The Islands of Samoa Reforestation Initiative Program
The islands of Samoa comprise the last large areas of land east of Australia in the central Pacific. Their size has helped them accumulate and support a diversity of plant and animal genera not found further to the east as well as a rich, endemic flora and fauna of their own. The Samoan island of Savai'i has the largest continuous patch of rainforest in Polynesia. About 80 percent of Samoa's lowland rain forests have been lost during the 3,000 year history of human habitation. Given current trajectories, a devastating loss of native forest is predicted to occur within the next 20 years.
Samoa consists of a chain of 14 volcanic islands located 600 km east of Fiji at 13º to 14ºS latitude and 168º to 171ºW longitude (Whistler 1980). The Western Samoan islands of Savai'i and 'Upolu make up 90 percent of the archipelagos' land area and are separated from Tutuila and Aunu'u Islands of American Samoa by 64 km of ocean. To the east about 100 km lie Ofu, Olosega, and Ta'u Islands. Even further to the east is the tiny Rose Atoll. The islands increase in age to the west. The eastern island of Savai'i most recently erupted in 1903 and 1911. In the west, Tutuila is at least 1.6 million years old (Whistler 1980). The tallest mountains are on Savai'i (1,858 m) and 'Upolu (1,116 m).
Since Polynesians arrived around 3,000 years ago, more than 80 percent of lowland rain forest has been lost in Western Samoa and American Samoa. The Western Samoan government predicts a total loss of forests within 20 years (Brautigam & Elmhurst 1990). Unregulated logging and clearing for subsitence and cash crops are major factors contributing to forest decline. 'Upolu has the highest human population and, consequently, almost all accessible lowland, montane, and cloud forest has been cleared. Two recent cyclones in 1990 and 1991 killed 53 percent of forest trees, large numbers of forest birds, and facilitated the spread of a wild fire that completely destroyed large areas of forest (Elmqvist et al. 1994).
In Western Samoa, the Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Reserve/Mount Vaea Reserve (12.9 km2) protects disturbed lowland rain forest. Falealupo Reserve (100 km2) protects one of the largest remaining areas of lowland rain forest. O Le Pupu Pu'e National Park (28 km2) protects rain forest from the top of Mt. Fito, Upolu down to sea level (Dahl 1980). In American Samoa, the National Park of American Samoa (180 km2), defined in 1988, protects tract forest on Tutuila, Ofu, and Ta'u, including a large area of cloud forest on Ta'u. All of these parks experience high levels of poaching as well as encroachment for subsistence agriculture on their borders (Carew-Reid 1990). Rose Atoll National Wildlife Refuge encompasses the whole uninhabited area of this extremely isolated atoll and protects large numbers of seabirds, but no moist forest (Dahl 1980).
There is still a need for more extensive reserves in Western Samoa to protect large areas of forest encompassing complete watersheds. In particular, Mount Silisili on Savai'i Island has been cited as a suitable reserve site because of low human population density and high mountains which support a diversity of forests. Savai'i Island is the second highest in Polynesia outside of Hawaii and New Zealand and supports large populations of many of Samoa's endemic plant and bird species. However, widespread logging and replacement of native forest with teak and mahogany plantations are limiting future conservation options (Merlin & Juvik 1983).
Si' osi'omaga and Ole Vaomatua are two local conservation groups active in the archipelago. Local communities have also been increasingly involved in stopping logging operations and the conservation of forests (WWF & IUCN 1998).