18 Mar 2016

Cyclone Winston hits Castaway Island – home to Wedge-tailed shearwaters

Monuriki Island Before and after. Photo by Khufu Osiris
By Sialesi Rasalato

Monuriki Island in Fiji is best known as Castaway Island where Tom Hanks was filmed for the movie of the same name.   Just 45 ha in size, with a maximum height of 177m, it is home to Wedge-tailed shearwaters.  But this little island was in the path of the cyclone.

The shearwaters would have been nearing the end of their breeding season when the cyclone struck. The island also has one of the few breeding populations of the Peregrine falcon and the Critically Endangered crested iguana. Goats and rats were eradicated by BirdLife and the community in 2012.

The Vunaivi Clan, whose members live in Yanuya Village, are the traditional owners of Monuriki Island. They have been monitoring terrestrial species and running invasive species management programmes on the Island since 2011, with support from BirdLife International, NatureFiji/MareqetiViti, National Trust of Fiji, Nadroga/Navosa Provincial Office and the Mamanuca Environment Society. They co-ordinate the monitoring programme (following the rat and goat eradication) and are investigating sustainable livelihood opportunities.

Yanuya Village Headman and Monuriki SSG member, Akuila Lati said “Some of the villagers have been sleeping outside whereas most have been living in the village hall. We have water for now which was one of the most important things that we needed to get before anything else. Food is coming in from the government at this stage and what we need right now is to send our kids to school. Some of their rooms have been blown away along with their education materials. Our priority right now is to get these kids back to school before we start rebuilding”.

The vegetation on Monuriki was badly hit. BirdLife and its partners will be sending a team to assess damage on the island which will include a night survey of the endemic Crested Iguana.

For many climate change is still a future threat, nice to talk and argue about.   But for Pacific people it is becoming reality with unprecedented storms and impending sea level rises.  With so many birds and other species clinging to survival the urgency to control predators and restore habitats is only too apparent.  And to support the very communities that are dedicated to protecting their own natural treasures.  It is a responsibility we all share.

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