Rare chance for some of our world’s rarest birds!

Largest Conservation Project Ever in French Polynesia Hits Historic Milestone

Resources: FrançaisPhotographs, Supplemental Video / B-roll, Interviews with operation leaders

Acteon & Gambier Archipelagos, French Polynesia, July 29, 2015
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 project’s 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.

Acteon gambier Polynesian Ground Dove, photo by: Island Conservation/Maddy Pott

Polynesian Ground Dove, photo by: Island Conservation/Maddy Pott

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 defenseless, 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.

Endangered Tuamotu Sandpiper Prosobonia parvirostris (Titi) - Photo: Madeline Pott/Island Conservation

Endangered Tuamotu Sandpiper Prosobonia parvirostris (Titi) – Photo: Madeline Pott/Island Conservation

“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”.

Incredible logistical challenge and adventure

Delivering this incredibly important result for native wildlife required a herculean logistical commitment and a team of 31 personnel hailing from three continents and six countries. The successful shipment of hundreds of tonnes of equipment, and donated supplies from key partners Bell Laboratories and Tomcat, to these remote islands (including a helicopter); and the ability to overcome adverse weather, intestinal maladies and sleep deprivation, was some testimony to the three years of planning and preparation!

The Nukuhau regularly supplies the islands of French Polynesia

The Nukuhau regularly supplies the islands of French Polynesia


“Amazingly, given everything that could have gone wrong, we kept on track”, said Steve Cranwell.

“By tackling a group of islands in one extensive operation – sharing transport, equipment and expertise – we could restore all six threatened islands for the price of restoring less than two islands individually”, explained Steve. “But totaling almost a million Euros, this is our biggest restoration project ever.”

View of atoll from helicopter - Photo: Tommy Hall/Island Conservation

View of atoll from helicopter – Photo: Tommy Hall/Island Conservation

A project of this nature is synonymous with adventure. “Flying in a helicopter hundreds of miles over open ocean with nowhere to land other than the distant ‘pin-prick’ atoll you’re aiming for tends to heighten an interest in weather conditions…” recalls Steve.

Local support

A central part of the operation’s success has been the contribution from local people and organisations. Businesses provided essential services and the French Polynesian government assisted with costs. Local people helped plan the operation and supported its implementation, from surveying for Tutururu and Titi, to helping remove the invasive species including clearing dense tangles of the plant, Lantana, which was out-competing the native forest.

“Thanks to everyone who gave invaluable help – from the Polynesian locals, to local groups, to the Nuku Hau boat crew, to the Gambier City Council, to landowners, to every boatman that transported the crew, even in bad weather!” said Tom Ghestemme, Director of SOP Manu. “A project of this size could only have happened with your collaboration.”

Future – lives saved and livelihoods bettered

The operation is just the beginning of this relationship. In the coming years, SOP Manu and project partners will continue to support the local communities in preventing the return of rats and other invasive species; and in monitoring the return of Tutururu, Titi, and the many other rare seabirds and plants expected to recover with the removal of rats.

“Managing coconut production so both the needs of the Pa’umotu people, the native wildlife and ecosystems are met will be one essential element in the ongoing protection of these islands”, said Tom Ghestemme.

“The continued support and enthusiasm of the local people and government of French Polynesia are absolutely crucial to the eventual success of this project,” said Steve Cranwell. “Not only are the lives of Tutururu and Titi dependent on a culture of biosecurity on these islands, but so is the quality of life and livelihoods of the Pa’umotuan people.”

“The islands of French Polynesia face many threats from invasive species to climate change and to have this assistance in reversing some of these negative impacts is a tremendous gift to protecting our islands, traditions and way of life” said Father Joël Aumeran Vicar general of Papeete Diocese of Catholic Church, owner of Acteons islands. Through biosecurity we will continue to support this investment ensuring a legacy that Pa’umotu people and generations to come will benefit from.”

“It will be one year before we can declare the six islands rat-free, but initial signs are very positive”, said Steve.


This was the final press release of our Operation Restoration updates, read our previous updates here:

But our work isn’t done yet; Join us today to be part of the next phase of this exciting project!


  • BirdLife International is the world’s largest nature conservation Partnership. Together we are 120 BirdLife Partners worldwide – one per country – and growing, with almost 11 million supporters, 7000 local conservation groups and 7400 staff.

The BirdLife Partnership has successfully restored over 30 islands in the Pacific as part of BirdLife’s global Invasive Alien Species programme, working with our Partners in Australia (Birdlife Australia); the Cook Islands (Te Ipukarea Society); Fiji (NatureFiji-MareqetiViti); French Polynesia (Société d’Ornithologie de Polynésie); New Caledonia (Société Calédonienne d’Ornithologie); New Zealand (the Royal Forest & Bird Society) and; Palau (the Palau Conservation Society). Bird populations are now increasing on these islands, and people are benefiting through livelihood improvements.

  • Société d’Ornithologie de Polynésie (SOP Manu) biodiversity of French Polynesia, and work with the local people to promote the sustainable management of natural resources in a huge Territory as large as Europe with some places not easy to access or costly to reach.
  • Island Conservation (IC) is our world’s only global, not-for-profit conservation organization whose mission is to prevent extinctions by removing invasive species from islands. We work where the concentration of both biodiversity and species extinction is greatest – islands. Removing a primary threat – introduced invasive vertebrates – is one of the most critical interventions for saving threatened plants and animals and restoring island ecosystems. Once invasive species are removed, native island species and ecosystems recover with little additional intervention. Over the past 20 years, Island Conservation and partners have deployed teams to protect 994 populations of 389 species on 52 islands. IC is headquartered in Santa Cruz, CA with field offices in Australia, British Columbia, Chile, Ecuador, Hawaii, New Zealand, and Puerto Rico.
  • Technical assistance has also been provided by the Pacific Invasives Initiative and the New Zealand Department of Conservation Island Eradication Advisory Group.
  • This project has received support from many international and national organisations with significant funding from the European Union, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the British Birdwatching Fair; sponsorships from Bell Laboratories and Tomcat; and assistance from the Government of French Polynesia; The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund; the Pacific Development and Conservation Trust; T-Gear Trust Canada and many individual people around the world.


  1. BirdLife Pacific (Fiji): Steve Cranwell; steve.cranwell@birdlife.org; +679 3313492/+679 9754570
  2. BirdLife International (UK): Shaun Hurrell; shaun.hurrell@birdlife.org; +44 (0)1223 279876; adrian.long@birdlife.org; +44 (0)1223 279812
  3. SOP Manu (French Polynesia) for interviews en français: Tom Ghestemme tghestemme@manu.pf; +68940521100
  4. Island Conservation (US): Kathleen Goldstein; kgoldstein@greenfishcommunications.com + 1 (202) 841-0295

Project Partners

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