BirdLife: The Magazine June 2017 - Page 44

SAVING PARADISE Tehani Withers, SOP Manu, has been work- ing with local communities to ensure that new Pacific rats, ship rats, rabbits, feral goats or feral cats make it back onto the islands. She’s been erecting large, multilingual warning signs; work- ing on new regulations to limit the number of visitors to certain islands; and conducting edu- cational work on biosecurity. Given also the benefits to locals, including reducing the expo- sure to rat-borne diseases, people are keen to support efforts, and copra workers are already using new bags that aren’t hiding any rats. DNA evidence collected has shown that the one island where eradication was not successful, Kamaka, was not due to a biosecurity breach – but from a small number of rats remaining from 2015, likely due to the particularly rugged terrain there. Further analysis will reveal the full story, and the team will be back to finish the job. Repeat vis- its will also include the continued removal of the tangled invasive weed Lantana, where local man- power helped make a huge dent, but regrowth will occur from the soil seed bank. For such an ambitious undertaking to be so successful bodes well for future projects: there are a lot more French Polynesian islands that need urgent attention. “French Polynesia can be immensely proud of completing this project, which, for its scale and complexity, is a first for the region”, says Griffiths. “The government of French Polynesia is well positioned to capital- ise on this success and become a leader within the Pacific to rid Oceania’s islands of damaging invasive species.” “We now need to increase the habitat range of these species by translocating small populations to islands where they were previously found – a conservation technique proven highly effective in Polynesia”, says Dr David Beaune, Director SOP Manu. “Plans are underway to re-intro- duce the Tutururu and Titi to Temoe, and to 44 FEATURE PARADISE SAVING Juvenile Red-footed Booby Sula sula. Photo Caroline Blanvillain/SOP Manu 4 Male Polynesian Ground-dove Alopecoenas erythropterus (Tutururu). Photo Marie-Helene Burle/ Island Conservation 0 Tuamotu Sandpiper Prosobonia parvirostris (Titi). Photo Madeline Pott/ Island Conservation 7 attract Endangered seabirds such as Polynesian Storm-petrel and Phoenix Petrel to these preda- tor-free islands.” For now, rest in the knowledge that out there in the middle of the Pacific, as the last footprints of the team are smoothed out by the tide, there are five islands where the negative impact of humans has been countered by a remarkable effort. With the ecological balance restored, Tutururu and Titi are freely scurrying around in a habitat they’ve been evolutionarily programmed for but have not been able to safely exist in for hundreds of years. You might say we’ve turned back the clock. BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE The rare native wildlife of a remote island has retreated to a precarious existence on vertical cliffs. An urgent project supported by the 2017 Birdfair is leading the counter-attack against invasive species to save the “little planet” of Rapa Iti Shaun Hurrell photos by Fred Jacq “R Finding one of the atolls in the middle of Pacific with just enough fuel to return. Photo Steve Cranwell/BirdLife 0 This project has received support from many international and national organisations with significant funding from the European Union, the British Birdwatching Fair, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conserva- tion Fund, and National Geographic Society; sponsorships from Bell Laboratories and T-Gear Trust Canada; and assistance from the Government of French Polynesia and many individual people around the world. Additional technical assistance has come from the Pacific Invasives Initiative and the New Zealand Department of Conservation. BIRDLIFE • JUNE 2017 apa is extremely isolated, even by Pacific standards”, says Steve Cranwell, BirdLife’s Invasive Alien Species Programme Manager. This, coming from a man who knows a thing or two about restoring remote Pacific islands, accus- tomed to locating coral atolls or tiny rare seabirds, both specks in an endless ocean, before helicop- ter fuel runs out or a tropical storm hits. Saving Rapa’s native wildlife is his next urgent challenge. About four million years ago, midway between South America and Australia, a volcano erupted beneath the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, bringing into existence the beginnings of a unique new world. A four-thousand-hectare island, Rapa Iti (“little Rapa”, named to distinguish JUNE 2017 • BIRDLIFE 0 Approaching Rapa Iti “WE CAN’T LET THESE BE SPECIES OF TRAGIC POSTHUMOUS FAME” it from the distant, larger Rapa Nui or Easter Island) is one of the Bass Islands in the southern- most reaches of French Polynesia, where access for the island’s 500 inhabitants is provided only by monthly supply boat. Despite such isola- tion, nature somehow flourished, says Cran- well. “With no connecting landmass, the diverse native wildlife are testimony to astonishing oce- anic and windborne journeys and a subse quent species radiation.” Think parachuting spiders, seeds and seabird-dropping fertiliser. Thus, Rapa is famed for its endemism: three taxa of rare bird, 31% of plants, hundreds of invertebrates (includ- ing 68 weevil species), plus some fish, can be found nowhere else in the world. 45