Island Restoration Set to Save Coral Reefs

Actress Laura Dern speaks up about preserving Tetiaroa’s Islands and the implications for coral reef conservation and mitigating climate change.

RELEASED: Tuesday, October 20th, 11AM PST

For Interviews, contact:
Sally Esposito, Tetiaroa Society –, 706-969-2783
Emily Heber, Island Conservation –, 661-332-1652

Interviews, Project Video Narrated by Laura Dern, B-roll, Photos

While the world was shut down due to COVID-19, a team of conservationists saw an opportunity. No travel meant no visitors. The world-renowned Tetiaroa Atoll was quiet. It was time to strike.

A local team of scientists led by the not-for-profit organizations Tetiaroa Society and Island Conservation assembled on island, embarking on a ground-breaking restoration project to save the world the best way they know how—by removing invasive rats.

Tetiaroa is the most important seabird and turtle nesting site in the Leeward Society Islands. Its waters host robust populations of fish, sharks, and a thriving coral reef system,” said Frank Murphy, Tetiaroa Society Executive Director. “Two species of invasive rats on Tetiaroa are severely reducing native bird populations and feeding on green sea turtle hatchlings, plants, crabs, and other invertebrate species, which in turn impacts the marine environment.”

By September 2020, the team had successfully completed their work removing invasive rats from two islands in the atoll. But the job is far from over.

In 2021, the partners plan to restore all twelve islands in Tetiaroa Atoll to protect biodiversity and build resilience to climate change impacts, while leveraging this work with a multi-disciplinary research effort to document benefits to wildlife and the linkage between the restoration of the land and sea ecosystem.

The partners have secured more than 80 percent of the funds needed for the restoration of the remaining nine islands next year. The remaining funds must be secured to green-light the operation and continue this critical research. Laura Dern narrates this call-to-action video about the project and the importance of protecting Tetiaroa.

Tetiaroa, located 60 kilometers from Tahiti in the Society Islands of French Polynesia,  is famous for its pioneering eco-luxury resort, The Brando, which was inspired by Marlon Brando. Brando purchased Tetiaroa after filming Mutiny on the Bounty and envisioned using the island as a living laboratory where innovative research could be conducted in hopes that Tetiaroa may serve as a global ecological model for sustainability. His dream is now being realized with a dynamic partnership between The Brando resort, the Brando Family Trust (owners of the island), Tetiaroa Society, and the local Polynesian community.

Scientists anticipate an explosive increase of native birds and sea turtle populations following complete restoration. Tetiaroa will once again be a major sanctuary for seabirds, endangered sea turtles, and for other native fauna and flora, which play a critical role in the environment and traditional Polynesian cultural practices. Restoration also opens the door for rare and threatened species to be translocated to Tetiaroa, where their populations can flourish free from predation.  


Benefits of rat removal extend far beyond the shoreline – emerging research has found that robust native seabird populations bring much needed nutrients to the marine environment, resulting in healthy coral reefs. To build on this, an unprecedented assembly of researchers are working alongside our project to survey the land and marine ecosystem response before and after rat removal. If the research confirms that adjacent coral reefs are more resilient to the effects of climate change following rat removal, then the Tetiaroa project will serve as a model for species protection and coral reef conservation on a global scale.

The removal of invasive species from islands is a well-established tool for curbing the extinction crisis. A rigorous study of the restoration impact on both the land and sea of Tetiaroa Atoll will deepen the understanding of how island restoration leads to healthier coral reef ecosystems and enable others to better apply this tool for mitigating climate change and conserving our oceans, ” explains Penny Becker, Regional Executive Director of the U.S. and Pacific for Island Conservation.

The story of Tetiaroa Atoll is not entirely unfamiliar.Tropical atolls across the Pacific and around the world are facing similar threats as a result of invasive species—decimating wildlife, impeding ocean health, and affecting the food security and health of human communities. In fact, restoration work on Tetiaroa follows similar work done on Palmyra Atoll. Researchers and managers from both sites are collaborating to compare results and strengthen conclusions. The research and knowledge gained from restoring Tetiaroa, will enable island restoration practitioners to replicate this kind of conservation strategy on a much larger scale, saving species and supporting island communities.  

For the first time in decades, native seabirds, turtles, fish, and visitors alike will enjoy rat-free habitat on this idyllic atoll. Protecting and preserving the atoll’s natural beauty is critical to the health and future of Tetiaroa,” said Murphy.

