Stop wildlife extinctions in French Polynesia


This video is called Phoenix petrel.

From BirdLife:

Marquesas Archipelago and Rapu in French Polynesia, the next big opportunity to stop extinctions

By Mike Britton, Wed, 30/12/2015 – 23:14

The contribution islands make to global biodiversity is out of proportion to their land area. Islands provide less than 5% of the Earth’s landmass yet provide habitat for 20% of all bird, reptile and plant species. They can be thought of collectively as biodiversity “hot spots”, containing some of the richest reservoirs of plants and animals on Earth.

Invasive predators, especially rats and cats, represent the greatest threat, but the impacts of habitat modification by herbivores and reduced fitness resulting from introduced micro-organisms are also significant. Three-quarters of all threatened bird species occurring on oceanic islands are at risk from introduced species. A total of 390 islands worldwide support populations of one or more Critically Endangered or Endangered species and one or more vertebrate invasive alien species that threatens them. That is the threat but it is also the opportunity. By removing rats and other predators from islands, permanent protection can be provided for the species that call them home – and as is being proven on islands where predators are already gone, recolonization by other threatened species can happen over time.

Big projects, big results. Having successfully completed the Acteon & Gambier project in 2015, the next big targets for BirdLife in the Pacific, and its partners SOP Manu and Island Conservation are up to 16 islands in the Marquesas Archipelago and at Rapu.

The Marquesas is one of the most important archipelagos for bird conservation in the world. It comprises six main volcanic islands, four smaller uninhabited islands and many islets. Situated 1,500 km from Tahiti the group is among the most remote in French Polynesia. The project will cover nine priority islands in a programme being developed that will take into account the technical challenges and most importantly getting landowner and political support. The restoration of these sites will provide the opportunity consider taking on predator eradication on the larger more complex islands like Fatu Hiva. The aim will be to secure predator free habitat for 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).

Rapa is the eastern most island of the Austral Islands in French Polynesia. Nine satellite islets ranging in size from approximately one to 26 hectares surround the main island. While little forest cover remains the islands support 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.

Pacific rats, feral cats and goats are present throughout the islands, but their distribution is uncertain. Records of storm petrels on four of the islets suggest these may be rat free, but their presence elsewhere will be impacting sensitive species like storm petrels. Cats are at least present on the mainland and any seabirds there only survive in inaccessible areas. Goats are widespread and their over-grazing is leading to soil erosion creating poor conditions for petrels breeding in burrows. The isolation of Rapa means very little conservation assistance has been provided to this community however, the BirdLife Partner has an established history of working with Polynesian communities and considerable expertise in seabird surveys and invasive species eradication.

Thanks to the support of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation project development, planning and consultation will start in 2016. We need to raise over $1.5 million for the actual operation and that will be our target to allow us to secure the future of the species on these biodiversity hotspots in 2018.

2015 saw some important successes in the Pacific battle for the birds and nature: here.

The `back-story’ to saving the Tahiti and Fatu Hiva Monarchs of French Polynesia: here.

France has the world’s 2nd largest ocean territory. Will they protect it? Here.

Save the Fatu Hiva monarch


Fatu Hiva monarch

From BirdLife:

Fatu Hiva Monarch on the brink of extinction

By Mike Britton, Fri, 30/10/2015 – 05:25

The Fatu Hiva Monarch is not as well-known as its cousin, the Tahiti Monarch, but i’s 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 as few as 5 fertile pairs. Its survival totally depends on controlling predator threats to the birds and nests in the valleys where it lives.

This bird is also almost completely dependent on BirdLife’s French Polynesia partner, Société d’Ornithologie de Polynésie (SOP MANU) and the local community. The programme is lead locally by the islander Arthur Matohi, SOP Manu’s employee on the island who is assisted by 2 local staff members. They have worked on the project since 2012. SOP Manu ecologists Thomas Ghestemme and Caroline Blanvillain are responsible for management of the birds in the valleys they inhabit. The field work is challenging because of the steep terrain and the dense humid vegetation of the valleys.

