Jan 17

Important seabird populations on the Ringgold Islands, Fiji, now face a brighter future after all seven islands were confirmed to be rat-free.

Photo of a bridled tern feeding a chick

The bridled tern (Sterna anaethetus) has now been recorded on two of the Ringgold Islands.

A two-year rat eradication programme, undertaken by the BirdLife International Fiji Programme in partnership with local landowning clans, used specially formulated bait to successfully remove introduced Pacific rats (Rattus exulans) from the remote islands. As in many parts of the Pacific, these invasive rodents posed a serious threat to native seabird populations, feeding on eggs and chicks. The rats also impacted local people by ruining crops and food stores.

Photo of a lesser frigatebird male returning to nesting colony to feed chick

The lesser frigatebird (Fregata ariel), another species to benefit from rat eradication.

Wildlife already benefitting

Early monitoring work suggests that birds and other wildlife are already benefitting from the removal of the rats. The bridled tern, not previously known in the area, has now bred on the islands, while other species which have benefitted include the lesser frigatebird, black noddy, brown noddy, red-footed booby and the globally Vulnerable bristle-thighed curlew.

Photo of a bristle-thighed curlew calling

The bristle-thighed curlew (Numenius tahitiensis) is under threat from introduced predators on its wintering grounds.

Significant numbers of sea turtle nests have also been recorded on three of the islands, and there has been an increase in the activity of skinks such as the Pacific black skink (Emoia nigra), a species listed under Fiji’s Endangered and Protected Species Act.

Ringgold Seabird Committee

In association with the landowning communities, BirdLife International has set up a Site Support Group for the islands, known as the Ringgold Seabird Committee. This group will help to communicate the results of the rat eradication and promote the islands’ protection among the wider communities. Fishermen and visitors to the islands are also being encouraged to check boats and equipment for possible stowaways, and local people are being trained in techniques to prevent the introduction of alien species.

Photo of a black noddy adult perched on branch

The black noddy (Anous minutus), a tropical tern species with breeding colonies on the Ringgold Islands.

The rat eradication programme is only the first step in protecting the wildlife of the Ringgold Islands, and BirdLife International is continuing to work with local people to ensure that rats and other invasive species do not return to these important Fijian islands.

See the BirdLife International Fiji Programme for more information on BirdLife International’s work in this region.

Explore more endangered species from Fiji on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author