In the summer of 2018, I traveled to the far flung island of Ua Huka in French Polynesia to be the lead scientific and medical officer on the The Last Lorikeet research expedition. The Marquesas Islands are among the most remote islands in the world. Over millions of years, this isolated volcanic environment has fostered incredibly high levels of endemism, meaning many animals which roam this island cannot be found anywhere else in the world. This has also made the wildlife very vulnerable to invasive species and diseases to which they have not evolved any defences towards.
To better understand these pressing themes, we surveyed the last remaining populations of the ultramarine lorikeet and the iphis monarch; two critically endangered bird species which today are found only on Ua Huka. Our aim was to document the threats facing the bird life of Ua Huka and to use these findings to further develop a conservation strategy on the island. The research was carried out in collaboration with SOP Manu, the French Polynesian partner of BirdLife International who are already working tirelessly to sustain the biosecurity measures in place on the island. I am now processing the results and will be publishing the findings so that our findings can be used effectively to further safeguard this unique wildlife. We wanted to develop a standard scientific methodology so that locals can monitor their own wildlife and take conservation measures fully into their own hands.
We also worked on a documentary during the expedition, as we believe this project tells a compelling story of the tenuous survival of both a culture and two striking bird species in a changing world, illustrating the globally resonant themes of cultural erosion and species extinction. The talented Ben Cherry lead the filming of the documentary, with Liv Grant as a producer and myself as a researcher and drone pilot. The film should be out in the coming months!
Above: A map of Ua Huka and some of the transects we used for our population surveys. We would walk (or scramble) along these paths and count all of the birds we could detect in front of us, and estimate the distance to them. The methods we used are reproducible by people with little training, so non scientific locals can take conservation measures and population surveys into their own hands. However, it still ends up sounding easier on paper than it is in real life.
All photos taken by Annika Schlemm