BirdLife / Te Ipukarea Society Suwarrow Rat Eradication Project

Wednesday April 17, 2013

It was inky dark as BirdLife’s Sialesi Rasalato, Steve Cranwell and I – being the overseas members of the rat eradication team - landed in Rarotonga. Despite the very late hour Ian Karika the expedition leader met us at the airport. While awaiting final preparations on our vessel, we are staying in bustling Avarua nestled beneath the towering green peaks of an ancient volcano. It's a very different place from the uninhabited Suwarrow, where the highest elevation is just 5 meters.

On our first morning we had the opportunity of meeting with the whole Suwarrow team. At this meeting many of the faces in the room were new, their personalities unrevealed. Over time, like a sea mist gradually clearing, each member of the team will become a friend. It’s one of the great privileges of joining an expedition.

Having everyone together highlights the tye of collaboration that makes for a successful project. Some of our ground support team were present, including Kelvin Passfield from the Te Ipukarea Society (BirdLife in the Cook Islands) and Elizabeth Munroe from the Cook Islands National Environment Service, a key partner in the project.

We also met Harry and Papay Suwarrow's park rangers. They will be spending the next six months on the atoll away from their family and friends. Harry, the senior ranger, is returning to Suwarrow after taking up the role last year. His local knowledge will be a great asset to our project.

Today there was a very moving ceremony in downtown Avarua for the crews of two New Zealand vaka’s as they headed for home.

Ian Karika said a short prayer for them as president of the Cook Island Voyaging Society. The Kiwis then performed a very spirited haka before swimming out to their canoes. It is a very Pacific Island way of joining a vessel before a long ocean crossing, made more so as they dived to retrieve the anchors.

It’s over 3000 kilometres to New Zealand due to adverse winds at this time of year, they may take up to three weeks to reach their destination. I’m sure they won’t be daunted by the journey. The crews are returning after a round trip to Easter Island which means they will have travelled to the extreme east and south of Polynesian settlement. It is very inspiring to see these brave young people following in the wake of their ancestors.

The vakas are traditional Polynesian outrigger voyaging canoes. They are part of a revival of the traditional ocean-going culture. The Pacific Voyaging Community has seven vakas spread across the Pacific including Samoa, Tahiti, Fiji, and Hawaii. The Cook Island vaka will be sailing to Suwarrow to collect us for the return voyage. Seeing the New Zealand boats depart eases my reservations about heading out across the Pacific in a canoe.

Our transport to Suwarrow is the yacht Southern Cross. Including the caretakers, there’s eight of us travelling to the atoll. I visited the Southern Cross in the harbour and met Ron, who will be part of the crew delivering us to Suwarrow. Ron is a self-styled 'bilge rat' who is working on the additional bunks. He should be ready by Monday, our new departure date. We are in good hands with Ron as a lawyer-turned-carpenter, the bunks will not only be structurally solid but also legally up to scratch! 

Nick Hayward – Rarotonga, Cook Islands, 17th April 2013.

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The expedition to remove rats from Suwarrow National Park is a joint project between BirdLife International, Te Ipukarea Society (BirdLife Partner in the Cook Islands) and the Cook Island National Environment Service. The project is being kindly supported by the European Community, David and Lucile Packard Foundation and Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, and forms part of the BirdLife Invasive Alien Species Programme which is tackling this greatest of threats to wildlife around the world. BirdLife wishes to thank the efforts of many who are supporting the programme including Pacific Invasive Initiative, Pacific Invasive Learning Network, New Zealand Department of Conservation the University of the South Pacific, Landcare Research New Zealand, Island Conservation, Wildiaries and Nick Hayward.

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BirdLife International is a global Partnership of conservation organisations that strives to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources. They're the World's largest partnership of conservation organisations.

The BirdLife Pacific Partnership comprises a network of six national conservation organisations as follows: BirdLife Australia – Australia; Te Ipukerea Society – Cook Islands; Société d’Ornithologie de Polynésie Manu – French Polynesia; Société Calédonienne d'Ornithologie – New Caledonia; Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society Inc – New Zealand, and; Palau Conservation Society – Palau. Together they are tackling the biggest threats to the region's threatened wildlife such as invasive species, habitat loss and climate change.


Acknowledgements: The expedition to remove rats from Suwarrow National Park is a joint project between BirdLife International, Te Ipukarea Society (BirdLife Partner in the Cook Islands) and the Cook Island National Environment Service. The project is being kindly supported by the European Community, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, SPREP, GEF and Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, and forms part of the BirdLife Invasive Alien Species Programme which is tackling this greatest of threats to wildlife around the world. BirdLife wishes to thank the efforts of many who are supporting the programme including Pacific Invasive Initiative, Pacific Invasive Learning Network, New Zealand Department of Conservation the University of the South Pacific, Landcare Research New Zealand, Island Conservation, Wildiaries and Nick Hayward. The BirdLife Invasive Alien Species Programme urgently needs your support to tackle more sites and save more species. To support our work and make a donation today, please go to www.justgiving.com/BirdLife-invasive-species. Thank you.