2017 brings hope for Pacific birds

By Mike Britton

A new year always brings new hope – but 2017 is a big one for conservation in the Pacific. The last big leap forward in 2015 was the restoration of the islands of Acteon and Gambier in French Polynesia. In 2017 we are on the countdown for the next big step forward, the restoration of up to 18 islands of the Marquesas and at Rapa, again in French Polynesia. In January a team including BirdLife French Polynesian partner, SOP (Société d’Ornithologie de Polynésie) Manu, BirdLife Invasives Programme staff and Island Conservation will head to the Marquesas to begin the all-important step of assessing the current state of nature on the Islands, the technical issues associated with a restoration programme and continuing consultation with the local people. This work is being funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. The Marquesas is one of the most important archipelagos for bird conservation in the world. It is home to 22 species of seabird including three globally threatened (Tahiti Petrel, Phoenix Petrel, Polynesian Storm-Petrel) and at least two globally threatened land birds (Marquesas Ground-Dove, Marquesas Monarch).

Restoring the nine satellite islets around Rapa, which is the eastern most island of the Austral Islands in French Polynesia. Is the other half of this ambitious project. Financial support for the actual restoration has been secured and this will be another major step forward for nature in early 2018. These islands are home to an assemblage of seabirds unlike those found elsewhere in French Polynesia with eleven species, seven of which are petrels and shearwaters including an endemic form of the White-bellied storm petrel.

Towards the middle of 2017 a further attempt will be made to find the nesting sites of the elusive Becks Petrel. The 2016 expedition saw birds but was unable to catch any on the water to enable transmitters to be attached to allow them to be followed home. After a review of methodology the team is quietly confident they can succeed.

Another even more elusive bird is the Fiji Petrel which only nests on Gau Island in Fiji. Funds are being sought to allow a last ditch attempt to find the actual nesting site so that they can be protected from predators. This project was set back when one of the petrel locator dogs died a few months back and support is urgently needed if this critically endangered species is the be saved.

Two other critically endangered species in French Polynesia are the Fatu Hiva and Tahiti Monarch. The Fatu Hiva Monarch is not as well-known as its cousin, the Tahiti Monarch but is existence is even more threatened. It lives on Fatu Hiva, a remote island which is part of the Marquesas Archipelago, 1500 km from Tahiti. There are now just 25 adults left in the world and there are only 5 fertile pairs. Its survival is totally based on controlling predator threats to the birds and nests in the valleys where it lives. This bird depends almost totally on BirdLife Partner SOP Manu working with the local community. The current aim is to stablise the population but that does mean maintaining a long term predator control programme and habitat restoration. The future for the Tahiti Monarch seems a little more secure with the ideal being to establish a second population on an island with less predator danger! The European Union through its Best 2 programme is funding some of this work but it is a major challenge.

Empowering local people in all Pacific countries is the way to give nature a truly sustainable future. Last year extreme climatic evens like Cyclone Winston wreaked havoc with the local communities that work with BirdLife Partners. The aim is to help these communities rebuild and look for ways in which BirdLife and its partners can make a real difference in their lives and for the natural treasures for which they are the guardians

Across the Pacific BirdLife partners are fully engaged being the champions of nature. These are just some of the special projects. We have the solutions to stop extinctions and support local communities. We just need your support. Help with a donation.