Pacific
30 Nov 2016

Meeting of BirdLife’s Pacific partners showcases conservation success

Participants at Pacific Partnership Meeting in the Cook Islands.
By Mike Britton

When the BirdLife Pacific Partners get together every two years it is a celebration of the work and successes in defending and restoring nature on the many distant island countries that make the BirdLife Pacific partnership.  Although the 7 partners and other communities in which BirdLife works are very diverse communities they all share similar issues of high endemism struggling to meet the challenges of introduced predators and the impacts of agriculture and other development. Sharing the meeting with BirdLife CEO Patricia Zurita was a highlight.

While the meeting looks across all the issues and the BirdLife strategy to address them, this year’s meeting focused on marine and seabird conservation and the Pacific Local Engagement and Empowerment Programme.

Sea birds are a specific challenge for BirdLife Pacific and this was a special focus of the meeting.  A large proportion of the worlds almost 350 species of seabirds live in the Pacific. While they occur right across the region there are areas of exceptional importance typically, centered around the productive marine currents and the nearby land areas.  New Zealand is one of these seabird hotspots with 85 species that breed there - 35 (42%) found nowhere else. There are other concentrations in Australia, and around the Pacific, - but the thousands of islands of the Pacific provide critical breeding and roosting for many of these birds.  They include several tube nose petrels and shearwaters (Procellidae). These are among the most threatened group of birds - over half considered to be threatened (or in decline).  For the 20 odd species that breed in the tropical Pacific 70% are classified as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered.

A new overarching project, Pacific Petrels in Peril is being promoted as a way to bring petrel conservation to the fore.  Progress with Marine Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (MIBAs) was reviewed especially the recently completed MIBAs for New Zealand and a discussion of the conservation opportunities that flow from this.  As expected from Pacific communities, marine protection is a big priority for Pacific partners with the Palau Conservation Society Forest & Bird talking about the promotion of marine protected areas in their countries.

The other big theme followed on from the completion of a Pacific wide project working with local communities to establish site support groups and support the development of sustainable livelihoods in these key communities so important to protecting IBAs.    This project was funded by the Aage V Jensen Charity Foundation.  The majority of land in the Pacific is traditionally-owned. Local tribes decide how their forests are managed in order to provide food, water and medicine essential for their daily needs. It is critical to work with local people to find ways to conserve biodiversity and provide for their immediate livelihood needs. 

 The Jensen project built on an award-winning approach by BirdLife resulting in landowning clans in Fiji declaring their own Community-Based Protected Areas whilst generating new sustainable incomes for themselves. It established a network of Local Engagement & Empowerment Programme Demonstration Sites across the Pacific, and to share lessons with similar groups across the BirdLife Global Partnership.

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Climate change is the top overall priority for Pacific communities already threatened by extreme climatic events and, already, a rise in sea levels.  Working together as part of BirdLife, Pacific partners can be part of a positive response to the challenges of climate change adaption and also be part of effective advocacy for global action to address the causes of this environmental crisis.

Another boost for the Pacific Partnership was the presence at the meeting of long term supporters.  Diane Lookman of the T-Gear Trust, which has sponsored the Pacific Invasives Programme came to the meeting, as did David and Sarah Gordon, the faces behind the BirdLife International Community Conservation Fund.  David and Sarah made three grant awards at the meeting including supporting an attempt to find the Ua Pou Monarch in French Polynesia – thought extinct, but there has been  recent credible evidence of a sighting; completing the Cook Islands Suwarrow island restoration where there are some signs of rats still being on one small island;  and the protection of an internationally important site for waders in Palau.

Meetings are often seen as excuses for inaction – but bring the dedicated staff and volunteers and supporters of Pacific conservation provides a major opportunity to remember the things achieved and the lessons learnt and to plan for and revitalize the Partnership to meet ever growing challenges.   The Cook Island partner, Te Ipukarea Society, was the host and impressed all the participants with their conservation achievements and programmes.