All Blacks -1 : BirdLife +1
Anton Oliver, the New Zealand rugby star and former All Blacks captain, is now tackling problems of a different kind – seabird conservation!
Anton is embarking on a new career this July when he starts a Masters course at Oxford University on ‘Biodiversity, Conservation and Management’. In preparation for the course, Anton is now working with BirdLife International in Fiji's outlying Ringgold Islands where he is studying the link between biodiversity and economic security.
BirdLife’s programme on the Ringgold Islands involves working with local people to help conserve important seabird nesting sites. The programme’s long-term goal is to generate revenue through initiatives such as eco-tourism. Anton is helping with the first step of reducing the threat of bird predation posed by Pacific Rats Rattus exulans.
“I'm really enjoying working with such a well-established NGO as BirdLife International” —Anton Oliver, former New Zealand All Black
Steve Cranwell, the BirdLife Seabird Programme Manager in Fiji, explained: “We have been preparing the terrain for a rat-eradication programme at the Ringgold islands for a couple of years now. To make this work really stick we need to run the programme in partnership with the local people. This ensures that once the rats are removed, they don’t come back and other threats don’t grow. We can then start to reap the rewards of habitat improvements for threatened seabirds. The Critically Endangered Fiji Petrel Pseudobulweria macgillivrayi is one species we are hoping to establish safe-havens for - it’s so rare we don’t even know where it breeds!”
Anton is presently working with the Ringgolds rat eradication project team by helping to drop aerial baits over the remote group of volcanic atolls. The team includes BirdLife staff, a technical expert from New Zealand’s Department of Conservation and also community representatives. “It is a truly collaborative operation with a lot of commitment and involvement of the local people,” said Elenoa Seniloli - BirdLife project assistant.
Anton hopes that lessons he will learn working on the Ringgold Islands will be transferable. “My project is designed to look at conservation in the most basic of social and political settings from which I hope to develop some fundamental concepts which, in the future, I can adapt to more complex environments".
“To make this work really stick we need to run these programmes in partnership with local people” —Steve Cranwell, BirdLife International’s Seabird Programme Manager in Fiji
“Undertaking my dissertation in Fiji is really exciting. I'm really enjoying working with such a well-established NGO as BirdLife International”.
Dr Susan Waugh, BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme Scientist based at Forest & Bird (BirdLife in New Zealand) commented: “Seabird conservation issues are a great flagship for generating public environmental awareness. Albatrosses and petrels are species that people can relate to, where making a difference really appeals to people. It’s very exciting to have someone as enthusiastic and energetic as Anton to work with on this programme, he’s a great ambassador for seabird conservation concerns for New Zealand and our wider neighbourhood which is a world centre of seabird biodiversity”.
The rugby star plans to continue his involvement in the environmental sector after his studies at Oxford, with a focus on improving the responsiveness of the people of New Zealand and neighbouring countries to key environmental issues.
Credits: Forest and Bird, and BirdLife International Pacific Programme