Paradise under threat

Polynesian Ground-dove is an endemic species under threat from 'invasives' and on the brink of extinction. Photo: Pete Morris (BirdLife International).
Polynesian Ground-dove is an endemic species under threat from 'invasives' and on the brink of extinction. Photo: Pete Morris (BirdLife International).
BirdLife are asking for help from the public to save Pacific islands and their unique birds which are under siege by invasive species.

Native species evolved on these tiny islands in safe isolation from such threats, leaving them defenceless to predators such as rats that eat their young and food, and cause huge problems for the local people. As a result, a staggering 81 bird species on the various islands are threatened with extinction.

Removing these introduced invaders is an immediate priority. BirdLife International has identified the most important islands within the Pacific for native birds and biodiversity, and has already provided safe habitat for 12 globally threatened species (including nine birds) and many others by removing rats and other killer invasive species from 34 islands in five Pacific countries. One by one, through the Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Palau, BirdLife is providing a long-term future for their unique wildlife and hopefully turning back the approaching tide of extinction.

Monuriki is a Fijian island which hosts nesting Wedge-tailed Shearwaters which were threatened by feral goats, until they were eradicated in 2011.
Photo: Stuart Chape (BirdLife International).

The situation remains dire in French Polynesia, where most native birds are at grave risk of extinction. These remote, scattered archipelagos have a high number of endemic birds, many of which are globally threatened. Once more, the primary threat is invasive species which are pushing these unique birds toward extinction.

In the south-east of French Polynesia, are two globally important island groups – the Acteon group within the Tuamotu archipelago and the Gambier archipelago – both of which are under severe pressure, and are high priorities for restoration action. Within these two island groups are eight islands of international importance for birds and other biodiversity. They are among the most diverse for seabirds in French Polynesia, supporting 22 of the 27 species that breed there, including petrels and shearwaters.

Endangered White-throated Storm-petrel and Phoenix Petrel are two of nine petrels that breed on the islands, which are also a wintering site for the Vulnerable Bristle-thighed Curlew. They are also a last bastion for two globally threatened landbirds, the endemic and Critically Endangered Polynesian Ground Dove and the Endangered Tuamotu Sandpiper, which is the last remaining tropical sandpiper species.

Of the eight islands only two are predator free – the other six all harbour rats, feral cats, goats and rabbits, which have either extirpated or are driving declines in these birds. The eradication of these threats provides the best opportunity for protecting an unprecedented number of birds in French Polynesia. Preparations for the removal of all five introduced mammals have been carefully planned over the past three years in consultation with the local community, and the operation is now planned for 2015.

BirdLife's experts will ship the many tonnes of equipment – including a helicopter –  the 950 miles from Tahiti to the islands. The removal of introduced pests there is planned for early 2015, and will allow the re-establishment of populations of no less than nine globally-threatened birds and other wildlife.

BirdLife has already secured $600,000 – enough to be tantalisingly close to reaching the full amount needed. In one big operation, the economies of scale mean that for just $200,000 more, the charity can restore all six stunningly beautiful islands in 2015, and they are appealing to the public to help.

Funds raised will be used to pay for hiring boats, helicopters, staff and purchasing the equipment needed to ensure our years of careful planning is expertly implemented. The support of the public will allow the Critically Endangered Polynesian Ground-dove, Tuamotu Sandpiper, White-throated Storm-petrel, and Phoenix Petrel populations to recover and stay safe from predators.

To donate, visit BirdLife's Just Giving page
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