‘As school kids growing up in Fiji, we learn all about lions and bears and other animals that we may never see, but we know nothing about the special and endangered animals that are unique to Fiji like the orange dove or the tree frog,’ Nunia Thomas noted.
Last Monday, RCSE was treated to a lesson on Fiji’s local wildlife from Ms Thomas, the Acting Director of Fiji’s only locally-based conservation NGO, NatureFiji/ MaraqetiViti. Nunia, a native of Drauniivi, Ra, is a herpetologist specializing in frogs, lizards, and snakes, and holds an MSc from USP. She first joined NatureFiji when it was founded in 2007 and was promoted to Acting Director last year.
NatureFiji is concerned that although 99% of Fiji’s endemic (native) plants and animals are found in our forests, these wild spaces are disappearing fast. Many of Fiji’s unique wildlife cannot compete with introduced species such as mongoose, rats, cats, mynah birds, and African Tulip. According to Nunia, 49% of global bird species extinctions have been in the Pacific.
The solution lies in educating and empowering Fiji citizens to take ownership of the biodiversity crisis we face. ‘Landowners are the key conservationists,’ says Nunia. ‘As a local NGO, we can be the voice that says things that others don’t want to hear. There is often too much focus on international donor priorities. We are able to focus on a Fijian solution to Fijian problems.’
At the moment, the organization is working on projects throughout the country including:
- Rat eradication/biosecurity
- Crested iguana biosecurity
- Mongoose biosecurity
- Protecting the Upper Navua Conservation area
- Developing and promoting sustainably managed sago palm harvest sites
Education is at the heart of NatureFiji’s work as well: they run nature clubs with schools and have created a databank of information of Fiji’s local species on their website www.naturefiji.org for students and the public to access. They welcome families to come along on tree-planting outings and also are looking forward to establishing wilderness camps so that city kids can build better connections with nature during the holidays.
When asked what made her want to work in conservation, Nunia laughs, saying that she came into it by accident! She had wanted to be a lawyer but her parents encouraged her to follow her interest in science, since Fiji has so few female scientists. Inspired by her lecturers at Uni and field work at the Lapita site in Sigatoka, Nunia has never looked back.
Now she is heralded as one of Fiji’s premier conservation champions. RCSE is very grateful to Nunia for sharing her passion with us this week!
**NatureFiji offers a variety of individual, family, and corporate memberships. Anyone interested should visit their website for more information.