European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), Asian rat (Rattus tanezumi)
The Phoenix Islands are legendary as classic “seabird islands” and are a group of eight atolls, plus two submerged coral reefs, in the central Pacific Ocean, east of the Gilbert Islands, west of the Line Islands and 1100km north of Samoa. The 8 atolls [Abariringa (formerly Kanton), Enderbury, Rawaki (formerly Phoenix), Manra (formerly Sydney), Birnie, McKean, Nikumaroro (formerly Gardner), Orona (formerly Hull)] are just south of the equator and are part of the Republic of Kiribati, an island nation in the central Pacific Ocean. They are the terrestrial base of the Phoenix Island Protected Area (PIPA), which became the largest marine reserve in the world in 2008. Because all but one is uninhabited, many of the islands in this group feature relatively intact ecosystems.
Due to their remoteness, the islands provide refuge for breeding seabirds; some of which disperse throughout the Pacific. The Phoenix Islands are a high priority in Kiribati’s National Biodiversity Strategy & Action Plan (NBSAP) and have been identified as a Key Biodiversity Area by Conservation International (a PII Partner), an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International (a PII Partner) and have also been proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the 1960s the Phoenix Group supported 19 species of breeding seabirds - 6 Procellariiformes (petrels, shearwaters and storm-petrels), 7 Pelecaniformes (tropicbirds, frigatebirds, boobies) and 6 Charadriiformes (terns and noddies). Internationally important populations of Phoenix petrel (Pterodroma alba), white-throated storm petrel (Nesofregatta fuliginosa; syn N. albigularis), blue noddy (Procelsterna caerulea) and lesser frigatebird (Fregata ariel) were present.
Several mammal species have been introduced, including Pacific rats (Rattus exulans), Asian rats (Rattus tanezumi), rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), cats (Felis catus), pigs (Sus scrofus) and dogs (Canis familiaris), all of which have significant impacts on native plants and animals – especially on nesting seabirds. The distribution and status of some of these pests had previously been determined by expeditions in the 1960s, but recent data on these invasive species were incomplete. A PII-coordinated Conservation Survey in 2006 (Phoenix Islands Conservation Survey and Assessment of Restoration Feasibility: Kiribati report) updated biodiversity values and the threats to those values, determined priorities for restoration and developed invasive species eradication plans for the islands.
The 2006 survey showed the 19 seabird species are all still present in the Phoenix Islands, but several populations have declined over the 40 years. The greatest declines have occurred on McKean where the Asian rat (Rattus tanezum) recently arrived from a wrecked fishing boat. All 5 species of petrel present on McKean in the 1960s have virtually died out and all tern species have declined. The only island in the group lacking the combination of rats and cats is Rawaki, but this island has high densities of rabbits, which are negatively affecting the terrestrial ecosystem as well as the breeding success of surface-nesting and burrowing seabirds, including the Phoenix petrel and white-throated storm-petrel.
The most urgent management actions required for the islands were to remove Asian rats and rabbits from McKean and Rawaki respectively. The removal of rabbits will secure a nucleus of recovering populations of the key threatened seabird species on Rawaki from which dispersal and recolonisation will occur to neighbouring PIPA islands when they become pest-free. Removal of rats from McKean will enable the recovery of existing populations on the island and more particularly allow birds currently attempting to breed or recolonise (e.g. storm-petrels and 2-3 shearwater species) to survive and breed successfully.
The Government of Kiribati and the PIPA Office recognised the importance and urgency in actioning the recommendations of the 2006 report. With support from PII and New Zealand Department of Conservation (NZDOC) an Overseas Development Aid project was funded by NZAID to begin removal of invasive species from the PIPA islands and to build the capacity of Government of Kiribati (GOK) staff. The project was contracted to Pacific Expeditions.
The proposal, a three-island package of eradications to remove rabbits from Rawaki, Asian rats from McKean and Pacific rats from Birnie, is to establish pest-free status for the three islands and allow the recovery of terrestrial ecosystems and threatened species. This work is urgent because of the perilous state of the Phoenix petrel and some other seabird populations.
The overall objectives are:
- Eradication of rabbits from Rawaki Island
- Eradication of Pacific rats from Birnie Island
- Eradication of Asian rats from McKean Island
- Improving and sustaining biosecurity in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area by increasing local capacity through training, awareness and partnerships.
A workshop in April 2008 covered training for the PIPA eradications and biosecurity for PIPA and Kiritimati Island, the most common departure point for those travelling to the Phoenix Group. Many GOK agencies with statutory responsibilities for PIPA (Wildlife Conservation Unit, Quarantine, Customs, Police, Line and Phoenix Island Administration) attended the workshop (PIPA workshop workbook).
The Government of Kiribati is preparing an integrated management plan for PIPA and the PIPA Steering Committee has endorsed action on these invasive species eradications as urgently-needed measures that cannot wait until the full PIPA Management Plan is completed. The Pacific Expeditions eradication team embarked on the RV Bounty Bay from Apia on May 18, 2008 for the field work which is to be completed by the end of June 2008 and further details will be available on this website.
The following project documents can be viewed below:
- Project Plan
- Operational Plan
- Assessment of Environmental Effects
- Operational work undertaken to eradicate rats and rabbits in the Pheonix Islands
Bill Nagle – firstname.lastname@example.org
Keith Broome - email@example.com