Birds of Pacific Rapa island, save them

This video says about itself:

8 December 2014

Scuba diving / Marine life at Rapa, French Polynesia (Polynésie Française).

From BirdLife:

A small window of opportunity to save the unique birds of Rapa

By Steve Cranwell, 13 Oct 2016

Rapa and its surrounding islets is a very remote place. It is almost 1500 from Tahiti, the main island in French Polynesia. This isolation together with other geophysical characteristics has resulted in the evolution of a highly unique flora and fauna. As for other islands of the eastern Pacific, there are no mammals, instead these are replaced by birds and a diversity of specialised plants, invertebrates and terrestrial molluscs. For a relatively small island (c.40km2) endemism is extraordinarily high. 3 birds, 100 molluscs, 31% of all plants and 67 Miocalles (beetles) species or subspecies only occur on Rapa (Meyer et al 2014). The island is an IBA and a KBA.

However, almost all of this flora and fauna is considered highly threatened. Believed to have been colonised as late as the 1500’s Rapa was the last island to be permanently occupied (by Polynesians) and while tremendous damage has been wrought it is perhaps this relatively recent human history that has allowed this unique fauna and flora to cling on. Reasons for these declines is a story replicated throughout the Pacific; habitat loss associated with the clearance of land for agriculture, uncontrolled fires and the introduction of invasive alien species that continue to degrade habitats, compete for resources and prey directly on native wildlife.

Rapa and the nearby Marotiri islets are the most important islands for seabirds in the Australs with the highest diversity for the archipelago, but also the greatest level of (sub-specific) endemism. The Rapa shearwater (Puffinus newelli myrtae) has recently been recognised as more closely related to the Endangered Newell’s Shearwater (formerly Little Shearwater Puffinus assimilis) which occurs in Hawaii, Rapa constituting an extremely distant population. Fregetta grallaria titan the local form of White-bellied Storm Petrel is also considered to have sub-specific differences due to its larger body size however, it’s had very little taxonomic attention and distinct characteristics including vocalisations may warrant a separate species.

The Endangered White-throated Storm Petrel (Nesofretta fuliginosa) is also present and, while there’s been no thorough seabird survey of Rapa for over 25 years, numbers then were perilously low. With the consistent effects of introduced rodents and feral cats, goats, rabbits, cattle and horses these populations will have continued to decline.

The endemic and Endangered Rapa Fruit Dove (Ptilinopus huttoni) is restricted to an estimated 10 forest remnants approximating 10ha each. Again feral populations of domestic stock particularly goats and cattle threaten the little habitat that remains and introduced rodents and feral cats compound these impacts through predation. These consistent pressures combined with the results of the Meyer surveys conducted in the mid to late 2000’s (Meyer et al 2014) have highlighted the habitat degradation that has gone on including extinctions particularly of land snails and Rapa is very much an ‘IBA in danger’.

These biodiversity values, along with an assessment that restoration is possible, have raised Rapa to the top of the BirdLife restoration priorities, along with the islands of Marquesas Archipelago, also in French Polynesia. The programme is already underway thanks to a generous grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and planning is going ahead for the restoration operation to take place in 2018. But for this to happen Birdlife and its local partner SOP Manu must raise the near £100,000 necessary. So expect an ask coming out in the next 12 months.

While the cost of these restoration projects seems high, they provide the opportunity to save a unique place once and for all by removing the human introduced predators that have so decimated the nature of the Pacific. It is an opportunity we cannot fail to take up.

Whisky protects Polynesian parrots

This video says about itself:

Rimatara Lorikeet and other birds on Atiu, Cook Islands

Rimatara Lorikeet – found only on Rimatara (Tubuai Islands), Kiribati, Atiu (Cook Islands)
Rarotongan Fruit-dove – found only on Rarotonga and Atiu (Cook Islands)
Rarotongan Flycatcher – found only on Rarotonga and Atiu (Cook Islands)
Chattering Kingfisher – found only in Society Islands and Cook Islands

Videos, photography and sound recording by Philip Griffin, April 2014 – Atiu, Cook Islands

From BirdLife:

Whisky protects lorikeets in French Polynesia

By Caroline Blanvillan, 27 May 2016

Invasive alien predators, especially rats, are the biggest threat to the birds of the Pacific region. Their spread across the Pacific has followed the movements of people, particularly Europeans, over the last two centuries. These invaders, as they “stepped off the boat”, heralded the beginning of the decline of many bird species.

Today, the Pacific region has 42 bird species that are classified as Critically Endangered, a quarter of the world’s total of such species.

BirdLife and its Pacific Partners have already cleared 40 islands of invasive species: the recovery of previously declining species on these islands has been spectacular. It is one of two actions that can ensure the continuing survival of species. The second, which is also the most cost effective option, is to prevent invaders from arriving in the first place.

In both cases, biosecurity is the essential component. Moreover, it makes good economic sense both for places that invasive predators not yet reached and those from which they have been removed. While this seems like simple common sense, in places where boats are vital to everyday life, an opportunistic rat will always try to catch a lift. It only takes a romantic couple or a pregnant individual and a new invasion will start.

So, prevention is not an easy task. Yet, in island communities, especially those sometimes hundreds of kilometres across the sea from the main resources, local people are the key defenders against predator invasions: they need every tool they can find to help them.

With the help of a generous grant from the Prince Bernhard Nature Fund, the Société d’Ornithologie de Polynésie (SOP Manu, BirdLife in French Polynesia) and the local associations on Ua Huka and Rimatara islands are putting in place biosecurity measures to protect these precious places.  To help them, Dora and Whisky, two Jack Russell terriers bred and trained in New Zealand, were imported to try to detect any stowaway rats or other invaders.

Are they effective?  In the eight months since Whisky has been on rat patrol on Rimatara, three rats have been detected, the most recent one already dead.  This demonstrates the elevated risk of re-invasions.  The potential is real and conservationists are not merely crying wolf!

Did Whisky miss any invaders?  To test how good our ”super hero” really is, SOP Manu’s Caroline Blanvillain hid the skin of a rat in a cargo going out to Rimatara and waited to see if the protocol of inspection now in place on the Rimatara wharves was effective.

The result: one rat skin and one dead rat in another package were detected.  This proves the importance of the biosecurity and the need for adequate resources to be available to local communities in order to continue this essential work.   The cost is small when compared with the tens of thousands, possibly millions, of dollars that would be needed to remove the rats if they invaded successfully.

The islands of Rimatara and Ua Haka are last refuges of three of the most beautiful and rare lorikeets in the world; the Endangered Ultramarine Vini ultramarina and Rimatara Lorikeets V. kuhlii and the Vulnerable Blue Lorikeet V. peruviana.  All three owe their survival to the fact that rats have not yet got to these isolated islands.  Rimatara is also the potential site for the establishment of a second Tahiti Monarch Pomarea nigra population.

These are precious places.  We owe a big thank you to the Prince Bernhard Nature Fund and the dedicated local communities and Site Support Groups for keeping them safe.

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.

Appointment of an Island Restoration Manager marks the start of BirdLife’s ambitious project to restore the Marquesas Archipelago and Rapa: 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,


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.