There is some good news – 2014 saw the best chick production ever with 8 young fledged compared with 6 in 2013 and 2 in 2012. These improved results (the best since the programme started in 2008) are attributed to the predator control which increased by 24% in 2014.

The bad news is a number of unmated and mature individuals left the safety of the managed area resulting in a decrease in the total known population from 29 to 25 adults. Luckily 90% of all Fatu Hiva Monarch live within the areas managed by SOP Manu where the population increased slightly between 2007 and 2014 (11 to 19 birds) and was stable between 2013 and 2015.

A key part of the programme involves increasing awareness of nature by the children and working with a Site Support Group. Supporting the community to develop sustainable income sources is important especially because the valleys where the Monarch live are owned by local landowners. Through this 28 of the land owners have undertaken bee-keeping training in Fatu Hiva. The number of hives has increased from 58 to 131. Three inhabitants have been trained to protect Fatu Hiva Monarch and 6 landowners started to replace banana trees with fruit trees near the rivers. A recreational pathway has been managed in Omoa valley for farmers and tourists. In 2014, 32 tourists visited monarchs in Fatu Hiva. Through the Site Support Group, cat sterilization in the village has been carried out for the last 3 years by SOP Manu veterinarian Caroline Blanvillain.

The mission to save this species from extinction is very challenging. It is a tiny population that is barely viable and relief in the form of translocation to a predator free island is currently not possible. In 2015, high predation by feral cats occurred because there simply weren’t the resources to increase cat control. Collaboration with Island Conservation in October 2015 will assist SOP Manu in refining the feral cat control to further improve its effectiveness. In bringing additional expertise and new techniques to the predator control, it is hoped that rats, feral cats and other introduced predators can be controlled to sufficiently low levels in maintaining a population within this sanctuary while an island is also cleared of introduced predators in providing a permanent solution to the recovery of this critically endangered bird.

But the big issue is resources. Some local organisations have made donations including (Aranui Charter boats, Chinloy, Océanie Pneu and Hanavai. 11 private donors have sponsored banded birds but a big increase in resources is the only way to save this species.

We know it can be done and it would be criminal to lose this wonderful bird.

Polynesian rare birds news


This 2012 video says about itself:

Polynesian Ground Dove (Gallicolumba erythroptera) filmed on a motu of Rangiroa Atoll, French Polynesia. Part of a Noble Caledonia Expedition Cruise in French Polynesia on board M/V Clipper Odyssey.

Dr Brent Stephenson (ornithologist on board) organised this trip across the atoll to a rat-free motu (islet) where the Société d’Ornithologie Polynésie (MANU) are making great efforts to monitor, protect and extend the present habitat of this bird. Great efforts are made to make sure no rats are introduced. The Polynesian Ground Dove is critically endangered with only an estimated 100-200 individuals in the world. Nine birds were counted on this motu in 2011.

From BirdLife:

Operation Restoration – island update #4 – Endangered birds found, and sharks

By Shaun Hurrell, Fri, 26/06/2015 – 10:30

The Critically Endangered Polynesian Ground-dove is one of the world’s rarest birds. Named Tutururu by locals, there are only about 100 of these birds left in the world – all found in French Polynesia.

So finding them in good numbers on an invasive predator-free atoll was pretty exciting for our Operation Restoration team – who are working hard to save these birds (and many more native species) from extinction, and restore the natural ecological balance of the islands. It gives a very positive indicator of how these birds will bounce back after we have finished restoring their islands. But these birds still need your help.

With a huge amount of work still to do to restore 6 remote islands in the Acteon and Gambier archipelagos, this would have undoubtedly been a big morale boost for Steve Cranwell and the team, especially when faced with sharks snapping at their heels!

