The Pacific has more threatened bird species per unit of land area, or per person, than any other region in the world and is home to around a quarter of the world's globally threatened bird species. This is because Pacific birds evolved on tiny, oceanic islands, in isolation from predators and competitors, but have long been subject to extermination by a range of introduced species as well as from habitat loss. Although these threats are now better known and solutions are available, bird species are still becoming extinct in the Pacific.
The Pacific Islands region spreads over more than 38 million square kilometres of ocean – an area three times larger than mainland China or the United States of America. Within this vast zone are fourteen independent or self-governing islands countries and eight territories. Less than 2% of the region is land with the total human population being only approximately seven million of which Papua New Guinea alone accounts for about four million.
BirdLife International’s Pacific Region includes these island countries and territories as well as Australia and New Zealand. It does not include those islands in the Eastern Pacific administered by Chile and Ecuador respectively (Easter Island (Nuku Hiva) and the Galapagos Islands), nor the American State of Hawaii.
The Pacific region is home to around a quarter of the world's globally threatened bird species
The region falls into four sub-groups: Polynesia (which includes New Zealand), Melanesia, Micronesia and Australia. Polynesian and Micronesian islands are the stuff of legend: mostly smaller islands (apart from those comprising New Zealand), some high and volcanic and some low, coral atolls. Most contain relatively low species diversity but high endemicity and very often high levels of threat.
Melanesia comprises larger islands such as Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia, with generally much higher species diversity in often still-extensive rainforests. Australia, though an island, is a continent in itself, with many and varied species and habitats. New Zealand, while part of Polynesia, also contains many different and unique species and habitats. In addition, many islands, Australia and New Zealand included, are also home to a multitude of seabird species, many of them, such as albatrosses, under serious threat.
The main threats to the region’s biodiversity are habitat destruction and "invasive alien species"
Much of the Pacific region’s biodiversity is threatened with extinction. The region is home to 42 Critically Endangered bird species which gives the Pacific the dubious distinction of having the highest number of species on the brink of extinction of any region of the world.
Birds, in particular, have evolved on islands in the absence of alien species and have few defences against them, while habitat destruction is a chronic and increasing threat.
A range of invasive aliens, including rats, cats, dogs, mongoose, snakes, ants, plants and pathogens, are now posing serious threats to the survival of native species while habitat loss continues apace, particularly on larger islands. While this situation presents opportunities for saving large areas of remnant, indigenous forests – such as in Palau – some small Pacific islands are close to losing both their last forest areas and their endemic land-birds. There are, though, some brighter notes, including new regional initiatives to deal with alien invasives and to prevent inappropriate development activities. A range of methods has now been developed to control or eradicate alien invasives and has proved successful but very expensive, especially on big islands or for developing nations.
The Pacific region is critically important for seabirds, which pose their own, distinct, conservation issues. As it happens, most threatened seabirds are found in developed places such as Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii. These areas are benefiting from a range of conservation activities from intensive site management to regional policy initiatives. However, seabird colonies in the tropical Pacific islands are not well understood and, although research is currently being conducted in Fiji and French Polynesia, more surveys are required urgently.
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