Researchers have long been studying how the pollution and runoff from the surrounding earth affect the surrounding aquatic environments. They took note of the fact that when most terrestrial ecosystems are preserved, the solutions that were regularly implemented had not exactly been planned with the underwater world in mind. In response to this dilemma, Fiji’s Protected Area Committee decided to orchestrate plans that would maximize biodiversity not also on land, but in the water as well.
In order to move in the direction of keeping both the land and underwater at almost even levels of species richness, Fiji’s Protected Area Committee came up with a plan in which they wished to reach the goal of protect 20% of the land environments and 30% of the marine environments the surrounding waters.
Firstly, the land environments were split into 6 areas, and how these subsequent areas would contribute to the protection of the coral reef communities and accurately depict the vegetation on land. The area committee then decided to use a system that would score and rank the priority forests and then chose 13 as high priority sites for conservation. The terrestrial environment was then split according to the method known as the Marxan. The study had been narrowed down the three largest Fijian islands Viti Levu, Vanua Levu, and Taveuni, because they were unable to collect habitat islands for any other the smaller islands.
With this method, it was recommended to use data that represents the distribution of vegetation types in Fiji: cloud and montane forest, dry forest, kaarst forest, lowland rainforest, mangroves, upland rainforest, and wetlands. This would have been the best way to complete the task of conserving the diversity of species because the species’ distribution would have been more closer looked at, but at this was overlooked by the area committee because their main concern is to make sure that the species they had marked in the other areas, the “priority forests,” were more of a concern to them. Their goal was simple: to see how well their protected areas achieved their goal of representing 40% of all the vegetation that was on the island.
The results of this study showed that coral reefs received benefits in overall health of as high as 10.4% when the solution used were to attain the goals that they had set for the land environment in that area. The results from the Marxan plan had a marginal difference and that the benefits to the coral reefs were all about the same but they were slightly lower than the coral reef benefits, receiving 1.3-1.6 tomes less while the competing solutions had 1.1-2.8 time more. This might have been attributed to the fact that while all the scenarios had been compared in terms of how they represented the terrestrial vegetation, all the Marxan plans were required to get at representation for at least 40% of the vegetation, the priority areas had an uneven representation and therefore missed the 40% representation goals.
After this data was gathered, Fiji’s Protected Area Committee gathered to talk about what this data meant and to amend some of their previous rules as needed. From the coral reef benefit standpoint, protecting land with vegetation poses many benefits to the coral reefs, so all the priority lands that were protected did well in terms of providing for the coral reefs, but it showed that when you put boundaries on how certain protected areas could start to make all the land areas seem similar which in turn lowered the biodiversity in the coral reefs.
The committee came to the decision that even though the areas they deemed fit to be “priority areas” and very helpful to coral reef biodiversity actually hurt the vegetation represented in those same areas. In this case, the committee is currently continue to develop and discuss ways that they can represent the vegetation in all areas that also prevent runoff and help to preserve coral reef biodiversity as well.