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Vanuatu - Country Profile

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Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Vanuatu is a Y-shaped archipelago consisting of 83 volcanic islands located in the Southwest Pacific Ocean. Although listed as one of five Oceanic countries important in terms of biodiversity wealth, very little was known about Vanuatu’s biodiversity prior to the year 2005, compared to these other countries. In general, the larger and older islands have terrestrial ecosystems, plants and animals that possess richer biodiversity. Frequent disturbance due to the passage of tropical cyclones, earthquakes and volcanic activity exerts a profound effect on the distribution and abundance of species, especially on the smaller islands. Climate change is already having an impact on biodiversity in Vanuatu, and is projected to become a progressively more significant threat in the coming decades.

Compared to the country’s fauna, its flora is well covered in terms of taxonomic studies. Many of Vanuatu’s 65 Orchidaceae species are endemic (the orchids trade is highly regulated beyond regional protection with all genera listed on CITES Appendices 1 or 2). Vanuatu has recorded 127 birds, including 11 endemic species and 1 extinct endemic species (Tanna Ground Dove) however 8 of the 11 endemic species are globally threatened and listed on the IUCN Red List.

Vanuatu is fundamentally an agricultural society, with the majority of the population involved in farming and fishing activities, either for subsistence, livelihood or cash income. The contributions of the agricultural sector to the GDP include the export of traditional commodities, such as organically grown kava, beef, vanilla, coffee and copra. Local production of yams, cassava, breadfruit, vegetables, fruit and nuts supply the domestic market, with pigs being particularly important for feasts, traditional ceremonies and reconciliation ceremonies.

Vanuatu fisheries are utilized on subsistence, artisanal and commercial levels. The main target fishery are the inshore tuna fishery associated with Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs), and reef fishes, including various invertebrates fisheries such as trochus, sea cucumber, lobster and giant clam. The introduction of improved modern fishing gear has further increased the pressure on the reef fishery, with freshwater prawns, giant clams, trochus and green snails being over-exploited and in danger of being depleted. At the moment, the deep-bottom (snapper) fishery, marine aquarium trade fishery, trochus fishery and tuna export production are sources of revenue for the Vanuatu Government. Artisanal fisheries production showed a slight decrease between 2010 and 2012, while the export of trochus showed a slight increase between 2010 and 2012. Chilled and frozen tuna are both exported. The total quantity exported showed a slight decrease between 2011 and 2012, with yellowfin and bigeye tuna making up the bulk of the total 8 species exported (85% and 12%, respectively).

Forests and forest biodiversity continue to play a significant role in the daily livelihood of all of rural Vanuatu. The production forest occupies only 36% of Vanuatu’s land area, however only about 20% of it is used commercially, mainly due to inaccessibility, low tree density, cultural reasons, or because it was heavily logged in the 1980s and 1990s. While this logging led to severe degradation of the forest, about 50% of the deforestation in the country is due to subsistence land use.

Tourism and offshore financial services are other mainstays of the economy.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The greatest threats to terrestrial biodiversity are a result of human activities. In 2013, the Vanuatu National Statistics Office estimated the population of Vanuatu to have a growth rate of 2.3% per annum. Activities include: habitat loss; invasive alien species; urban and agricultural pollution; climate change; increasing shifting agricultural practices; natural disasters.

Activities impacting the freshwater ecosystems and the population or existence of freshwater fauna in Vanuatu include: upstream activities that can result in changes in freshwater ecosystems; sand extraction; encroachment on river banks from settlements; development activities.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

As a result of endorsement of the NBSAP in 1999, various national projects were developed and outside research conducted in accordance with the priority actions of the NBSAP. Examples of implemented projects include the Vanuatu Landholders Conservation Initiative Project, focusing on conservation of significant biodiversity and sites on the islands of Gaua, Santo and Tanna; the Forest and Protected Area Management Project on Gaua’s Lake Letas, Homo Bay on South Pentecost, Lusunuwe Forest on Northwest Malekula and Erromango Kauri Reserve. Research conducted relates to the freshwater fishes and crustaceans of Vanuatu, and to the Santo 2006 Global Biodiversity Expedition.

