The project

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Migratory birds, sentinels of tsunamis and tropical storms ?

Kivi Kuaka is an innovative scientific programme that aims to study the possible behavioural responses of birds to cyclones, earthquakes and tsunamis in order to develop new early warning systems for these natural disasters. Tropical storms and tsunamis can have dramatic consequences for human populations and their property. Current climate change, coupled with sea level rise and increased storm intensity, is expected to increase these impacts in the Pacific.

The report

In addition to relief operations in devastated areas, the authorities have developed warning systems to inform people of an impending disaster as early as possible. Such systems can still be improved and we propose to deploy GPS tracking of migratory birds to detect potential changes in their behaviour in the event of a cyclone or earthquake, or even a tsunami. The aim is to test whether these animals can complement existing early warning systems that inform of the imminent arrival of a cyclone or tsunami, as birds are sensitive to the infrasound produced by cyclone vortices or submerged waves. