News Release: Suwarrow Island

Subject: News Release: Suwarrow Island
From: Hugo Phillipps <>
Date: Tue, 06 Mar 2001 14:28:03 +1100
Hi everybody -

For your information, the news release below from BirdLife International.



Cambridge, UK, Monday 5 March 2001 (6 March NZ dateline) - Plans to develop
commercial pearl farming at Suwarrow Atoll in the northern Cook Islands
pose a threat to the atoll's globally important seabird breeding colonies,
according to BirdLife International, the world's leading authority on the
conservation of birds [1].

Eleven seabird species breed on the remote atoll which supports the only
large colonies of Sooty Tern (Sterna fuscata), Brown Booby (Sula
leucogaster) and Lesser Frigatebird (Fregata ariel) in the Cook Islands. In
addition there is a major colony of Red-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon
rubricauda), and colonies of Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor) and Masked
Booby (Sula dactylatra) that breed nowhere elsewhere in the northern Cook
Islands. Suwarrow is also an important wintering site for the globally
threatened Bristle-thighed Curlew (Numenius tahitiensis).

Suwarrow was declared a National Park in 1978 and according to BirdLife
International qualifies as an Important Bird Area (IBA) on three counts:
because of its colonies of Lesser Frigatebird (9% of the world population),
Red-tailed Tropicbird (3% of the world population), and Sooty Tern
(exceptionally large colonies of 71,500 pairs) [2].

"Suwarrow Atoll is the most important seabird breeding site in the Cook
Islands and one of the most important sites for birds in the central
Pacific", said Dr Michael Rands, Director and Chief Executive of BirdLife
International. "Suwarrow Atoll deserves to be protected from commercial
development to preserve its outstanding natural beauty and globally
important biodiversity".

Last year an Australian developer, the Rock Lobster Company, proposed
establishing commercial black pearl farming on the atoll to the Cook
Islands Government. Local conservationists fear the proposed development
will adversely impact on Suwarrow's important bird life because up to 100
people may eventually live and work on the island to service pearl farming.
The total land area is only 0.4 square kilometres.

The Australian developers are seeking a 60-year lease from the Government
to farm Black-lipped pearl oysters. To help establish pearl farming they
propose to import oysters from neighbouring Manihiki Atoll because the wild
stock in Suwarrow's lagoon is already rare. The introduction of pearl stock
is an issue of grave concern because of the increased disease risk.
Recently, an unusually high number of Vibrio bacteria caused significant
mortality in pearl shells in the Manihiki lagoon.

Local conservationists believe Suwarrow has significant bird populations
largely because it has never been permanently inhabited by humans. Despite
the Government's insistence that there will be strict environmental
regulations in place, local conservationists remain unconvinced. They say
that past Governmental enforcement of environmental legislation has been poor.

Local conservationists opposed to commercial pearl farming on Suwarrow
include Jolene Bosanquet  and Jacqui Evans
 who are both members of the Save Our Suwarrow
(SOS) Committee in the Cook Islands.

For further information, please contact Michael Szabo, Communications
Manager, BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK, on +44 (0) 1223 277 318 or
+44 (0) 7779 018332 (mobile). Photographs of four of the birds mentioned
are available for media use only from the BirdLife website at:


1. BirdLife International is a global alliance of conservation
organisations working in over 100 countries who, together, are the leading
authority on the status of birds, their habitats and the issues and
problems affecting bird life. Partners and affiliates with an interest in
the Pacific region include Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society (New
Zealand), Birds Australia, Ornithological Society of Polynesia (French
Polynesia), O le Siosiomaga Society (Samoa), Royal Society for the
Protection of Birds (UK), Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (France) and
National Audubon Society (USA).

2. Important Bird Areas or IBAs are internationally important sites for the
conservation of birds and biodiversity, selected according to
internationally recognised criteria.

3. Suwarrow is an uninhabited atoll situated in the northern Cook Islands,
over 800 kilometres from the main island, Rarotonga. Although Suwarrow is
uninhabited, it is a favourite stop-over for yachts sailing between French
Polynesia and Samoa.

4. The Cook Islands Government declared Suwarrow a National Park in 1978
under the Conservation Act of 1975. Changes in successive Acts mean its
National Park status is considered by some to be invalid. The conservation
status of Suwarrow is currently an issue of debate between
environmentalists and the Government.
Hugo Phillipps
Communications Coordinator
Birds Australia
415 Riversdale Road
HAWTHORN EAST 3123, Australia
Tel: (03) 9882 2622, fax: (03) 9882 2677
Email: <>
Web site: <>

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