5 Jun 2013

First ever 'state of the birds' report released in Fiji

5:09 pm on 5 June 2013

The author of Fiji's first-ever State of the Birds Report says some worrying trends have been revealed about the country's birdlife.

The report was compiled by the NGO Nature Fiji/Mareqeti Viti and Fiji's Environment Ministry.

It has drawn on the experience of local birdwatchers and ornithologists to provide an overview of the issues facing Fiji's birds.

The author, Dick Watling, says the report doesn't go into much depth, but it has revealed a declining bird population and a lack of funding for conservation.

DICK WATLING: Well, it's the first of its kind, so we can't really look back and say what has changed from the last time we tried to do this. So from that basis, we can't. I think we can make some general statements about trends which are happening and also trying to highlight some of the important areas to Fiji, which seemed to slip through the cracks. When you're looking at birds at a global level it's not necessarily completely applicable to what's happening in Fiji. And we have cultural and national species which are not significant at the global level, yet at the national level they are. And this report is a chance to highlight some of those, too. I can give an example - obviously, the seabirds. Many of the seabirds are found, of course, across the Pacific or across the tropical Pacific. We do have one endemic-breeding seabird and that's the Fiji petrel, but that's a special case. But some of our other colonial breeding seabirds are not doing well, we're quite sure of that. But they don't appear on the radar of the international conservation organisation because they're found elsewhere. And in many ways, some of our seabirds are possibly declining faster than some of our land birds.

JAMIE TAHANA: How rapid is this decline? How serious is it?

DW: Well, this is the problem. We don't have the baseline data. In fact, in Fiji, you could say we only have in the last three or four years a baseline of what is 90% of the colonial nesting sites. And most of these sites probably have only ever been visited once by an ornithologist, so it's difficult to make definitive and broad. But the sea birds, they're basically under threat because there's a lot more mobility in the smaller islands. People have much greater access to small outboard-engine boats which have replaced the outrigger boats. But it makes a big difference in being able to, when it's calm, nip out to these nesting colonies and get into these colonies.

JT: We've got this general idea now. Is it leading on to anything? Has there been more interest in the plight of birds in Fiji?

DW: Yes, we'll see. There was immediate interest in the press. We have to see if it's taken up through the Department of Environment, the National Trust and those sort of things. The problem here is there's not a single species of bird which receive $1 of government assistance for its conservation or for research into its conservation. Any work that is done on our rare and endangered birds in terms of research and working towards conservation solutions is done by NGOs. That is the big problem and it's something that we're slowing trying to work on and we hope this report will bring that issue out into the open now. We really need to try to find some money for looking after some of these highly threatened species because otherwise they're going to go.