Teuaua island is uninhabited and difficult to access,

Momentous mission: first successful invasive species removal in Marquesas

Conservationists leaped from boats onto sheer rock faces and braved “10,000 dive-bombing Sooty Terns” to achieve the first successful eradication of invasive rodents on Teuaua Island, French Polynesia. This success paves the way for larger island restorations across the Marquesas Archipelago.

As your boat nears the island, you brace yourself, knowing you can’t lose your nerve now – you don’t have much time. At the very last minute, you leap off the hull and scramble onto the narrow, metre-wide ledge. But you can’t relax yet. You gaze up at the ten-metre vertical cliff face looming above you, with nothing but ropes to get yourself to the top. And it isn’t until you’ve hauled yourself and your equipment onto the island that the real challenge begins. That’s when the sky fills with Sooty Terns swooping down upon you to defend their nests – the very birds that you’re trying to help.

Such was the everyday challenge for field scientists like Jason Zito, restoration specialist from BirdLife’s partner in the operation, Island Conservation. “Once on the island’s plateau, there is no respite from the elements and the tens of thousands of dive-bombing and screeching Sooty Terns make it hard to hear yourself think,” he recalls.

Nonetheless, everyone involved in the project would tell you that it’s worth it. Teuaua, a small, uninhabited island in the Marquesas Archipelago, French Polynesia, is home to 90,000 Sooty Terns Onychoprion fuscatus – one of the nation’s largest colonies. These stylish black-and-white seabirds rub shoulders with nationally significant populations of Bulwer’s Petrel Bulweria bulwerii and many others.

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