Saving the unique wildlife of the Marquesas islands in French Polynesia
Approaching by sea, the jagged peaks and steep forested cliffs of the Marquesas Islands – part of French Polynesia – rise imposingly from the Pacific Ocean: a striking reminder of the volcanic forces that created them. Of outstanding beauty and exceptional cultural and archaeological significance, they have been proposed for designation as both a natural and cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site.
One of the most isolated archipelagos in the world, the Marquesas have evolved a unique and diverse community of plants and animals, including twelve bird species found nowhere else on earth. Unfortunately, this irreplaceable community is under severe threat from non-native species introduced through centuries of human settlement. Grazing animals have destroyed large tracts of forest, exposing the soil to severe erosion and increasing the islands’ vulnerability to drought and the impacts of climate change. In addition, invasive predators have taken their toll on native birds: three bird species have already gone extinct, with many more on the brink of survival. If nothing is done, Endangered species like the Marquesas Monarch Pomarea mendozae, Marquesas Ground-dove Alopecoenas rubescens, Phoenix Petrel Pterodroma alba and Polynesian Storm-petrel Nesofregetta fuliginosa could soon be lost forever.
Owing to this growing crisis, the Marquesas are internationally recognised as one of the most important archipelagos for bird conservation in the world.
We know how to turn this extinction crisis around
BirdLife’s work over the past decade has proven that these fragile Pacific island ecosystems can be restored and protected. We have successfully removed invasive species from nine islands in French Polynesia, and over 30 across the wider tropical Pacific. We have first-hand experience of the unique challenges of the Marquesas, through our highly successful pilot project to restore Teuaua Island, a key Marquesan seabird colony.
Nature’s response to our work has been rapid and heartening. Following a pioneering multi-island operation in 2015 to restore five islands in Acteon & Gambier (French Polynesia), we recorded a three-fold increase in White-throated Storm Petrel numbers on the island of Manui, and a 100% increase in Murphy’s Petrels. Three of the islands are now home to breeding populations of Red-tailed Tropicbird, Black Noddy and Tahiti Petrel - all absent prior to the restoration.
The Marquesas will be the biggest challenge yet
Drawing on our experiences from Acteon & Gambier, BirdLife plans to simultaneously restore seven of the Marquesas Islands with the help of our French Polynesian Partner, SOP MANU. An operation for islands of this size, number and isolation has never been undertaken before, and will require the skills of a large, multi-partner team working for over 12 months. It will also be a monumental logistical challenge, involving transporting staff and tons of specialised equipment by helicopter and boat across remote and rugged terrain – at an estimated cost of more than 3 million US dollars.
The potential return on this investment is certainly worth this herculean effort. Successful restoration will directly protect four globally threatened bird species, along with globally significant populations of a further 14 bird species, and eight plant species found nowhere else. The operation will safeguard 2,400 hectares of unique tropical dry forest and create future predator-free havens for birds under threat from sea level rise or invasive species elsewhere in French Polynesia.
Working alongside communities, landowners and local authorities, the operation will put in place essential biosecurity measures needed to prevent the reintroduction of invasive species to these restored island havens. We will integrate lessons learned into local and national invasive species policies, to provide long-term protection for the Marquesas and island ecosystems across French Polynesia.
Time is running out for the unique wildlife and landscapes of the Marquesas. But we have a proven solution to the threats they face and an agreed plan to secure their future.
To lend your support and enable us to put this plan into action...