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Home > Topic > Pacific birds

Pacific bird conservation

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.

How serious is the decline of bird populations?

Globally, 12 percent of the world’s 9800 bird species are declining and may face extinction within the next centaury. Even birds that are numerous and widespread may be threatened due to rapidly declining populations. Contributing to the vulnerability of bird populations are birds that have small populations and birds that live in restricted range, smaller than 20 000 km². This situation is common in the Pacific. Around the world, islands show a greater number of threatened birds per km² than any other area. Over 95% of the world’s recent bird extinctions have occurred on islands and around 30% of Pacific birds are currently threatened with extinction.

What causes the decline in bird populations?

The largest threat to birds globally is habitat destruction. Birds are at risk of extinction from severe fragmentation of their habitat and isolation to a few locations. Expanding human populations most commonly causes habitat loss, which includes agricultural expansion and natural resource extraction. In the Pacific little attention is paid to environmental risk assessment studies and subsequently human populations are still encroaching on residual old-growth forest, with serious implications for bird life and other native biodiversity.

The impact of invasive species is the biggest threat to bird populations in the Pacific. Many islands in the Pacific that harbour significant populations of native bird species have been entirely or relatively free from invasive species. Hence, they are particularly vulnerable to new invasions, especially from mammalian predators like rats and cats. The threats these invasive species present could be reduced with quarantine procedures to prevent new invasions from other countries, or other islands within a country.

Other problems the Pacific faces with declining bird populations is unsustainable hunting of particular species for food; the need for much higher levels of public awareness and education; the need for regulations and laws which are enforced to protect birds and their habitats; the need to protect and restore whole island communities represented by Important and Endemic Bird Areas; clarification of the taxonomic and conservation status of many birds and a shortage of experts trained in standard methodologies who are permanent residents in the Pacific.

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.

What is SPREP doing?

This essay was written by Suzy Randall, Bird Conservation and Invasive Species technical assistant, SPREP
Go to "Bird Conservation and Invasive Species" page

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