In March 2103, Vanuatu received GEF funding to review and revise its NBSAP, which will also comprise the establishment of national targets with a view to linking the country’s environmental priority development areas to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Reforestation activities are being carried out by the Department of Forests. Seeds are collected from sources around Vanuatu, and later distributed to community nurseries and to private individuals, as well as planted at the Department of Forests’ nurseries. Five tree species have been selected as priority species for reforestation: Sandalwood (Sandallum austrocaledonicum), Mahogany (Switenia macrophylla), Namamau (Securinega flexuosa), Whitewood (Endospermum medullosum), and Nangai (Canarium spp.).

The Vanuaflora database has just recently been established on the Department of Forestry’s website. The database records a total of 171 families of Vanuatu plants and 842 genera with more than 1000 species. There are many endemic flora species however this is not clearly indicated in the database at the moment (this information will be included when the database is updated).

Over the last six years, the Fisheries Department has increased the level of freshwater aquaculture for introduced Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) species of Nile Tilapia and the prawn species, Macrobrachium lar. In addition, since 2013, the Climate Change Section under the Department of Meteorology and Geo-hazards has been encouraging “back yard aquaculture” of the introduced fish Sarotherodon occidentalis as an alternative source of protein to marine resources to alleviate poverty, especially during disaster periods. This fish species has since become naturalized. The Department of Environmental Protection and Conservation is aware of these development projects with communities and has advised concerned agencies to ensure that communities are aware of their negative impact on the natural freshwater ecosystems and the high and significant endemism of Vanuatu’s freshwater fishes.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The recently adopted Overarching Productive Sector Policy (2012-2017) has had considerable biodiversity-oriented strategies mainstreamed into it. The policy is being driven by the Prime Minister’s Office with a focus on the three main key productive sectors, agriculture, fisheries and forestry. The main focus of the policy has been food security, livelihoods and the commodity export industries of Vanuatu. The success of these areas is the sustained growth in the productive sector which is heavily dependent on the sustainable management of the natural resource base.

The Vanuatu Agricultural Research Training Center (VARTC) implements agricultural research and development activities for farmers in accordance with the guiding principles outlined in the VARTC Act. Activities involve the conservation of germplasm, collection of important food crops (e.g. yams, taros, kumala, cassava, bananas, breadfruit, citrus) and cash crops (e.g. coconut, cocoa, coffee). As a result of activities, there is now a large diversification of traditional crops in Vanuatu (e.g. 170 taro varieties and 48 yam varieties were developed and bred by VARTC to distribute to farmers).

The National Advisory Board on Climate Change is coordinating a sector-specific approach to climate change adaptation to the current and predicted climate-related changes. A National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy is under development with assistance from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). The Vanuatu National Forest Policy 2013-2023 also has a policy directive for climate change, addressing adaptation and mitigation measures that the Department of Forests has identified will help to alleviate the pressure produced by the impacts of climate change.

The Department of Biosecurity is currently implementing a “Weed Management Project” whose overall objective is to reduce targeted weed infestation through biological means, and to provide training on weed management. Activities for the project include importation of bio-control agents, field releases of these agents in the islands of Vanuatu, and the development of a weed database. Since its inception in 2012, the project has managed to import bio-control agents for the ‘mile-a-minute’ (Mikania micrantha), the water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) and the Parthenium hysterophorus.

The Mines and Minerals Department recently established the ‘National Offshore Mineral Committee’ to look into legislating Deep Sea Mineral activities. A new Deep Sea Mineral Policy has been developed to guide and promote the development of offshore mining in Vanuatu.

Vanuatu is currently developing its National Invasive Species Strategy and Action Plan 2014-2020 and has identified 12 species as priority IAS in the country.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Although such a mechanism for comprehensively monitoring and reviewing implementation does not exist in Vanuatu at the moment, the revised NBSAP will seek to strengthen institutional, monitoring, reporting and exchange capacity through the establishment of the NBSAP Steering Committee, improvements to the National CHM, development of indicators and a monitoring approach, among other means.

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  • United Nations Environment Programme