Find out more in the latest update below from Steve Cranwell, Project Leader and invasive species expert:

Steve’s reports via satelite phone 19th June

Sorry for the delay in communications – the magnitude of the practical reality of this operation set in, and we have been extremely busy fulfilling the myriad of tasks for this ambitious restoration effort! Amazingly (given all that could go wrong) we’re on track.

The ground team and helicopter crew, assisted by locals at each site, soon developed a slick and efficient operation for loading, whilst managing to keep loose bags and other paraphernalia potentially catastrophic to the helicopter in check…

This ground effort and precision flying meant that by the time we got to Vahanga and Tenania we were able to complete the operations there in half the time anticipated!

Some of the team spent the first week or so searching for Tutururu [local name for Polynesian Ground-dove] and Titi [local name for Tuamotu Sandpiper] on Vahanga. Despite being elusive, the efforts were rewarded with one male (named Charlie) and female Tutururu, and four Titi.

Some other team members have stayed on Tenararo to complete a census of Tutururu and Titi. This is the first time such a thorough assessment will have been made for this predator-free atoll. Initial reports indicate good numbers of both species.

When a lagoon channel crosses a monitoring transect, as it invariably does, there is a little adventure as overly attentive Blacktip reef sharks make a beeline for any submerged body part! Alertness and a stout stick has proved a sufficient deterrent (so far)…

On Temoe, a seabird census and vegetation survey was completed and a significant increase in Murphy’s petrel (several hundred to over one thousand!) was noted, from a similar survey made several years earlier.

Baseline surveys are being made for all sites which are being augmented with acoustic recorders as a means of tracking changes in the number of calls for species of interest.

More to follow shortly!

On behalf of us all,

Steve

Update 29 July 2015: here.

Save Tuamotu sandpipers


This video says about itself:

Tuamotu Sandpiper, 7th September 2013, Morane Island, SE Pacific

22 September 2013

A unique shorebird. BirdLife estimates 870 mature individuals and 1,300 birds in total. Endemic to the Tuamotu archipelago.

From BirdLife:

Seasonal help needed for tropical sandpiper

By Martin Fowlie, Mon, 22/12/2014 – 15:59

We have raised 76% of the funds needed to restore six stunningly beautiful Pacific islands next year but we still need your help.

Help us now.

Pacific islands are under siege by invasive species introduced by humans. As a result, a staggering 81 bird species are threatened with extinction today.

Removing these introduced invaders is the immediate priority for BirdLife International.

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

Your generous support 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. Your support will allow the Critically Endangered Polynesian Ground-dove, Tuamotu Sandpiper, White-throated Storm-petrel, and Phoenix Petrel populations to recover. Safe from predators.

Please make a gift for nature this Christmas, and help us to restore the Gambier Archipelago to its former glory.

Organisations supporting this project include SOP Manu (BirdLife in French Polynesia), the European Union, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the British Birdwatching Fair, the Canadian T/GEAR Charitable Trust and Bird Studies Canada, Island Conservation and Bell Laboratories.

Saving birds in French Polynesia


This video is called Polynesian Ground Dove, Rangiroa, French Polynesia.

From BirdLife:

Creating a Pacific Sanctuary

By Martin Fowlie, Wed, 10/12/2014 – 11:33

Pacific islands are under siege by invasive species, carelessly and un-naturally introduced by humans, and which are causing devastating problems for nature and people. The 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 their food, and cause huge problems for the local people. As a result, a staggering 81 bird species are threatened with extinction today.

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

The situation remains dire in French Polynesia, where most native birds are at immediate risk of extinction. These remote, scattered archipelagos have a high number of endemic birds, many of which are globally threatened. The primary cause 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 native species that breed there including petrels and shearwaters, a particularly threatened order of seabirds. 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 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– 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 species have been carefully planned over the past three years and having done this in consultation with the local community the operation is now set to take place in 2015. Our team of experts will ship the many tonnes of equipment including a helicopter the 1500km from Tahiti to the islands.

The removal of introduced pests there, planned for early 2015, will allow the re-establishment of populations of no less than nine globally-threatened birds and other wildlife.

