7 September 2023, Apia – In the Pacific Islands region, improving ecosystem health is vital for maintaining the resilience of communities to the impacts of climate change. However, natural resources and native ecosystems across the Pacific are being degraded due to the impacts of invasive species such as rats, wild pigs, and invasive plants.
This evening in Apia, at a special event hosted by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme’s (SPREP), the Pacific Regional Invasive Species Management Support Service (PRISMSS) celebrated Pacific success towards scaling up the management of invasive species and outlined the next steps of the journey needed to restore Pacific island resilience through PRISMSS. These next steps have been boosted by the recent (NZ$) 20 million Funding Arrangement from the New Zealand government through the PRISMSS-Restoring Island Resilience project.
Co-hosted by Pacific comedic legend, Mr Tofiga Fepulea’i, the event also served as the High-Level Ministerial Opening ceremony, welcoming the Pacific Ministers to Samoa for the High-Level Environment Ministers’ Talanoa, held at the conclusion of the 31st SPREP Meeting of Officials.
PRISMSS was formed in 2019 to provide Member countries with on-the-ground support for managing invasive species. SPREP formed the partnership through a Declaration of Intent with the world-leading and regionally focused organisations BirdLife International, Island Conservation, Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, the New Zealand Department of Conservation, Pacific Biosecurity and the Pacific Community (SPC).
Initially funded by the Global Environment Facility, PRISMSS has since received significant funding and support from the New Zealand government, the European Union and others.
SPREP Director General, Mr Sefanaia Nawadra, commended the PRISMSS team for their hard work, stating that what the team has achieved is something all projects and programmes at SPREP should aspire to.
“The PRISMSS team have done a wonderful job, from something that started with the Global Environment Facility-funded GEF6 project implemented in partnership between SPREP and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). From those beginnings, it has grown into something we at SPREP are very proud of,” Mr Nawadra said.
“This is a good example of a successful partnership between SPREP and other organisations, non-governmental organisations, academic institutions, and other partners, which has provided the resources for this facility for the Pacific, where we can help countries protect their ecosystems from the threat of invasive species.”
New Zealand High Commissioner to Samoa, Dr Trevor Matheson, stated that New Zealand recognises that invasive species are a problem that is plaguing all Pacific Island countries and there needs to be a holistic approach to address it.
“We have been looking for different modalities that can be used to address the issue of invasive species killing our island ecosystems and have found that PRISMSS is one of the best ones that exist to address the issue of invasive species,” he said.
“We have seen the work that PRISMSS does in bringing everyone together and ensuring they are all moving in one direction, which is what we need to tackle invasive species,” he added.
“This is not something that can be done by us or by any one country, it needs everyone to come together and help each other. That is what we can see PRISMSS can do for us, and it is why we support it and encourage other donors to do the same.”
SPREP’s Climate Change Adaptation Adviser, Ms Filomena Nelson, says there is a clear link between how we adapt to the impacts of climate change and how we manage or eradicate invasive species.
“We have all seen firsthand how severe weather events have wreaked havoc on our Pacific Islands. Our natural ecosystems help lessen those impacts by providing the first line of defence for our islands against extreme weather,” Ms Nelson said.
“If we don’t do anything about invasive plants and animals that are living in our islands, they will weaken our native ecosystems, and make it difficult for them to provide us with that important first-line of defence.”
Ms Nelson stated that Pacific Island countries need to start thinking about how to integrate the management of invasive species into their National Adaptation Plans, as part of their adaptation solution to climate change.
This was further supported by Richard Griffiths of Island Conservation, the Technical Lead for the PRISMSS Predator Free Pacific Programme, who stated that biodiversity is the foundation for resilient Pacific Island ecosystems and communities.
He drew on the example of Late island in Tonga, where an eradication project was carried out recently to remove invasive rats from the island. Once confirmed successful Late will become the largest island in the Pacific where invasive rats have been removed, and shows what can be done in other Pacific Island countries to ensure that our unique native ecosystems are protected from invasive species.
The event concluded with Pacific Ministers from Niue, Samoa, and Tonga pledging their support for investing in large-scale projects to manage invasive species as a key approach for increasing climate resilience of ecosystems and communities. They also expressed their support for the PRISMSS as the key means for implementing these large-scale projects to manage invasive species and increase climate resilience.
In addition to the Ministers, the Green Climate Fund, Adaptation Fund, GEF, as well as SPREP, also endorsed the PRISMSS and pledged their support for the service to assist Pacific Island countries to scale-up management of invasive animals and plants to protect their native ecosystems and increase resilience to adapt to climate change.