Soil Mapping in the Pacific

History of soil mapping and soil research in the Pacific.

The New Zealand government has had a long history of supporting soil and land resources research in the Pacific.  Starting in Western Samoa (Hamilton and Grange, 1938), in the Southern Cook Islands  (Grange and Fox, 1953), in Western Samoa (Wright, 1963), Fiji (Twyford and Wright, 1965), and on Tongatapu (Gibbs, 1976).  In addition, on two Royal Society of New Zealand expeditions, soil data was collected from some the Tongan Islands (Orbell, 1971) and the Northern Cook Islands (Bruce, 1972), and a detailed survey of the Asau block on Savai’i, Western Samoa (Cowie, 1974). 

During the period 1974 – 1990 more work has been carried out by the New Zealand Government which funded technical assistance to Pacific Island countries, through soil surveys, soil analysis (chemistry, physics, mineralogy), soil characterisation, soil classification, soil fertility analysis, agronomic studies, soil interpretation for land use, information, technology applications of soils data, and training for national and regional staff working in soils and agricultural research.

The work has been mainly conducted in the southwest Pacific – the Cook Islands, (1974-1980), Fiji (1981-1988 and 1993-1999), Niue (1978-1980), Tonga (1975-1978), and Western Samoa (1989). Technical assistance also involved regional soils projects like the South Pacific Agricultural Chemistry Laboratory Network (SPACNET).

The New Zealand Agency for International Development (NZAID) and its predecessors have been major funders for this work. Similarly, the New Zealand Soil Bureau, now Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research (MWLR) was the major technical contributor to the New Zealand funded soils research in the Pacific.  Regional agencies like SPC as well as government ministries in Pacific countries, have been important partners and stakeholders in this work.

During this time academic and consultancy work on soils was carried out by Universities in Australia, New Zealand and the University of the South Pacific (USP).  Of particular note in the region covered by this portal is the work of John Morrison.  University of Auckland also conducted a major land resource survey of Tuvalu in the late 1980s.

Sector agencies in Forestry and Agriculture have also been key stakeholders in the collecting, mapping and use of soils data.

The following publications offer comprehensive overviews on the topic:

  • Leslie, D.M. (2010): Record of significant soil and land resources research in the south west Pacific. Manaaki Whenua Press.

  • Leslie, D.M. (2022): History of soil research conducted by the New Zealand Soil Bureau in five southwest Pacific countries. Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research and Pacific Community (SPC). ISBN: 978-982-00-1467-1.

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