IUCN - New plant discovered in Fiji

New plant discovered in Fiji

19 January 2012 | International news release

A new flowering plant belonging to the Medinilla plant group has been discovered in the highlands of Matasawalevu village, on the island of Kadavu in Fiji. The plant was found during a biodiversity assessment of the Nakasaleka district carried out as part of IUCN’s Water and Nature Initiative (WANI).

There are around 193 known species of Medinilla, occurring in Madagascar, Africa, South Asia and the Pacific Islands. Of the 193 species, 11 can only be found in Fiji. One of them is the Tagimoucia flower, Medinilla waterhousei, the floral emblem of Fiji.

IUCN’s WANI works with local communities to help them better manage water resources on Kadavu island. The team was monitoring the degradation of the river basin in the area when the new plant was discovered.

“The discovery of this previously unknown species of plant gives us a sense of just how fragile nature can be,” says Dr Milika Sobey, Water and Wetlands Programme Coordinator at IUCN’s Oceania Regional Office. “The fact that it was found during work on a watershed management project is one more lesson in how important it is that nature is included in the priorities for water management.”

“Through the Water and Nature Initiative IUCN has shown in more than 30 countries worldwide that by working with local people and partners, it is possible to put in place sustainable solutions that meet the water needs of both people and nature,” says Dr Mark Smith, Director of the IUCN Global Water Programme.

The species was found on the border of grassland and primary forest. This location makes it highly vulnerable to bush fires that are common in the area.

“We only managed to find one plant of this kind,” says Mr Marika Tuiwawa, of the University of the South Pacific’s Institute of Applied Science, IUCN member and partner in the WANI project, who discovered the species. “Commercial agricultural activities and uncontrolled bush fires are the main threats to this species. A simple fire could destroy it in a matter of minutes.”

The plant’s common name has not been confirmed yet but the name Medinilla matasawalevu has been suggested to illustrate its location.

“The fact that only one plant of this kind was found so far and that it occurs in such a vulnerable place should set alarm bells ringing,” says Dr Jane Smart, Global Director of IUCN’s Biodiversity Conservation Group. “The challenge now is to protect the new species and raise awareness of its importance among local communities, to secure its long term future.”

Work is currently underway to confirm the exact classification of the new species, for which DNA research may be carried out.

Interview partners:
Dr Milika Sobey, Oceania Water and Wetlands Programme Coordinator, Fiji, Milika.Sobey@iucn.org
Dr Mark Smith, Director, Global Water Programme, Switzerland, Mark.smith@iucn.org
Dr James Dalton, IUCN Water Management Advisor, James.Dalton@iucn.org
Mr Marika Tuiwawa, University of the South Pacific, tuiwawa_m@usp.ac.fj

For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:
Ewa Magiera, IUCN Media Relations, m +41 79 856 76 26, ewa.magiera@iucn.org
Claire Warmenbol, IUCN Water Programme Communications, m +41 79 404 1973, claire.warmenbol@iucn.org