The Kilaka Forest Conservation Area (KFCA) is located on the southeast side of Fiji’s second-largest island, Vanua Levu, in the Kubulau District of Bua Province. It is comprised of 402 ha of pristine Fijian rainforest, 98% of which is completely undisturbed. It is one of the few last undisturbed stands of rainforest in the country, and has been recognised by the national Protected Areas Committee as an area of national biodiversity significance.
A study of Kilaka Forest commissioned by WCS in 2005 documented 319 species of flora belonging to 99 families and 223 genera. Nearly 40% of the documented plant life in KFCA is endemic to Fiji, with 5% of plants found only on the island of Vanua Levu. Two tree species are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red-List: Fijian Kauri Pine (Agathis macrophylla), and a native tree known locally as vo’a (Geissois imthurnii). The 2005 survey also provided the second-ever recording of a small endemic tree in the citrus family (Zanthoxylum myrianthum), seen for the first time in more than 50 years, and documented a species of Terminalia believed to be new to science.
The forest also is home to a wide diversity of animal life including numerous bat and fish species, and at least 13 bird species found only in Fiji, including the orange fruit dove (Ptilinopus victor) and maroon shining parrot (Prosopeia tabuensis). Surveys of Kilaka River by WCS and Wetlands International found 11 native freshwater fish species, including four endemics, three of which are likely to be new species. Many of the species were ‘diadromous’, meaning they move between freshwater and seawater during their life histories cycles, and are thus sensitive to disturbance such as forest clearing and dams. The area also serves as an important water catchment for Kubulau District.
In Fiji, land and natural resources rights are divided among mataqali (clans), registered nationally. The KFCA falls within land registered to the mataqali Nadicake, and the six families that make up mataqali live in the small and remote Kilaka village in Kubulau District. The residents depend on the forest for fish and fresh water. The forest also has cultural importance, as there is an old village site for the people of Kilaka, marked with large stones representing house foundations. Given their remoteness, the community has limited options for income generation, sporadic support from government and other external organisations, a number of health issues and basic living standards.
Illegal logging has destroyed large sections of forest near the Conservation Area. Mataqali Nadicake has also been pressured by companies to lease their land for logging.
Agriculture adjacent to the KFCA could harm the Conservation Area due to the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.
Mining exploration licenses have been issued near Kubulau District, and there have been discussions about mineral prospecting near Kilaka. Such mining could impact both the ecosystem and communities in the area.
Natural Disasters like the recent Cyclone Winston could potentially damage the Conservation Area, threatening the livelihoods and food security of the local community. It is important that pristine forest like KFCA remains intact to act as a more robust buffer against the worst effects of such storms.
Climate change could lead to an increased frequency in tropical storms. It could also cause changes in temperature and rainfall that would negatively impact the Conservation Area’s biodiversity.
WCS Fiji is committed to working with the local community to ensure that Kilaka Forest remains a healthy and intact ecosystem that provides ecological, social, and economic benefits. In partnership with mataqali Nadicake and the iTaukei Land Trust Board, WCS is taking out a 99-year-lease for the KFCA and setting aside the areas for conservation purposes. The rent from the conservation lease provides much needed income, and provides the mataqali an alternative to logging their forests. The community vision for the area is “to have an intact and fully functioning forest ecosystem that provides ecological, social and economic goods, services and benefits to local communities in Kilaka village as well as communities along the coastline in Kubulau District, now and into the future.”