3 Jul 2015

Operation Restoration - island update #5 - all just beaches and coconuts?

The fifth report from the islands in our extensive Acteon & Gambier Island Restoration Operation. Anthony & Heimana (locals from Tureia) rolling up the prickly invasive plant, Lantana. Photo: Steve Cranwell; BirdLife International
The fifth report from the islands in our extensive Acteon & Gambier Island Restoration Operation. Anthony & Heimana (locals from Tureia) rolling up the prickly invasive plant, Lantana. Photo: Steve Cranwell; BirdLife International
By Shaun Hurrell

Sometimes the negative legacy of human impact on the environment is a difficult one to stomach.

But when humans left Vahanga, one of the world's remotest islands, you would have hoped the impact would have ended. However, the sad fact is that our species brought with it a suite of invasive species, such as predatory rats and aggressive weeds, that have had a lasting and devastating effect on these delicate islands and their native wildlife.

Thankfully a dedicated few are now on these Pacific islands working incredibly hard to make amends. The Operation Restoration team are as we speak doing their best to save the Critically Endangered Polynesian Ground-dove - one of the world’s rarest birds - from extinction.

Named Tutururu by locals, there are only about 100 of these birds left in the world - all found in French Polynesia. This defenceless bird has been predated by invasive rats and had its habitat encroached by an invasive plant.

We are making great progress in restoring the natural balance on 6 islands in the Acteon and Gambier archipelagos, but these delicate ecosystems still need your help.

Find out more in the latest update below from Steve Cranwell, Project Leader and invasive species expert:

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Steve reports via satelite phone 25th June

Steve Cranwell with a Polynesian</br>Storm-petrelAn invasive Lantana plant was introduced as an ornament to church grounds in Vahanga, and in the years since has spread forming dense swards of prickly impenetrable mess. It is an aggressive weed out-competing other native plants including those that Tutururu [Polynesian Ground-dove] feed on.

Armed with secateurs, machetes, and spray bottles, each stem is being cut and sprayed. Three days on, close to a hectare has been cleared with hills of vegetation piled for later incineration. Thankfully some local ingenuity (branch levers and hooks), lots of muscle and plenty of humour has saved us from weeks of hard labour. If a follow-up to this effort is done next year and subsequently, eradication of this weed will be possible.

As far as weeds go here, arguably coconuts are the biggest problem. But being both well-established (Vahanga as a historical coconut plantation) and an important income source for local people, the solution to this is much more complex, but one that can be tackled with the support of SOP (Manu; BirdLife in French Polynesia), the Church, government and local people. Already there is a good start though.

Tom Ghestemme from SOP (Manu) says: "Coconuts from Vahanga have not been harvested since 2000 - on the decision of the Catholic church because of the benefits to island biodiversity."

SOP (Manu) and BirdLife will continue to provide ongoing support over the next 2-3 years in developing a biosecurity culture with the local communities around these atolls. Managing coconuts so both the needs of the local Tuamotu people and wildlife are met will be the essential next step in restoring and protecting these islands.

Back to the action, and we have cleared the coprah [coconut flesh] drying sheds and storage areas from years of accumulated coconut pieces - which provide food and hide-outs for invasive rats. With the blessing of the island owners, a systematic burning has begun to remove the rest of the piles of coconut husk from the atoll.

All locals are so far supportive of the biosecurity control measures needed, and while there’s no quick fix we’re making a fantastic start!

Everyone is well, although Tom’s ‘squashed finger’ (rock fell on it) probably doesn’t fit that description – but by all accounts it’s mending well.


This project's success depends on you! Many of you, our supporters, have already stepped forward to help us, but more needs to be done. 

Please visit to show Steve, the team, Polynesian Ground-dove and nature your support for this incredibly important operation. 


  • Read more of our Operation Restoration updates here.
  • Island Conservation is also providing regular project updates, read more here.

BirdLife International, with SOP Manu (BirdLife Partner in French Polynesia) and Island Conservation, is leading an extensive island restoration operation in a remote area of French Polynesia to save Critically Endangered birds species and restore the delicate ecological balance. Our ambitious project is restoring the Acteon & Gambier archipelagos to their former glory, safe and ready for the reintroduction of Tuamotu Sandpiper and Polynesian Ground-dove, and benefiting many other wildlife.

By sharing transport, equipment and expertise, we’ve significantly reduced the cost of restoring all six islands that are threatened, but is nonetheless our biggest project of the decade.

Additional technical assistance has come from the Pacific Invasives Initiative and the New Zealand Department of Conservation.

This project has received support from many international and national organisations with significant funding from the European Union, the British Birdwatching Fair, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund; sponsorships from Bell Laboratories and T-Gear Trust Canada; and assistance from the Government of French Polynesia and many individual people around the world.

But crucially we still need your help! Please support us at

Feedback from our supporters:

“Let's work together to maintain biodiversity and contain damage done by human expansion.”

“Great project, worth supporting! Hope you meet your goal.”

“Take care, all involved with this operation.”

“My grandchildren will probably never visit these Polynesian islands, but that's not the point. Others will visit, and hopefully see birds which these donations have helped save.”

“great project . hope you'll succeed”

“Great, great cause. Hope you get to 100% soon”

“Massively important project”

“Just such a worthwhile project.”

“Make it beautiful.”

“Good luck with this urgent and essential work.”

“Great work guys - I wish I could join you”

“Thanks for doing this.”

“Make those islands paradise again! Some mistakes are reversible, we have to take responsibility.”

“These are amazing destinations that I shall never visit. But just to know that they stand a good chance to flourish well for wildlife is enough. Good luck with the venture.”

“I wish you success on every level of this very important initiative.”

“Glad you are there”

“Fingers crossed this eradication is successful”

“Best of luck! Great to see so many eradications happening globally.”

“i'm happy to be part of this achievment. good luck.”

“This is for a good purpose.”

“A worthy cause. Good luck.”

“Good luck with rehabilitating these island "arks"”

“You can have my Christmas present money - no-one I know is in need of more stuff. Good luck with your incredible efforts.”

“Good luck in achieving here what has been done successfully on other islands”