Birds are valued for many reasons. They have inspired people with their beauty, song and behavior; they symbolize freedom, wisdom and spirituality. They are also important for the goods and services they provide in their habitats, including seed dispersal, pollination, controlling pests and maintaining food chains. These services are rarely quantified, but are very important. Economically, birds contribute to many local and national economies through tourism from bird watching. Birds also play an important part in traditional cultures and because they are so popular they are valuable environmental indicators of environmental problems through the fluctuations in their populations.
– Suzy Randall, Bird Conservation and Invasive Species technical assistant, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme
Important Facts to Consider
Our Pacific region is home to;
- 712 bird species
- 6 bird species are endemic
- 45 bird species are extinct (Over 95% of the world’s recent bird extinctions have occurred on islands and around 30% of Pacific birds are currently threatened with extinction).
- 10 bird species were introduced to the region
- Unofficially, there 48 species of Migratory Birds in Oceania
Birds and Plastics
Plastic trash is found in 90 percent of seabirds. The rate is growing steadily as global production of plastics increases. Scientists have been tracking plastic ingestion by seabirds for decades. In 1960, plastic was found in the stomachs of fewer than five percent, but by 1980, it had jumped to 80 percent. The increasing rate of plastics manufacturing is directly linked to the increasing rate of bird’s death by ingesting plastic fibres. (Wilcox, Sebille and Hardesty, 2015) Another notable fact is the 67 percent decline in seabird populations between 1950 and 2010, all fingers are pointing to plastic manufacturing in the last decades. (Paleczny, Hammill and Karpouzi et al, 2015)
Cyclone Winston decimated ‘Bird Island’ (Vatu-i-Ra) which is an important bird and biodiversity area. Vatu I Ra is a small uninhabited island, approximately 100 meters by 300 meters. It is known locally as `Bird Island’ because of the large breeding colonies of seabirds on the island. Vatu-i-Ra is home to nine species of breeding seabirds. Black Noddies (Anous tenuirostris) have the largest population of more than 20,000 pairs, identifying the site as globally important for this congregatory breeding species. (Rasalato, 2016)
Beck’s petrel is one of the `lost’ seabirds of the Pacific. Lost for 75 years after its initial discovery and recording, it was only spotted again in 2007 offshore of the Papua New Guinean islands of New Britain and New Ireland. Despite increased reporting of Beck’s Petrel sightings for southern New Ireland there is no knowledge of precisely where they breed and the search area remain vast. It is rated as Critically Endangered.
Fiji Petrel is another `lost but found’ bird that is also Critically Endangered. Lost for over 100 years apart from a few tantalising glimpses, it was rediscovered when one was captured in in 1984. It is currently believed that fewer than 50 pairs survive, breeding in 52 square kilometres in rugged forest on the island of Gau, Fiji, but its nesting grounds have yet to be located. It has to be assumed that the existing meagre population of Fiji Petrel is declining. (Britton, 30 Dec 2015)
What can be done to protect Pacific birds?
To recover threatened bird species and to conserve all other indigenous bird species and their habitats there are eight areas that need to be targeted:
- Priority Setting – Identify species, subspecies and isolated subpopulations that are under threat, or potentially so. Also identify those threatening processes.
- Bird Surveys – Use appropriate tools, including taxonomy and surveys, to monitor the conservation status of the avifauna.
- Species Management – Develop and implement species recovery and management plans for those species and areas whose conservation or management is a priority.
- Local Capacity Building – Ensure that all programme activities build on local expertise and enhance local capacity.
- Legislative Framework – Offer models of policies and legislation that take into account traditional customs and international agreements that include enforcement mechanisms.
- Public Education and Publicity – Develop and implement an education and publicity programme which promotes continuing public understanding of the needs and benefits of conservation of birds and their habitats. Also include and recognize the contribution made by local communities to the knowledge base.
- Environmental Values – Foster an ethical responsibility for the environment and the maintenance of traditional conservation values within local communities.
- Information – Disseminate to stakeholders updated information on birds, their habitats and conservation status, in appropriate forms.