A GROUP of islands to the northwest of Taveuni could become an important bird conservation area.
The conservation manager for BirdLife Fiji, Vilikesa Masibalavu, said a survey confirmed that the islands are home to a large seabird population including thousands of gogo (black and brown noddies), and hundreds of toro (brown red-footed boobys) and manumanu ni cagi (frigate birds).
"Efforts to identify and restore some of Fiji's most important seabird islands are being undertaken by the BirdLife International Fiji Program," he said.
"With local community assistance, conservation staff surveyed wildlife for eight remote islands to the northwest of Taveuni.
He said the survey confirmed the islands are among Fiji's most important for seabirds and once data has been analysed some islands will also meet criteria for internationally important bird areas.
Mr Masibalavu said the decline in seabirds not only in Fiji but in other parts of the world was due to introduced predators including the ubiquitous Pacific rat and feral cats both of which are known to be key reasons for the decline.
"The rats eat eggs and chicks whereas cats can quickly decimate an entire seabird colony, particularly those that nest on the ground.
"To combat it, BirdLife Fiji has been funded by the David & Lucille Packard Foundation to eradicate introduced predators from important seabird islands.
"The survey confirmed large numbers of rats on seven of the eight islands and cats on one.
"The information collected from the survey would be used to determine if the introduced predators can be eradicated which, in addition to technical considerations, require the full support of the island owners and community and the ability to prevent future re-invasion."
Mr Masibalavu said they were expected to be able to present a finding of the survey and discuss options for eradication with the island owners next month.
Meanwhile, the Tui Laucala, Ratu Laginikoro Dakuiyau, said the islands were their ancestral land and home to ancient villages and burial grounds and were important.
"It is our responsibility to protect the islands and with the support of BirdLife it is an opportunity to ensure the birds and other natural resources will be there for our future generations," he said.