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.
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.
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 ) 1 Population 1 GDP/ capita 2 (US$) CEPF eligibility MICRONESIA
Commonwealth of the
471 69,221 10,401
Federated States of
low and uplifted
811 84,494 625 Yes
488 19,129 8,000
FIJI volcanic/a few
coral islands and
18,333 900,000 5,880 Yes
200 57,291 3,833
237 18,027 4,727
uplifted coral atolls
3,521 245,405 17,398
14 of 20
Key: - no current data available
1. UNDP Human Development Report 2005
2. SPC 2003a (
3. Crocombe, R. 2001. The South Pacific. USP, Fiji.
4. U.S. Census Bureau 2003. (
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.
Figure 1. Map of the Polynesia-Micronesia Hotspot
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
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
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
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
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
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
In Micronesia: the Mariana islands (12), Palau (16), Yap (7), and East Caroline
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).
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
0 3 0 11
0 0 0 47
7 2 0 11
0 0 0 - -
0 0 0 45
- - - - 0 0 - - 0 0 0 0