September 14, 2009

Conservationists Increase Efforts To Find Elusive Fijiian Seabird

Conservationists say the first ever positive identification at sea of the Fijian petrel raised hopes for the survival of the world's most mysterious and endangered seabirds, AFP reported.

The Fiji petrel virtually disappeared and has not been positively identified since the last specimen was documented in 1855.

However, the first time the chocolate colored petrel had ever been positively identified on the water came during a successful 11-day expedition by scientists to the seas off the Fijian island of Gau in May.

An expedition organized by the Fijian conservation organization NatureFiji-MareqetiViti announced the find in the latest issue of Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club.

These renewed efforts to discover the petrel's nesting burrows believed to be on Gau island could lead to protection measures to ensure the survival of the critically endangered species.

Dick Watling of NatureFiji-MareqetiViti told AFP they really couldn't get ahead with conserving the bird until they find nesting burrows.

Using a spotlight at night, Watling was the first to rediscover the seabird on land at Gau in 1984. There has since been around 16 mainly unconfirmed sightings on Gau.

Experts suggest there may only be around 50 Fiji petrels alive today, something they say adds urgency to attempts to find the nesting burrows in the forested rugged hills on Gau -- some 56 miles east of Fiji's main island of Viti Levu.

New international funding will allow another sea trip in October in the hopes of capturing a petrel and fitting it with a transmitter in order to lead scientists to nesting sites, Watling said.

Specially trained dogs from New Zealand would also be used to try to find the nest burrows.

"It is not clear what caused the birds to become so endangered, except their burrows are vulnerable to rats, and feral cats and pigs. Petrels are very smelly, humans can smell them, so cats and pigs would be able to smell them a mile off," Watling said.

He added that in the 25 years since rediscovery they've spent a long time searching without any success for the petrel burrows up in the mountains in the forests on Gau.

The expedition in May employed an extremely odorous and oily concoction of fish offal, which was frozen into blocks and dropped in the sea to attract seabirds.

One Fiji petrel appeared on the second day and the crew spotted up to eight others over 11 days in an area around 25 nautical miles south of Gau.


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