FJ15
Ringgold Islands


Year of compilation: 2012

Site description
The Ringgold Isles are an archipelago in Fiji, forming an outlier group to Vanua Levu. The Budd, Nukusemanu, and Heemskercq reefs form part of the group. The small sand cay islands such as Vetauua, Nukubasaga, Nukupureti, and Nukusemanu are uninhabited, while the larger Naqelelevu has a small village with extant residents. The Qelelevu group (Tauraria and Tainibeka) are mainly low, jaggered limestone islets. In 1984, Fergus Clunie extensively surveyed the Ringgold group and documented the significant population of breeding seabird colonies. Nukubasaga and Nukupureti, which sometimes feature as Nukubalati on most charts, are two small islands within the one discrete reef at the east of Adolphus reef and thirteen kilometres east of the Nukusemanu reef, northern point of the great Heemskercq shoals. Nukubasaga is the larger of the two islets and lies at approximately twenty-five kilometres southwest of Qelelevu. Nukupureti is located south-west of Nukubasaga. A shallow lagoon of about 1.6 kilometres divides the two islets. Nukubasaga is vegetated with bush and coconut whilst Nukupureti supports a small stand of bush and an unusual “park” vegetation community of short grass studded with small trees on the shore facing Nukubasaga (Jenkins 1986). The main threat to seabirds at these sites was removed through the eradication of invasive mammals in 2008. However, regular visits by fishers from local communities exploiting marine resources provide a potential path for reinvasion of invasive mammals and need careful biosecurity measures in place. Occasional monitoring visits take place with the Ringgold Islands Site Support Group.


Key biodiversity
The Ringgold Islands were first visited by the Whitney South Seas Expedition in 1924. Beck noted breeding Red-footed Boobies, Lesser Frigatebird and Black Noddies (Jenkins 1986). Clunie visited in 1984 and 1985. He found that two islands in the Ringgolds constituted one of the most important breeding grounds for Lesser Frigatebird in Fiji. In 1984 the entire weathered or east coast of Nukubasaga was one long extended Frigatebird colony, with nests on the ground and in low, wind-cropped scrub at the beach crest, with nesting in all stages except fully fledged chicks. In 1984, Clunie observed nests on the bare ground or in short grass, other nests were scattered or grouped in clusters in bushes and trees throughout these islands. In 1985, the situation was different: the ground nesting “parks” were deserted but the density of tree nests remained the same. Previous observations ( Jenkins 1986) revealed that Red-footed Booby also nests on these islands with 450 breeding pairs recorded on one island only in 1984. 

Non-bird biodiversity: The area supports globally and regionally significant populations of marine turtles, humpback whales, seabirds and semi-nomadic reef fish, and may hold concentrations of cold-water corals. The site is the main foraging areas for Fiji‘s most significant nesting sites for hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricate Critically Endangered) and green turtles (Chelonia mydas, Endangered). Taveuni, the third-largest island in Fiji is located next to a major shipping passage and some of the most significant soft coral walls in the country.


Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
After the removal of invasive mammals, the major current threat to the islands is from Beche-de-mer harvesting. Regular trips are made to the islands to exploit this resource offering a pathway for future reintroduction of invasive mammals. Low level direct harvest of seabirds has been reported. Cyclones are frequent in Fiji and occasionally have a significant impact on the islands. This has, however, been happening for millennia so fauna are likely to be adapted to this level of disruption. If their frequency increases in future owing to climate change extreme weather events could represent a more significant threat.


Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
Rodents were cleared from the Ringgold Islands in 2008. A Site Support Group (Ringgolds Seabird Group) has been established that facilitated this process and helps with subsequent monitoring visits. However, these are infrequent.


Protected areas
The area meets Ramsar criteria but has not yet been designated. It is not part of any Locally Managed Marine Areas.


Habitat and land use
The small sand cay islands such as Vetauua, Nukubasaga, Nukupureti, and Nukusemanu are uninhabited, while the larger Naqelelevu has a small village with extant residents. Pandanus tectorius was the major species around the windward coastline of Nukubasaga whereas Nukupureti had Tournefortia argentea as the dominant species on the windward side. It was also noticed that the Pisonia grandis on the islands were very large in terms of its size, some trees measuring more than two meters in diameter at breast height. Wollastonia biflora was also noticeable vegetation on Nukubasaga. This is the species that formed quite dense cover on the ground of the windward coast upon which Lesser Frigatebirds were nesting. These nests were nearly on the ground.


Land ownership
The Ringgold Islands and its traditional fishing grounds are communally owned by three different clans who live in villages away from the Ringgolds. The islands are fairly shared by these clans but they do share the fishing grounds in which these islands are located. The Ringgold islands are formed by 7 islands namely Naqelelevu, Vetau'ua, Nukubasaga, Nukupureti, Nukusemanu, Tainibeka and Tauraria.

The ownership of the islands are as follows: Naqelelevu, Tainibeka and Vetau'ua belongs to the Clan or Yavusa Naqelelevu. Members of this clan live in a settlement called Fatima on Taveuni Island. Naqelelevu is inhabited most times of the year by  clan members who return to collect coconuts, coconut crabs and fish. As of 2010, there were 2 houses built on the island with a telecommunication kiosk and a light house powered by solar energy.

Tauraria Island belongs to the sub-clan or Mataqali Ra; members of this sub-clan reside in Dreketi Village on Qamea Island, about 61.25 miles southwest of Tauraria landing.

Nukupureti, Nukubasaga and Nukusemanu belongs to the sub-clan or Mataqali Qilo whose members live on Yanuca Island, approximately 22.18 miles southwest off Nukusemanu.


Site access / Land-owner requests
The Ringgold Islands are accessible by sea only. Few land owners know the navigational  passages that can get one to these islands. Prior approval is sought from the landowners by members of the SSG before a trip is being conducted. SSG members plan and coordinate the general logistics and are also involved in the monitoring planning and surveys


Acknowledgements




Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Ringgold Islands. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 02/12/2021.