Conservation has flow-on effects for flood protection

03 Feb 2009

Conservation work can help Fiji weather major storms and flooding like those experienced in recent weeks, environmental group BirdLife International says.

Director of the Pacific Secretariat in Fiji, Don Stewart, says conservation efforts not only protect Fiji’s wildlife, they can also have wider benefits for people, such as helping reduce the impact of flooding on communities and the local economy.

For example, programmes to conserve forest habitats and their wildlife also mean that the increased forest cover provides better protection against floods, he says.

“Forests serve as a protective cloak that reduces the impact of torrential rain. Forests allow heavy rainfall to slowly seep into the ground, rather than hitting bare earth and washing it away, and slows run-off from flowing rapidly into rivers which then create flooding.”

BirdLife is working with communities in the Pacific to establish Important Bird Areas, which recognise areas of habitat that support rare and threatened bird life. In Fiji 14 IBAs have been identified, comprising 17% of Fiji’s land area. The majority are forested, significantly reducing the impact of floods in these areas.

Protecting vegetation on river banks and restricting the taking of material such as boulders from riverbeds also helps reduce flood waters inundating surrounding land.

Protection of the coastal environment, such as restoration of wetlands and mangroves, also has benefits for protecting communities against storm damage, creating a valuable buffer zone against flood-swollen rivers, coastal erosion and storm surges.
Eradication of rats to prevent them preying on Fiji’s wildlife also has potential benefits in helping protect people from diseases such as Leptospirosis, which is believed to be responsible for human deaths in the wake of Fiji’s floods.

“Leptospirosis is widespread in the Pacific and its presence is strongly correlated with the presence of rodents such as rats. Eradication of rats by environmental organisations has enormous value in protecting Fiji’s endangered native birds, but it also brings important benefits in protecting human health.”

Contracting illness spread by introduced pests such as rodents means families and communities take longer to re-establish crops and livelihoods and recover from flood events such as those experienced recently.

Introduced pests such as rodents also damage crops, further increasing economic hardships. Preventing the introduction of alien invaders and where possible control or eradication of these species not only benefits native plants and animals but also quality of life for people.

“Often conservation can be seen as an expensive luxury, but it can actually help support communities and the local economy, especially in such difficult circumstances as we have seen in recent flooding.”

Contact: Don Stewart – 331 3592, mob 994 3731