How you can help

We have already secured $600,000 – enough to be tantalisingly close to reaching the full amount needed. Tackled in one big operation, economies of scale mean that for just $200,000 more, we can restore all six stunningly beautiful islands next year and we appeal to you now to help us.

Your generous support 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. Your support will allow the Critically Endangered Polynesian Ground-dove, Tuamotu Sandpiper, White-throated Storm-petrel, and Phoenix Petrel populations to recover. Safe from predators.

Please make a gift for nature this Christmas, and help us to restore the Gambia Archipelago to its former glory.

‘Gambia Archipelago’ is clearly a mistake for ‘Gambier Archipelago‘. The Gambia is in Africa; not in the Pacific.

Good Tahiti monarch news


This video is about white terns in French Polynesia.

From BirdLife:

Support saves forgotten Monarch

By Shaun Hurrell, Wed, 11/06/2014 – 10:39

The fire ants and devastating rains hit as the funding dried up, but thanks to your huge support Critically Endangered Tahiti Monarch is having its best ever breeding season, with 12 successful fledglings and one nest still active.

Earlier this year we awarded SOP Manu (the Polynesian Ornithological Society: BirdLife in French Polynesia) the first BirdLife People’s Choice Award for their tireless efforts to bring the Tahiti Monarch Pomarea nigra back from the brink of extinction. You recognised Manu’s desperate work which resulted in a highly successful 2013 breeding season for this Critically Endangered, inquisitive flycatcher.

However, there is no rest when it comes to protecting one of the rarest birds in the world from habitat loss and introduced invasive species. Following the award, Manu urgently reported a need for more support. As funding for conservation dried up, heavy rain, winds, invasive predatory rats and fire ants threatened the 10 remaining breeding pairs in a steep wooded valley in the South Pacific. That’s 10 breeding pairs in the entire world.

In response we launched an urgent campaign to raise the £33,000 Manu needed to fight these threats. The response was overwhelming. Thanks to your support we have raised £33,370 and as donations are still coming in, the Tahiti Monarch is having its best ever breeding season.

“This is fantastic. Thank you to all the people who have supported our work. Manu now feel that we are not alone in trying to save this remote, beautiful and very endangered species,”

said Caroline Blanvillain, Head of Land Birds at Manu.

The money raised is being targeted towards the most important actions on the ground: tackling invasive species and restoring degraded habitat for the 50 monarchs currently residing only on the island of Tahiti in French Polynesia.

Manu are already starting work to eradicate a fire ant colony at the entrance of Papehue valley, the monarch’s main stronghold. This will take eight months as the ant colony covers four hectares. These invasive species are originally from South America and form supercolonies. Also within the birds’ breeding range there are two other large ant colonies that will be controlled before they spread and overpower the birds with their collective stings.

Manu are also using the funds raised to work with local school children to restore these friendly birds’ habitat, through education and trips into the valley to clear invasive plants and to plant native trees.

Despite facing powerful weather forces, Manu are showing that invasive-species removal combined with habitat restoration can successfully reverse the species’ decline towards extinction.

“We have now reached 12 successful fledglings which betters the record from last year. We also still have one active nest which suggests we may have the first second brood for the species we’ve ever recorded!”

celebrated Caroline.

“We now know that the world is behind us, and this is a very nice feeling,”

concluded Caroline, thanking all the people who have generously supported their work.

Algerian desert dust infected with French bomb radioactivity


This video is about a French nuclear weapons test in Algeria.

By David Lowry in Britain:

Is Saharan dust radioactive?

Friday 4th April 2014

As Britain is blanketed in a layer of desert sand, DAVID LOWRY asks whether it could be contaminated by fallout from French nuclear tests in Algeria more than 50 years ago

South-easterly winds have coated Britain in a toxic Saharan dust cloud.

Combined with domestic pollution, the sand has caused air quality to plummet and engulfed many parts of the country in smog-like conditions.

