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Pollination sanctuary in Samoa proposed

Small island states would benefit from conservation activities focused on pollinators to ensure stable food security and ecological balance in an uncertain climate future, a pollination researcher has suggested.

Scientist, Saikat Kumar Basu, and the University of the South Pacific’s Lecturer in Crops & Food Technology, Dr. Alminda Fernandez, are proposing countries like Samoa invest in “pollinator sanctuaries” or “pollinator gardens” across the island to help sustain waning populations of bees, butterflies, moths, and other insects and birds (and even certain species of bats) ensure a rich ecological future.

Bees, a key in the pollinating world, are suffering under heavy pesticide use and the impacts of climate change. They bring around US$117 billion a year by pollinating crops to the nearly 35 per cent of agricultural crops and 84 per cent of plants specifies that depend on them. 

But as Mr. Basu is eager to point out, it is not just bees the world’s food and plant supply needs to survive. As well as a variety of insects, including slugs and snails, baths, birds and even frogs are imported to the work of pollination.

“Small island nations with rich biodiversity of species intricately involved in natural cross-pollination of species need comprehensive conservation strategies to protect highly vulnerable insect pollinator populations,” Mr. Basu said in his research.

But those strategies need to be affordable for island nations, he added.

“We have to remember that island nations have very small economy to support a growing human population and the budget is limited as most island nations are dependent on minor agricultural produce and industrial tourism.

“The conservation policy for island nation needs to integrate ecology and economy together in a sustainable fashion such that the positive environmental conservative effort does not generate a negative impact on the local economy of the islands. 

“Hence it is essential that we develop a low cost, low maintenance, farmer and environment friendly simple green approach that can help save the endangered pollinator population without stressing the island economy.

Mr. Basu’s solution is Pollinator Sanctuaries: a carefully designed mix of the islands own flowers and pollinator friendly crops that flower throughout the year and all across the country, in any space of land that can fit one.

He has trialled the concept in Canada, where undertook his studies in Agriculture and Biomolecular Sciences at the University of Lethbridge. He said the idea not only improves pollinator conservation but also promotes soil health and helps to transform agriculturally unsuitable land into “ecologically productive natural ecosystems units.”

He recommends planting alongside highways, around golf courses and near water bodies (natural or otherwise), an especially useful option for creating an ecosystem useful to pollinators and other species too.

“In such a process a Pollinator Sanctuary not only attracts pollinator insects but other species of insects and small passerine birds and then raptors surviving on other birds and rodents that take refuge in such ecosystems,” Mr. Basu said of wetlands. Passerine birds are songbirds and encompass more than half of all bird species.

“Aquatic birds, game birds, other small passerine birds, small or medium sized mammals, amphibians and reptiles are all drawn to such natural ecosystems providing a multiple tier or multiple trophic level dynamic ecosystems operating within just few years of establishment at an extremely low and affordable cost and simple management.”

Dr. Fernandez said Samoa has such an abundance of crops that it is hard to imagine losing them. But it is precisely the abundance that worries her.

There is also no holistic gene bank stocking samples of all of Samoa’s flora and fauna, and no database of every single species on the island. Dr. Fernandez said some species could be lost without having been identified or studied at all. 

Samoa’s staple and endemic fruit and vegetable stocks could face challenges without pollinator species too. Dr. Fernandez said as well as tomatoes, cucumbers and pumpkin, local varieties of mango and starfruit could well disappear by the next century if pollinator populations die out.

“There are a lot of mango varieties here, starfruit, vee, and these fruits are unique to Samoa and could vanish someday if we don’t preserve the pollinators,” she said. Climate change affecting the seasons and rainfall are also seriously threatening some crops.

While some crops can be manually or artificially pollinated – as some already are – the ecological landscape of Samoa is not so easily maintained. Without pollinators the forest cover of Samoa will suffer.

The Manumea, Samoa’s national bird and the subject of an intensive conservation campaign is one such pollinator. It is the only bird that can crush certain seeds in the forest and distribute the seeds through its faecal matter.

Like the Manumea, conservation efforts around insects and other birds and mammals centre around community awareness of the kinds of species needed to save ecosystem balance.

People need to know not to kill or disturb these important species, Dr. Fernandez said.

“It may be the scientists who initiate conservation but the community must support it,” she said.

Mr. Basu hopes to be in Samoa later this year to get started on trialling a Pollinator Sanctuary in Samoa. He had intended to arrive in December but put off his trip to the measles induced state of emergency.

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