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Atoll Restoration in the Phoenix Islands: Survey Results 2009

Executive Summary of the 2009 Invasive Species Removal Report

ATOLL RESTORTION IN THE PHOENIX ISLANDS, KIRIBATI: SURVEY RESULTS IN NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2009  
Ray Pierce, Nautonga Anterea, Glen Coulston, Clea Gardiner, Louise Shilton, Katareti Taabu, Graham Wragg

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY   

A survey of selected atolls of the Phoenix Islands Group, Kiribati, was undertaken during 22 November to 13 December 2009.  The primary aims were to check on the success of rabbit and rat eradication operations of the previous year and to help plan for the restoration of additional priority islands in the Group.  The work was funded by the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund (CEPF administered by Conservation International) and NZAID (the latter facilitated by NZ Department of Conservation).  Government of Kiribati staff from Agriculture and Environment sections participated along with ecological specialists from Australia and New Zealand. 

The survey determined that the pest eradication work of May-June 2008 was successful with no sign of Asian rats on McKean Island or European rabbits on Rawaki.  These pests had been causing catastrophic damage to vegetation and animals of the two islands, but now 18 months after the eradications, the biota of both islands are showing signs of recovery.  The vegetation response is particularly striking with the islands now supporting more luxuriant and diverse plant growth.  Several species of birds are also responding positively with increased breeding success on McKean and more extensive nesting areas on Rawaki due to the improved vegetation cover on these islands.  

Planning for further restoration included targeted surveys of Enderbury, Orona and Kanton.  Enderbury (and Birnie which was surveyed in 2008) are infested only with Pacific rats, but Orona and Kanton both support cats and rat species – Pacific rats are widespread on the former, but Kanton supports a large Rattus species (species to be determined genetically) along with localized Pacific rats.  Draft operational plans for the restoration of Enderbury/Birnie are currently being prepared while restoration plans for Orona and Kanton are also being scoped.  

This survey provided capacity building support to Government of Kiribati (GoK) staff and focused on pest surveillance, improved biosecurity, restoration planning and biota monitoring.  There are several opportunities for GoK staff to undertake important additional restoration work in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA).  These include the eradication of Pacific rats from 4 ha Channel Island at Kanton on which seabirds are currently being devastated by the rats, and applying specific improved quarantine measures at Kanton to enhance biosecurity of the PIPA generally.