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Conservation Initiative

Making Pacific islands rat-free for birds - and people

The UK Government’s Darwin Initiative has granted BirdLife International £ 289,884 (€ 307,320 / $US 414,190) to implement a three-year island conservation project in the Pacific. The project, 'Restoration of Priority Pacific Island Ecosystems for People and Biodiversity', aims to improve the quality of life and livelihoods of people through the restoration and sustainable management of island ecosystems in Palau and Fiji. The Darwin Initiative aims to assist countries rich in biodiversity, but which lack financial resources, to implement the Convention on Biological Diversity.

“The British High Commission recognises the importance of BirdLife International's work in helping to restore Pacific Island ecosystems”, said Shaun Cleary - The Acting British High Commissioner in Fiji. “We were happy to recommend this project to the Darwin Advisory Committee, and we are enormously pleased that Darwin Initiative funding has now been agreed. It is testimony to the value of BirdLife International's activities that this is their third time in Fiji to secure financial assistance from the Darwin Initiative". Most documented extinctions of Pacific island birds are the result of invasive alien species. On the four-island atoll of Kayangel, Palau’s northernmost state, feral cats and rodents severely threaten populations of Micronesian Megapode Megapodius laperouse (Endangered) and other endangered species. Traditional knowledge of the Kayangel people indicates that at least 15 endemic or restricted-range bird species resided on the islands two decades ago; only three resident species were recently observed (2004).

Rats also adversely impact quality of life for the 190 people living on Kayangel, preventing traditional agricultural practices, reducing crop productivity, and transmitting diseases including scrub typhus and leptospirosis.

The new project aims to eradicate rodents and cats from Kayangel, and to develop the capacity of civil society and the Government of Palau to eradicate invasive species and prevent reintroductions.“The local people and landowners on Kayangel have been, and will continue to be involved at all stages of the project”, said Tiare Holm - Executive Director of Palau Conservation Society (BirdLife in Palau). “They will be trained in biosecurity and monitoring, and have expressed their full support to implementing measures to prevent the reintroduction of alien species to their islands. They have also expressed their wish to explore possibilities for Protected Area status of the islands, which will entitle them to continuous technical and financial support from the Government of Palau”.

Invasive alien species are also widely recognised in the decline of Fiji’s island biodiversity, especially its seabird breeding colonies. BirdLife International has already eradicated rodents from nine IBA islands in Fiji: Vatu-i-Ra, Mabualau and the seven Ringgold islands.

“All these islands host large numbers of boobies, noddies, and other threatened native fauna including sea turtles, coconut crabs and the Pacific boa”, added Steve Cranwell - Seabird Programme Manager for BirdLife Pacific. Mabualau hosts large populations of breeding Great Crested Terns Sterna bergii, and Mabualau and Vatu-I-Ra hold more than 1% of the known global population of Black Noddy Anous minutus.“The challenge in Fiji is to enhance the sustainability of the ‘restored’ islands, and maximise their value to traditional owners”, said Steve. “Communities have asked for assistance to develop Protected Area status for these islands, to prevent alien species reintroduction and unsustainable resource use, and to enhance their tourism potential”.

The project aims to support sustainable management and facilitate the establishment of appropriate forms of community-based Protected Areas on all nine islands.

The project will establish a regional network of cat and rodent eradication practitioners, and disseminate skills and best practices through a state-of-the-art media plan, and a best practice manual.

By the end of the project, Palau Conservation Society and government staff will have the capacity to carry out restoration of other islands, and perpetuate monitoring and bio-security measures in Palau. Community-based Protected Areas will be established on at least three islands in Palau and Fiji, and initiated at another ten islands, with management plans that include options for sustainable development.

BirdLife International will implement this project through its regional Secretariat in Suva, Fiji, in close collaboration with the Palau Conservation Society, the Fijian conservation NGO NatureFiji-MareqetiViti, the governments of Palau and Fiji, and the communities that own or live on the islands covered by the project.

4th July 2014