Invasive species – a major threat to our economies, says expert group

22 June 2012 | Article

Invasive Species are possibly the greatest manageable threat to Pacific island economies and their sustainable development, says the Pacific Invasives Partnership (PIP). Meeting in Suva this week, PIP brings together experts from conservation, research and non-governmental organisations, to address the shared challenges of managing invasive species in the region.  

Invasive species (often called pests and weeds), are plants, animals and other organisms taken beyond their natural range by people, deliberately or unintentionally, and which become destructive to the environment or human interests. Although still given limited priority in the region, invasive species can devastate the health, agriculture, fisheries, tourism potential and even the way of life in small islands.

“In fact, we could go so far as to say that invasive species have the potential to pose a greater long-term threat to our islands than cyclones and similar natural disasters,” said PIP Chair, Souad Boudjelas.

“While natural disasters are catastrophic to our economies and our livelihoods, they are generally single events that we are able to recover from and for which we are able to plan and prepare. Invasive plants and animals, on the other hand, can remain in an environment for many years before their impact becomes obvious.”

She referred to the Fiji termite problem, which is destroying wood structures, including people’s homes, and quoted Ilaisa Dakaica, Fiji Government Entomologist, who noted that the termite can live in the ground for up to 50 years, causing continuous destruction. In an interview with the Fiji Sun in 2010, Dakaica said, “The Government of the United States calculated costs of up to $65 billion a year in damages caused by the termite.”

The costs of invasive species are not just in damages, but are also expensive to control. The Fiji Government has already injected over $1 million into the termite eradication programme.

Recognising that Pacific islands may not have the capacity to afford this kind of economic damage, PIP focuses on supporting Governments with prevention, early detection, rapid response, research and outreach to deal with this growing threat to our region.

No Pacific island is spared from these impacts and there are examples from all over the region where countries have suffered huge losses from plants and animals. The taro blight in Samoa is one of the better-known invasives that has caused severe economic losses. The taro blight, a fungus, wiped out Samoa’s taro production and export in 1993 and losses were estimated at US$5 million annually. It has taken Samoa nearly 20 years to recover from this disaster, with taro production only reaching export standards in 2011. The coconut rhinoceros beetle, another well-known invasive, has caused havoc on coconut plantations and resulted in agricultural losses in several of our islands.

The PIP group is advocating prevention over cure and working with governments to strengthen biosecurity through stronger quarantine measures and permit systems to control introduction of potentially harmful species.

The 2012 annual PIP meeting was held this week from 18 June to 22 June 2012 at IUCN's Oceania Regional Office, in Suva, Fiji. PIP is the Invasive Species Working Group of the Pacific Islands Roundtable for Nature Conservation, which is responsible for nature conservation in the Pacific.

For further information, contact:

Souad Boudjelas, Chair Pacific Invasives Partnership. Ph: 64(9) 9236805 email: s.boudjelas@auckland.ac.nz

Posa Skelton, Pacific Invasives Learning Network, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme. Ph: +685 21929 email: posas@sprep.org