You can help protect Tetiaroa by donating at


Additional Notes:

  • Nonprofits Tetiaroa Society and Island Conservation are protecting Tetiaroa Atoll’s natural beauty and native species by removing invasive rats from the entire atoll (12 islets). The first island was cleared in 2018, with two islands cleared in 2020.
  • Tetiaroa is a magical place vibrating with island life:
    • Tetiaroa supports thousands of nesting seabirds, including four IUCN locally threatened species, making it a key breeding site within French Polynesia.
    • It is a major nesting site for Endangered Green Sea Turtles and hosts a stable population of Coconut Crabs. 
    • The atoll hosts a near-pristine and ecologically important coral reef, which has been relatively unharmed by human impacts.
  • Invasive rats, introduced inadvertently by humans to Tetiaroa, devour seabird eggs and chicks, turtle eggs and hatchlings, and land crabs. They eat native seeds and seedlings, altering the atoll’s terrestrial habitat that native animals depend on. 
  • Research has shown that islands with robust seabird colonies and without invasive rats are surrounded by healthier coral reef ecosystems with greater fish biomass and more resilience to ocean warming events.
    • In the most ambitious and collaborative study on this to date, dozens of scientists have signed on to the Tetiaroa project to monitor and document the marine response to rat removal.
  • Invasive rats have been removed from three islets. We are currently seeking funding to secure implementation in 2021 on the remaining 75% of Tetiaroa’s habitat where invasive rats endanger seabirds and sea turtles. 
  • This project protects threatened plants and animals and will enhance the resilience of surrounding coral reefs, making them more resilient to the impacts of climate change. 
  • It is also expected to benefit reef fish populations, ensuring food security for local communities dependent on coral reefs both economically and culturally. 
  • This project will be a model for similar atoll-wide restoration projects globally. 

About Tetiaroa:

  • Actor Marlon Brando purchased Tetiaroa in 1961 after filming in Tahiti and falling in love with French Polynesia as well as his Tahitian female lead in the movie.
  • Brando’s vision for the atoll was that it be a thriving, ecological model, a site for innovative, scientific research, and that it serve as a tourist and marine preserve. 
  • Tetiaroa is home to one of the most exclusive eco-luxury resorts on the planet, aptly named ‘The Brando’. It regularly attracts A-list celebrities.
  • The Brando is close to becoming carbon neutral and self-sustainable. Electricity is generated from solar panels and coconut oil biofuel, wastewater is used for irrigation, and the resort is air-conditioned by cool deep seawater. 
  • Historically, Tetiaroa was the exclusive vacation destination for the Tahitian Royal Family.
  • Tetiaroa thrives thanks to a dynamic and successful partnership among corporate, nonprofit, government, donors, and community allies.  These are The Brando, Tetiaroa Society, the Tahitian Government, individual international contributors, and the Polynesian community, respectively.

Extinction and Restoration on Islands:

  • The majority of global extinctions happen on islands, with invasive species as a primary cause.
  • Invasive species can be removed from islands. The removal of invasive species is one of the most effective conservation initiatives available, with more than 1,200 invasive mammal eradications attempted on islands worldwide and an average success rate of 85%
  • Free from invasive rats, islands can naturally recover, often on their own without any further intervention. Many species have avoided extinction and/or been down-listed thanks to the removal of invasive species from islands.
  • Research has found that the removal of invasive species has benefits to human populations that go beyond biodiversity conservation, contributing to economic gains, increased food security, and human health through the elimination of vectors of zoonotic diseases.

Frank Murphy, Executive Director, Tetiaroa Society
Penny Becker, Regional Executive Director, U.S. and Pacific, Island Conservation


  • “We aim to leverage the success of this project by scientifically establishing the value of atoll restoration for coral reef conservation. This complements traditional Polynesia knowledge and will raise awareness on the importance of protecting the land-sea connection for biodiversity and sustainable human development.” – Frank Murphy, Executive Director, Tetiaroa Society. 
  • “Islands are at the forefront of the extinction crisis, with invasive vertebrates as the primary driver of extinctions and threatening nearly half of our world’s most endangered species. Fortunately, the removal of invasive species is an effective, one-time conservation action, capable of reviving island ecosystems and pulling wildlife back from the brink of extinction. Tetiaroa presents a unique opportunity to expand our understanding of the benefits island conservation presents for supporting healthy oceans.” – Penny Becker, Regional Executive Director, U.S., and Pacific, Island Conservation

About Island Conservation

Island Conservation prevents extinctions by removing invasive species from islands. To date, we have successfully restored 64 islands worldwide, benefiting 1195 populations of 487 species and subspecies. Working together with local communities, government management agencies, and conservation organizations, we select islands that have the greatest potential for preventing the extinction of globally threatened species.

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