Paradise for Flying Foxes at Risk in the Pacific

Solomon Islands

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  • Temotu Flying Fox. Photo by OceansWatch

Two small, remote Solomon Islands – Teanu and Tinakula – are incredibly important refuges for endemic wildlife and as such are recognized as Key Biodiversity Areas, forming part of the East Melanesian Islands Biodiversity Hotspot.

Teanu is almost entirely covered in undisturbed primary forest, which provides vital habitat for rare species such as the Critically Endangered Vanikoro Flying Fox. Tinakula is a refuge for many IUCN Red Listed species since the neighboring Nendo Island is being negatively impacted by logging and mining, threatening species that are shared between the islands.

To preserve these indispensable habitats and safeguard their unique biodiversity, Rainforest Trust is working with local partner OceansWatch-Solomon Islands to permanently protect the two islands through the creation of Teanu Island Biodiversity Reserve and Tinakula Island Biodiversity Reserve.

Biodiversity

  • Santa Cruz Ground-dove Photo by Oceans Watch
  • Temotu Flying Fox Photo by Keith Barnes/Tropical Birding

Recent surveys on Teanu by OceansWatch confirmed the presence of the Vanikoro Flying Fox, which had not been seen since it was first collected before 1930. It is assessed as Critically Endangered due to its presumed small population and restricted range. This flying fox is a solitary creature, roosting individually or occasionally in pairs primarily in the understory of trees that provide food such as coconuts or mangos. The island also contains Endangered Fijian Kauri Pine trees whose numbers are in continuous decline as its wood is highly sought after for construction material.

Similarly, Tinakula also contains endemic bird and mammal species. Surveys conducted in 2014 and 2015 confirmed the presence of several IUCN Red Listed species, including the Endangered Temotu Flying Fox and the Endangered Santa Cruz Ground-Dove, whose population has decreased due to habitat loss and hunting. OceansWatch staff recently captured the very first photographs of this threatened dove.

Challenges

  • Invasive pigs on nearby island. Photo by Sekundo/flickr

Teanu forms part of the Vanikoro chain of the Solomon Islands that has been heavily impacted by logging for timber. Fortunately, Teanu is the most intact and pristine of the region’s islands, but is in dire need of protection. For example, the Vanikoro Flying Fox has lost almost its entire habitat across the island chain, making Teanu the last safe refuge for the species. Similarly, the Fijian Kauri Pine, an Endangered tree species, is wholly dependent on Teanu as it is being heavily logged on other islands.

On Tinakula, the main threat is the possible introduction of invasive species. Currently no cats, rats or wild pigs exist on the island, miraculously making it the only predator-free island in the Solomon Islands. It is urgent that Tinakula be protected as soon as possible to maintain its unique status, as the introduction of any invasive species could have a devastating impact on the island’s populations of threatened wildlife.

Communities

  • Local boy from neighboring island in traditional dress. Photo by OceansWatch

All the landowners of these two islands are indigenous and support the creation of these protected areas.

The customary landowners of Teanu are primarily subsistence farmers and live in the village of Buma, which consists of approximately 150 individuals. Rainforest Trust’s local partner has been training members of this community to survey bat and bird populations in the area and how to act as guides for future ecotourism opportunities.

Following the eruption of Tinakula in 1976, most of the traditional island landowners now live on the nearby Malo and Niupani islands. The majority of these landowners are subsistence farmers, and Rainforest Trust’s local partner has established a virgin coconut oil program in Malo Island as a sustainable income generating program.

Solutions

  • Oceans Watch research boat. Photo by Oceans Watch.

Rainforest Trust is working with local partner OceansWatch-Solomon Islands to permanently protect the two islands through the creation of Teanu Island Biodiversity Reserve and Tinakula Island Biodiversity Reserve. Initial surveys and outreach conducted by OceansWatch-Solomon Islands determined the importance of these two islands while building awareness among landowners about the area’s vital role as a biodiversity refuge. OceansWatch-Solomon Islands has discussed with landowners from both island communities the opportunity of legally protecting the areas under the Solomon Islands Protected Areas Act, and landowners have expressed enthusiasm about this initiative.

The process of submitting the management plans to be accepted by the Ministry of Environment as well as the declaration of these protected areas is expected to be complete within two years. A ranger station will be established on each island that will double as ecotourism facilities to provide a small sustainable income for the rangers. Two trained ranger teams will patrol both Teanu and Tinakula Islands, ensuring the continued protection of these biodiverse habitats.