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Another island rat eradication project is underway, this time in the Pacific paradise of the French Polynesian Islands. Located in the South Pacific Ocean halfway between California and Australia, it is known as an exclusive island escape, filled with stunning turquoise lagoons and picturesque romantic landscapes.
Visited by honeymooners and travelers alike, the island is now the site to what will likely be the largest ever rat eradication project. BirdLife International, with SOP Manu (BirdLife Partner in French Polynesia) and Island Conservation are leading the operation across the remote areas of the French Polynesian Islands.
The first phase of bait application finished in July of this year. For Bell, the French Polynesian project is currently the largest island bait donation to date with over 200,000 pounds of Brodifacoum pellets manufactured and donated.
The project team of 31 successfully carried out the aerial rodenticide bait drop. For several weeks, the team baited over 1,300 hectares of land, spread across two islands in the Acteon group (Vahanga and Tenarunga) and four islands in the Gambier group (Temoe, Kamaka, Makaroa, and Manui).
The French Polynesia project is expected to span over 20 years and 48 islands, requiring more than 16 million pounds of bait spread across almost 100,000 hectares of island land. An ambitious undertaking - with the hope that the island groups will be free of invasive rodents and the native animals and plants will return to their fabled beauty and abundance.
In particular, the project aims to restore the populations of one of the world's most rare and endangered birds, the Polynesian Ground-dove. Found only in French Polynesia, invasive rodents nearly wiped out the population, with BirdLife International estimating fewer than 100 birds remain today.
A Familiar Story
Despite the isolation of these islands, resident species were not immune to human interference. Decades ago, the Norway rat, Polynesian rat and other invasive species overran the island groups of French Polynesia. They fed on the young chicks and hatchlings of the famed ground-dove, along with native species including the endangered Tuamotu Sandpiper.
Because the island species evolved without predatory animals, they were particularly susceptible to hungry rodents that preyed on the eggs and chicks of the flightless birds.
"Invasive alien species are a key driver of global biodiversity loss," says Don Stewart, Director of BirdLife Pacific. "Introduced mammals alone are believed to be responsible for 90% of all bird extinctions since 1500, and are presently the main cause of decline for nine out of ten globally threatened birds within the Pacific."
Without intervention by Island Conservation with support from Bell, these famed and endangered species would be driven to extinction.
The Road Ahead
The completion of Phase 1 is a remarkable feet in island restoration. With many years and several million pounds of bait to be distributed, Bell and partners at Island Conservation work towards 100% removal of invasive rodents.
"For island projects only 100% eradication is acceptable," said Craig Riekena, Bell's Compliance Manager.
If any rodents are found on follow up investigations at one and two years post application, the project is considered a failure. This is because the inherent isolation of these islands and typical lack of predators means that just a few rodents left un-killed will repopulate and resume their destructive ways in just a few years.
After initial surveys, the project shows signs of success. "It will be one year before we can declare the six islands rat-free, but initial signs are very positive", said Steve Cranwell - Operation Manager and Invasive Species expert from BirdLife Pacific, in a recent report from project headquarters.
"In the last few days of the operation more Polynesian Ground-dove and Tuamotu Sandpiper were sighted on Vahanga", said Richard Griffiths, Island Conservation Project Director. "This is a sign of hope for recovery not only for these French Polynesian species, but for the hundreds of threatened island species around the world waiting for similar interventions on their behalf".