Press Release from Conservation International May 22, 2008
Apia, Samoa – Today a team of scientists is heading to the remote Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) on an urgent mission to eradicate rats that are threatening populations of native seabirds in this pristine marine region.
Funded by the Government of New Zealand the team will try to eradicate foreign rats which threaten up to 18 species of seabirds on three atolls of PIPA – the world’s largest marine protected area and home to breeding grounds for millions of seabirds.
Rats are not native to the region, so are considered to be an "invasive species." They are destroying populations of threatened seabirds such as Phoenix petrels, storm-petrels, shearwaters and blue noddies on these remote PIPA atolls.
"Time is running out for many of the seabirds found on the Phoenix Islands,” says Dr. Ray Pierce, the expedition leader from New Zealand. "We will focus on three atolls during this trip, which will pave the way for future restoration in the Phoenix and Line Islands."
Dr. Pierce’s team of eradication experts includes members of the Wildlife Conservation Unit and the Department of Agriculture in Kiribati, and a trained tracking dog called "Sako," and is supported by the New Zealand Department of Conservation and the Pacific Invasives Initiative. The team departs tonight on the RV Bounty Bay for the Phoenix with eight tons of rat poison and enough food and supplies for the four-to-five week expedition.
PIPA was founded by the Government of Kiribati, the New England Aquarium and Conservation International (CI) and all partners are behind this project with enthusiastic support from PIPA director Tukabu Teroroko who says, "This is an important project for PIPA and for Kiribati to begin managing invasive species on our islands."
A 2006 survey of all eight PIPA atolls funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) and led by Dr. Pierce found catastrophic declines in two species of petrel and serous declines in a further nine species of seabirds, including the iconic Phoenix petrel.
On McKean atoll the Asian rat, believed to have landed there less than five years ago when a Korean trawler was shipwrecked, has caused catastrophic declines in seabird diversity, including the total loss of blue noddies.
Populations of most of the remaining seabird species have declined considerably - time is definitely running out for these species on these atolls. Mckean, Rawaki and Birnie atolls are the first three atolls targeted for invasive species eradications. The long-term aim is to rid the Phoenix of all problematic invasive species and prevent any new introductions.
Eradicating invasive species is the first step in restoring these atolls. The work will include training PIPA management staff on further eradication efforts and raising awareness in Kiribati and the wider region about the threat of invasive species to promote stronger biosecurity.
CI’s support to PIPA is part of its contribution to the Marine Protected Area component of the Coral Reef Initiative in the South Pacific (CRISP).
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Conservation International (CI) applies innovations in science, economics, policy and community participation to protect the Earth’s richest regions of plant and animal diversity and demonstrate that human societies can live harmoniously with nature. Founded in 1987, CI works in more than 40 countries on four continents to help people find economic alternatives without harming their natural environments. For more information about CI, visit www.conservation.org.
The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) provides grants for nongovernmental groups and private sector partners to help protect Earth’s biodiversity hotspots. It is a joint initiative of Conservation International, l’Agence Française de Développement, the Global Environment Facility, the government of Japan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the World Bank. www.cepf.net