Destruction of bird motus in Tahanea

Last year we were already worried about the fact that some locals moved over from the neighbouring atoll of Faaite to Tahanea, which had been uninhabited for a while with only some remains of old houses still visible. We could immediately see the difference in wildlife and observed fewer birds on the untouched motus on the Southwestern side.

We were alarmed enough to get an appointment with the mayor of Faaite, tried to convince him to protect these few and tiny motus in the South that were still free of rats, covered in natural shrubs and home for a small colony of extremely rare masked boobies and slightly more brown boobies (both of them groundbreeding and therefore easy prey for humans, rats and dogs). We argued that the commune of Faaite could make money by preserving the motus for future eco-tourists, that it would great to preserve some nature for future generations, that they could install moorings to compensate the families with that income for the loss of some copra money and even offered to donate our chain for that etc. We got nods and smiles, but nothing else.
Then we contacted wildlife protection organisations in Tahiti (Te Mana o te Moana, SOP Manu), but were told that there was nothing they could do.

Just now we have returned to the SW side of Tahanea and found our worst fears come true. We talked to a father with his sons who just arrived with a local boat filled up with gear (camping stuff, copra bags–plenty of hiding spaces for rats…) and who told us that they had just spent one month ‘cleaning’ two of the bigger bird motus (meaning cutting away the shrubs) for copra production. They stay here for a few months, make 5 tons of copra on motus all around the atoll (a huge amount of work) and were proud that they get 140.000 CPF (1.400 dollars) per ton. The southern motus only make up a small percentage of the harvest, but let’s assume that they make 1 ton of copra on the 3 birdmotus in the South. That’s 1.400 Dollars for the destruction of 3 of the few remaining masked booby colonies in French Polynesia.

The mood’s not great on Pitufa. Somewhere between screaming with rage and helpless crying. The fault lies with the subsidized prices the locals get for copra (even though it’s still pathetically cheap for the bonebreaking work of cutting the nuts open, peeling the flesh out and drying it). The missionaries made plantations of palmtrees on a large scale to make the locals produce copra, later on mostly church organisations took locals to uninhabited atolls to ‘clear’ the land, plant coconut trees and return yearly to harvest. They accidentally introduced rats during their raids. Therefore most of the atolls are nowadays covered in palmtrees and provide no breeding grounds for seabirds. Watching the destruction of even more motus is heartbreaking.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.