The terrestrial biodiversity jewel of Polynesia-Micronesia

21 November 2013 | Fact sheet

Sovi Protected Area, Fiji

Background

The Sovi Protected Area is Fiji’s largest remaining undisturbed lowland forest watershed and hosts many biologically important terrestrial ecosystems. In fact, Sovi boasts the largest intact tract of forest and is the most biodiverse terrestrial ecosystem in the Polynesia-Micronesia Hotspot.

The area was inhabited a few generations ago, but abandoned due to poor soils and accessibility. Sovi is mostly under traditional ownership of 13 mataqali (clans) and also includes some smaller Crown and Freehold leases. A long term conservation management lease and trust agreement has also been established with an NGO, and is supported by generous donor capitalisation. Like many protected areas in the Pacific, continuing conservation tenure is not as certain as it might be in other regions that have strong national protected areas systems.

View images of the park

Size and Location

Sovi is on the island of Viti Levu. Despite being only 35 kilometres from Fiji’s capital Suva, physical isolation has protected Sovi from major human impacts. A large basin of low rolling hills ringed by steep volcanic peaks rising to 1,185 metres, it drains through a narrow gorge in the east. The area under protection is over 20,000 hectares. Rainfall has been estimated at almost 3,000 millimetres in the wet season. With its dense mantle of tropical rainforest surrounded by jagged peaks and imposing scarp walls, the Sovi Protected Area is visually spectacular. It contains several river catchments and is one of the largest sub-catchments of the Rewa River, which is critical to nearby communities and an important potential water source for urban areas in the Central Division of Fiji.

Flora and Fauna

Sovi is home to 19 endemic birds — many of them threatened — and is likely a crucial site for the long-term survival of several species of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. It also hosts one of the oldest living tree species in the world, a member of the relic Gondwana family of Podocarpus – acmopyle sahniana – a conifer that is on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It also hosts a rare orchid commonly known as the Jewel Orchid, which is found only in Sovi.

The Sovi Protected Area is also home to 14 freshwater (animal? Fish?) species, of which 22 percent are endemic. It is an important refuge for the many of its species, enabling their recovery when they fall victim to major disturbances such as cyclones, droughts, and human-induced forest degradation elsewhere on Viti Levu. Sovi is also an internationally recognised Important Bird Area (IBA), Key Biodiversity Area (KBA), tentative World Heritage Site and a site of National Significance.

Challenges

Although invasive species have a great impact on many of Fiji’s islands, Sovi is has escaped much of this due to it containing such a large tract of forest. Sovi also has no roads. However, it will take concerted monitoring and management to limit further incursions of harmful species. For more than three decades, NGOs, universities and the national government have worked with Sovi customary landowner groups to protect the area, particularly to secure agreement for conservation rather than logging concessions.

Recent interest in the Sovi basin for its gold bearing value, as well as its potential to host a water supply dam and for electricity generation, is again spurring nearby landholders and other stakeholders to argue for its critical conservation value. In particular, its ecosystem services under its current arrangement will be assessed to account for their wide range of biological and other values, including intrinsic, ecological, genetic, social, economic, scientific, educational, cultural, recreational and aesthetic.