On Saturday, 28 April, our members and friends participated in the first planting of two of Fiji’s highly threatened palms to help combat their endangered species status: the Navua/Phillip’s Palm (Heterospathe phillipsii) and the Nabukavesi Palm (Balaka diffusa).
As part of NatureFiji-MareqetiViti’s (NFMV) Learn from the Scientists series, Dr. Dick Watling, scientist, author and Pacific Islands’ key environmentalist, supervised the planting of 58 seedlings on land that is part of the Kila Eco Adventure Park in Namosi. He explained that these two palms are critically endangered because of the very restricted area where they can be found: only in about 12 km of land near the Kila Park.
Warwick Pleass, Managing Director of Pleass Global, manufacturer of AquaSafe® and VaiWai®Artesian Waters (a corporate sponsor of NFMV), and the Kila Eco Adventure Park, generously offered the use of the company’s rainforest land, where these palms will have protection as part of his expanding ecotourism site. He shared his vision of helping to protect Fiji’s biodiversity on his company’s 427 acres of land, which includes the park and will soon house an Eco Visitor Centre where residents as well as tourists will be able to experience interactive environmental displays about Fiji’s flora and fauna.
Mr. Pleass’ staff also dug the holes for the planting. Dr. Watling chose the specific locations, selecting spots where the new seedings could get established in the shade of an invasive species tree which could afterwards be removed once the seedlings are big enough to handle the sun.
Dr. Watling raised most of the seedlings in his home garden nursery. He showed us the safest way to handle them and the best depth to place them. We learned how to make an appropriate mix of soil together with nutrient-rich chicken manure and nearby vegetation debris to place around the palm roots in the planting holes.
Mr. Pleass provided rings cut from used water bottles (that his company would otherwise would be recycling) to encircle the new seedlings for extra protection while they grow. We also learned the importance of arranging small fern branches around the seedlings to provide even more shade for them during their first days in their new home.
Mr. Pleass surprised participants by inviting them to spend some time on the Kila Park’s lower rope course when they’d finished palm planting.
There are 25 species of native Fijian palms, and all but three are endemic to Fiji, i.e., they’re not found elsewhere in the world. Unfortunately, 14 of them are currently listed as threatened in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, and of these, six are listed as Critically Endangered, five as Endangered, and three as Vulnerable.
This event was a wonderful opportunity for NatureFiji-MareqetiViti’s members and friends to help conserve two of Fiji’s endangered species. We were also pleased to be joined by several students in the University of the South Pacific’s Postgraduate Diploma Program on Biodiversity and Conservation. Many of the planting participants are looking forward to visiting the Kila Park in the future to keep an eye on the progress of these Nabukavesi and Navua Palms, in the hopes that one day, they will no longer be endangered.