Tetiaroa Atoll, French Polynesia

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Tetiaroa Atoll, French Polynesia

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A beautifully pristine marine environment in the South Pacific

Located just 56 kilometers (35 miles) from Tahiti in French Polynesia, Tetiaroa Atoll is made up of 12 islets or motus. The picturesque island, with a brilliant blue lagoon and barrier reef surrounding palm covered islets once was home to Polynesian royalty, and later the home of movie star Marlon Brando.

The islets host a diverse array of wildlife and are critical nesting habitat for French Polynesia’s seabirds, Green Sea Turtles, coconut crabs, other native plants and animals. Surrounding the island, protecting it from ocean swells, and sustaining its lagoon and terrestrial ecosystems is a healthy and vibrant coral reef.

Historically, Tetiaroa was the domain of Polynesian royalty until it was sold at the turn of the 20th century. Marlon Brando bought the island in the late 1960s and his estate remains the owner today. In 2014 a new era began with the opening of an eco-resort, The Brando, which created the non-profit Tetiaroa Society. Tetiaroa Society is the steward of the island and has created research, conservation, and education programs in order to protect the island for future generations.

Unfortunately, invasive rats introduced by early settlers threaten Tetiaroa’s rich biodiversity. The once-thriving seabird population has been significantly reduced by rat predation, impacting both terrestrial and marine ecosystems due to decreased nutrient inputs from guano. This ecological degradation places native animals and plants at risk, and negatively impacts the surrounding fish populations, plankton and countless other marine species.

A Voice from the Community

“Our vulnerable ecosystem cannot function with the persistent threats of invasive animals. When terrestrial fauna and flora are re-established, they have a profoundly positive impact on linked ecosystems. We’re excited to facilitate the study of linked ecosystems and how targeted interventions can lead to an extraordinary amount of positive change beyond a single island.”

— Stan Rowland, Chairman of the Board at Tetiaroa Society.

The Project

After repeated pandemic-related disruptions, Island Conservation and Tetiaroa Society carried out a rat eradication program which concluded in July 2022. This operation covered 520 hectares (1,285 acres) and required more than 60 staff members and volunteers to cover the enormous territory. Roughly 260 kilometers (155 miles) of trails were created and marked. Rats were detected again in October of 2022 so the project is ongoing as partners continue to work on ensuring that the eradication is seen to completion. In 2018, as part of its Tetiaroa Atoll Restoration Progam, Tetiaroa Society and partners began to monitor both terrestrial and marine systems in order to evaluate the impact of rat eradication. Today twenty-two researchers from around the world are working on 14 different projects covering seabirds, plants, insects, crabs, turtles, lizards, soil chemistry, lagoon chemistry, fish, algae, and coral to record and examine the recovery of the terrestrial and marine ecosystems. The restoration of Tetiaroa’s ecosystem will also allow future reintroductions of extirpated and endangered native plant and wildlife species such as Sesbania coccinea, Society ground-doves, Tuamotu Sandpiper, and Blue Lorikeet.

Project Partners & Funders

Island Conservation, LGA Family Foundation, Office Francaise de la Biodiversite, The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Re:wild, Scintilla Foundation, Tetiaroa Society, Wanderlust Fund, and other anonymous donors.

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