Table 3 is unknown at this stage. Some general conclusions can however be made. The
listed protected areas for the hotspot are poorly resourced with limited management
support and capacity. The practice of conservation through conventional forms of
protected areas throughout the Pacific islands region appears to have been largely
ineffective, having historically been applied without due respect for customary land and
resource tenure arrangements or traditional practices and rights. Consequently, the
hotspot does not have an effective developed protected area system in the formal
There is new awareness of traditional approaches to conservation. The now more
formalised community conserved areas must be considered when assessing protected area
coverage. These areas have played, and will continue to play, a fundamental role in the
conservation of biodiversity within the Polynesia-Micronesia Hotspot. In general, due to
land tenure arrangements and customary resource rights, it appears that co-managed
protected areas between communities and state or NGOs, and community conservation
with government or NGO support, are the most appropriate governance models for
protected areas in the hotspot.
Community Conserved Areas are “natural and modified ecosystems including significant biodiversity,
ecological services and cultural values voluntarily conserved by concerned communities through customary
laws or other effective means” (IUCN 2004b).
A.Government Managed PAs; B. Co-managed PAs; C. Private PAs; D. Community Conserved Areas.
These governance types can represent any of the IUCN Categories (Management objectives) i.e. Strict
Nature Reserve or Protected Landscape/seascape.