Largest Conservation Project Ever in French Polynesia Hits Historic Milestone

BirdLife International, with Société d’Ornithologie de Polynésie (SOP Manu – BirdLife Partner in French Polynesia) and Island Conservation, has just completed an ambitious conservation operation on six remote islands in the Tuamotu (Acteon group) & Gambier archipelagos. The project makes an unprecedented contribution to saving one of our world’s rarest birds and a number of other endangered species from extinction. With the support of local people, government and NGO organisations – many helping directly in project implementation – this operation has reset the native ecological balance to a time probably not known on these islands since Polynesian colonisation. Local livelihoods are also expected to benefit as a result of the projects success.

The Critically Endangered Polynesian Ground-dove Alopecoenas erythropterus, locally known as the Tutururu, is one of the world’s rarest birds. Found on just five small atolls in French Polynesia, there are only about 150 of these birds left in the world. Thanks to this project the safe habitat now available to the Tutururu has more than doubled.

Even though these islands are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean over 1500km from Tahiti, their isolation has not protected them from a negative human legacy. The birds on these islands evolved in the absence of predatory mammals, but the arrival of humans also brought a suite of invasive species. Flightless and defenceless, chicks and eggs are eaten by invasive predators such as rats, and native ecosystems are severely disturbed by other animal and plant invaders.

The team’s surveys in this project confirmed that almost all of the remaining Polynesian Ground-dove live on a nearby rat-free atoll.

“Invasive alien species are a key driver of global biodiversity loss,” says Don Stewart, Director of BirdLife Pacific. “Introduced mammals alone are believed to be responsible for 90% of all bird extinctions since 1500, and are presently the main cause of decline for nine out of ten globally threatened birds within the Pacific.”

Using island restoration methods proven on over 400 islands around the world, the team created much-needed safe habitat for the resident and Critically Endangered Polynesian Ground-dove, Endangered Tuamotu Sandpiper Prosobonia parvirostris (Titi) and Endangered Polynesian Storm-petrel Nesofregetta fuliginosa, as well as a number of Critically Endangered plant species.

“Rarely do we get the chance to have such a big impact in biodiversity conservation with just one project”, said Steve Cranwell, Operation Manager and Invasive Species expert from BirdLife Pacific.

“In the last few days of the operation more Polynesian Ground-dove and Tuamotu Sandpiper were sighted on Vahanga – the chances of finding established populations on these islands in a year’s time are high”, said Richard Griffiths, Island Conservation Project Director. “This is a sign of hope for recovery not only for these French Polynesian species, but for the hundreds of threatened island species around the world waiting for similar interventions on their behalf”.