29 May 2008

Kiribati conservation plan gets NZ backing

2:18 pm on 29 May 2008

An international conservation group says New Zealand's help to protect the world's largest pristine marine wilderness area in Kiribati will ensure the project's success.

Conservation International has teamed up with New Zealand's Department of Conservation and New England Aquarium to help the Kiribati government protect the Phoenix Islands, with an expedition under way.

The protection zone is 185,000 square kilometers and consists of underwater mountains, coral reefs and more than 520 species of fish.

The islands in the area provide important breeding grounds for thousands of seabirds under threat by invasive species such as rats.

Conservation International's Marine Programme manager Sue Taei says NZAid has helped fund the cost of a field assessment team to go to Kiribati, provided tonnes of bait, and much needed staff expertise.

"We have the same problems in the Pacific Islands that you have in New Zealand with species like rats and other invasive species threatening really important native species. And if you don't do something about it, you're going to lose the native species. And New Zealand's seen as a world leader in this whole exercise."

Conservation International's Sue Taei