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Fijian island beats the rat-race…

…eradication by adapting techniques developed in New Zealand

A partnership between BirdLife International and the Nagilogilo Clan of Vatuira has resulted in the successful eradication of Pacific Rats Rattus exulans from this internationally important seabird colony. Vatuira – a small island located 15 km from the coast of Fiji’s largest island Viti Levu – is an Important Bird Area (IBA) for several seabird species, including 28,000 breeding pairs of Black Noddies Anous minutus. However, introduced Pacific Rats were predating large numbers of seabird eggs and chicks, posing a threat to the long-term survival of the seabird colonies. There are already encouraging signs of bird recovery, with the island now officially declared ‘rat-free’.Fiji is one of the few nations in the tropical pacific with a high diversity of seabirds. Of a total of 19 seabird species known to breed within the region, seven rear young on Vatuira. IBAs are sites selected from international criteria defined by BirdLife and represent the world’s most important locations for birds. Most of the seabird species are ground nesting, making them highly vulnerable to rat predation.

Ground nesting species such as Bridled Tern Sterna anaethetus and Black-naped Tern Sterna sumatrana have been observed raising chicks on Vatuira for the first time since the eradication was completed” said Don Stewart, Director for BirdLife International in the Pacific region. It is now hoped that these species, and others, will establish significant populations on the island. It is not known when rats were introduced to Vatuira. “Rats are a Pacific-wide problem that needs to be urgently addressed if we are going to help protect our seabirds from extinction” explained Mr Stewart. “In order to tackle the problem, BirdLife worked closely with the Nagilogilo Clan of Vatuira who actively supported the rats’ eradication and subsequent monitoring work”.

The eradication was achieved by adapting techniques developed in New Zealand. Poison baits – safe to all species but rats on Vatuira – were laid down during two visits in July 2006. Remarkably the rats found most of the baits in the first night alone. Now, following a period of 18 months monitoring, the island has been declared officially free from rats.

Vatuira village leader Sione Qoneiwai is now looking forward to the future for birds on the island. He said: “The eradication has provided new opportunities for eco-tourism to the community”. A limited number of visitors will soon be offered trips to the island to view the birds. He stressed the importance of using local guides who: “Would be able to talk about the eradication, the islands birdlife and changes they were seeing on the island”. BirdLife are now ensuring that local people are provided training in bio-security to ensure visitors didn’t accidentally re-introduce rats or other invasive species to Vatuira.The work was funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) and the Australian Government Regional Natural Heritage Programme (RNHP), with technical support given by the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) and Pacific Invasive Initiative (PII). John Watkin (CEPF Grant Director) stated: “I applaud the manner with which BirdLife and the local community developed this project jointly…ensuring that the island is not re-colonised by rats.” Mr Watkin commented further: “The collaboration with other relevant institutions and government departments also added great value to the success of this project”.

Following on from the success on Vatuira, BirdLife is now working with landowners for both the Ringgold and Mabualau Islands to collectively restore up to a further eight islands of importance to seabirds. By working in partnership with local communities, BirdLife aims to replicate the success at Vatuira to protect and enhance more internationally important seabird colonies within Fiji.

4th July 2014