But one unreported aspect of the Saharan dust is that it could be radioactive.

French nuclear testing in Algeria, conducted during the height of the independence struggle, spread radioactive fallout across southern Europe in the early 1960s – and the radioactivity that settled on the desert could have been resuspended in this natural fallout event over Britain.

It’s recently been revealed that atmospheric spread of the radioactive fallout was much larger than the French army admitted at the time.

New reports by the France 24 TV station suggest that the fallout from the tests at Reggane in central Algeria stretched across all of west Africa, across the Mediterranean and up to southern Europe.

The information came to light following appeals from military veterans who say their current ill health is linked to exposure to dangerous levels of radiation.

France‘s first nuclear deviceGerboise Bleue” (Blue Jerboa) was more than three times as powerful as the bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945.

Thirteen days after it was detonated, in February 1960, radioactive particles ranged from the Central African Republic to Sicily and southern Spain.

At the time the French military authorities said the fallout from the explosion was limited to the desert and that radiation levels were “generally low.”

But associations representing military veterans of France’s nuclear tests in the 1960s and 1970s are demanding that the government admits it knew that the fallout from Saharan tests was dangerous.

“In the 1960s the norms governing acceptable levels of radiation were much less strict than they are now,” said Bruno Barillot, an expert in nuclear tests who is representing veterans’ groups.

“And the medical evidence we have now shows clearly that exposure to this radiation can set off serious illnesses more than three decades later,” he told Le Parisien.

Barillot added that the declassified documents showed that the army at the time was aware that even the 1960s safety levels were largely surpassed and that significant quantities of airborne radioactive particles, particularly iodine 131 and caesium 137, could have been inhaled by large numbers of people in north Africa.

He also complained that the government had been extremely selective in terms of what documents to release.

The Parisien article points out that “if it can be demonstrated that the fallout of the bomb tests spread dangerous levels radiation over large parts of north Africa, many more demands for compensation from individuals and from national governments could be in the pipeline.”

I found this suggestion interesting, as I had been involved in research on this issue over 20 years, when I did research for the now retired Labour MP Llew Smith.

In October 1993 he asked in a written question to the secretary of state for defence whether he would ask his French counterpart for information on the French atmospheric nuclear tests in Reganne, citing article 34 of the Euratom treaty.

This treaty says that member states intending to conduct dangerous experiments in any part of their territories require permission from the European Commission and are required to seek its advice on health and safety.

In reply the junior defence minister Jonathan Aitken answered: “Article 34 of the Euratom treaty does not apply to military activities.”

Just over two years later Labour MEP Alex Smith, for whom I also did research, asked the European Commission what technical information the French government had provided about the environmental and safety implications of nuclear tests in Algeria and which “independent external individuals or institutions” the commission had consulted.

He was told by was told by environment commissioner V Bjerregaard in 1996 that France had notified the commission in July 1959 that it intended to carry out a nuclear explosion in the Sahara desert and “the additional safety measures envisaged.”

The commission replied the following month and “gave a favourable opinion while proposing some modifications.”

Bjerregaard said: “These concerned the timing of the explosion with regard to meteorological conditions, the volume of radioactive dust generated in relation to the characteristics of the soil and the need to comply with the dose limits in … basic safety standards that were laid down by the Council on February 2 1959.”

France carried out the first explosion in February 1960.

Bjerregaard said that “subsequent tests were carried out taking similar safety measures.”

From 1960 to 1996, France carried out 210 nuclear tests, 17 in the Algerian Sahara and 193 in Mururoa Atoll in French Polynesia.

Yet Bjerregaard admitted that “no further notifications to the commission in terms of Article 34 of the Euratom Treaty were received, neither at the start of nuclear testing at Mururoa in 1966 nor before underground testing [in the South Pacific] was resumed on September 5 1995.”

So clearly Euratom’s remit did apply to military nuclear activities, despite the MoD denial.

For more of David Lowry’s writing visit drdavidlowry.blogspot.co.uk.

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