12 Jun 2015

Operation Restoration underway: restoring a Pacific paradise - island update #1

The first update from the field in our huge Acteon & Gambier Island Restoration Operation. Photo: Steve Cranwell
By Shaun Hurrell

One of BirdLife’s most adventurous projects. The largest conservation project in French Polynesia ever. An incredibly remote location. A huge number of species to benefit. Six rare and endangered bird species to be saved. An enormous logistical challenge. Helicopter. Boats. GPS. Storms. Lightning. And wildlife. Restoring a tropical paradise in the Pacific… The Acteon & Gambier Island Restoration Operation has begun.

As you read this, Steve Cranwell – BirdLife Invasive Species expert in the Pacific, and logistical guru – is over 1500km from Tahiti, on an incredibly remote and uninhabited atoll in the Acteon & Gambier archipelagos, French Polynesia.

These islands are all vital for our global efforts to conserve Critically Endangered bird species Polynesian Ground-dove Alopecoenas erythropterus, which are facing extinction because of non-native species (introduced by humans) such as rats, which eat their eggs and young. Removing these invaders is the immediate priority to save the native birds, other wildlife and restore the delicate ecological balance of the islands.


One of the 150 or less Critically Endangered Polynesian Ground-dove left in the world, found only on a few small islands in French Polynesia. Photo: Pete Morris;

Assisted by  SOP Manu (BirdLife in French Polynesia), Island Conservation, Pacific Invasives Initiative and New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, many tonnes of equipment have already been shipped to these remote islands, bringing a helicopter and team of 30 personnel to begin some of the most ambitious island restoration work the world has ever seen.

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This a big ask, but with the pressure of reversing the fate of Critically Endangered species weighing on broad shoulders, Steve knows too well that this huge operation has to be done now.

“Rarely do we get the chance to have such a big impact in the conservation of birds and other island biodiversity with just one project”, said Don Stewart, Director of BirdLife Pacific.

We haven't reached our full target amount to fund the project yet, but we have so far raised sufficient funds to begin work. Thanks to everyone who has supported so far.

However, we urgently need a further $US 150,000 to ensure our years of careful planning is fully implemented.

Here are Steve’s latest updates sent from satellite phone, and showing his good sense of humour in times of stress!

Steve reports via satelite phone

The team are off 6 June

We all left yesterday morning … One task was to collect a boat motor that had been pre-arranged. Of course, this was not as simple as going to see the given contact and collecting it…

Embracing adaptation I figured we didn't really want to land the helicopter in the sea (one purpose for the boat) and we'd just have to make sure that what goes to an island is needed on that island. Given we've spent the last six months (or more) making lists it shouldn't be too impossible...

The Nuku Hau [the team’s ship hired for the operation] arrived at 6am this morning and we left at 9am. The weather conditions are perfect which is a relief given the 3m-plus swells that were being experienced up until yesterday. Everyone is well and excited at the prospect that it all begins for real in the morning!


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

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 Intiative 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:

“Good luck with this urgent and essential work.”

“Just such a worthwhile project.”

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

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

“A worthy cause. Good luck.”

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

“You can have my Christmas present money. Good luck with your incredible efforts.”

“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.”