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MEDIA RELEASE August 6, 1998

Easier travel between Pacific islands is also increasing the risks for the region's unique wildlife and plants. Along with growing numbers of passengers and cargo loads, unwanted aliens in the form of animals, plants, insects and diseases are also arriving, and wreaking havoc on vulnerable native species.

In Guam there are virtually no birds left, thanks to the explosion in the population of the brown tree snake, an accidental import which eats birds and a wide range of other living creatures. In Tahiti, the Miconia tree, originally from South America, has destroyed 70 percent of forest growth. Miconia is also now killing native forest, pastures and farmlands in Hawaii. In many islands the invasion of the dengue mosquito has caused outbreaks of the disease and killed a number of people.

In an attempt to help the region protect its precious biodiversity before it is destroyed by foreign invaders escaping from ships and planes, five U.S. Government officials are meeting South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) program officers this week, to discuss ways of collaborating to control the spread of nuisance alien animals and plants.

SPREP is about to expand its own invasive species program, with the appointment of a program officer to help Pacific island countries prevent invasive species from entering their islands.

SPREP program officer Sue Miller said isolated small islands were particularly vulnerable. "They have developed a delicate natural balance and unique wildlife which can easily be disrupted by the introduction of exotic species. If there are no predators or competition for a foreign species in its new country, it can run riot, destroying biodiversity by driving native species to extinction."

That has already happened on Guam, where 40 years after the brown tree snake first arrived, nine of Guam's 11 native bird species are now extinct.

The U.S. officials visiting SPREP, from the U.S. State Department, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services, are all heavily involved in projects which aim to stop the brown tree snake from spreading further throughout the Pacific.

"Individual snakes have been discovered near cargo facilities in 11 Pacific islands, including Hawaii," U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife biologist Dan Vice said.

State Department representative Al Anzaldua said the accidental or deliberate introduction of alien species could threaten a country's economy, agriculture, public health and biodiversity. "For example, tourism is a big earner for many Pacific island countries. Increasingly people are coming as ecotourists, to see the wildlife and tropical forests. If the birds are gone and the vegetation is smothered, then paradise is lost."

For additional information contact Jan Sinclair:

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