The Acteon and Gambier Archipelagos are located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, more than 1,500 km (~932 miles) from Tahiti. French Polynesia comprises 125 islands and atolls spread over 5,030,000 square kilometers of Pacific Ocean. These vast archipelagos have among the highest numbers of endemic birds for tropical Pacific islands, exceeded only by the proportion that are globally threatened (37 percent).
he Critically Endangered Polynesian Ground-dove, 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. Predation and competition by damaging, non-native (invasive) mammals in French Polynesia have driven this and other rare, endemic bird species to the brink of extinction. The species is listed by BirdLife International as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List—a category that signals an extremely high risk of extinction within our lifetimes.
In 2015, a team of international conservation organizations set out to rid French Polynesia’s Acteon and Gambier island groups of invasive mammals. In 2017, the partners confirmed five of six targeted islands as predator-free—a ground-breaking one thousand hectares in total. Early signs already indicate that rare birds found nowhere else in the world and other native plants and animals are recovering as the remote islands return to their former glory.
Combining resources, expertise, equipment, and logistical skills, a coalition of NGOs, BirdLife International, SOP Manu (BirdLife Partner, French Polynesia) and Island Conservation—together with the support of the government of French Polynesia, landowners, other partners and local volunteers—voyaged over 1,500 km to six of French Polynesia’s remote islands—Vahanga, Tenarunga, Temoe, Kamaka, Makaroa and Manui to complete the challenging project.
This operation has reset the native ecological balance to a time probably not known on these islands since Polynesian colonization. Local livelihoods are also expected to benefit as a result of the project’s success. Thanks to this project, the safe habitat now available to the Tutururu has more than doubled.
To restore vital breeding habitat for many of French Polynesia’s native species.
Thousands of seabirds are safely nesting, and native plants are thriving again.
Damaging, invasive rats were introduced to many islands in French Polynesia decades ago and have since ravaged the native populations of the Critically Endangered Polynesian Ground-dove and the Endangered Tuamotu Sandpiper.
In July 2015, Birdlife International, with Island Conservation and SOP Manu, completed an ambitious conservation operation on six remote islands in the Tuamotu (Acteon group) and Gambier archipelagos, French Polynesia. In 2017, the operation was declared a success! This project makes an unprecedented contribution to saving one of our world’s rarest birds and a number of other endangered species from extinction.
Richard received a BSc in physics from Victoria University, a postgraduate diploma in environmental science from Canterbury University, and an MSc in ecology from Lincoln University, New Zealand. Between 1997 and 2011 he worked for the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC), leading species recovery, island restoration, island biosecurity and pest control, and eradication programs. He was a member of DOC’s Island Eradication Advisory Group and was the leader of the Stitchbird Recovery Group between 2000 and 2007—leading the species successful reintroduction to the New Zealand mainland after a 120-year absence. He was also extensively involved in the re-establishment of seabird populations on islands and was part of the team that confirmed the reappearance of the New Zealand Storm Petrel previously considered extinct. Richard has led notable island restoration projects including the removal of rats from Little Barrier Island and the removal of eight invasive species from Rangitoto and Motutapu islands in New Zealand. As a result of the Rangitoto and Motutapu project, Richard and DOC won the Parks Forum Environmental Award in 2010. The project’s innovative approach also earned Richard a position as a finalist for the 2010 Kenton Miller Award. Richard works for Island Conservation based in New Zealand. He leads a team of project managers and island restoration specialists whose focus is preventing extinctions. In the four years he has been with Island Conservation, he and his team have successfully removed invasive species from more than twelve islands, resulting in significant benefits to plants and wildlife.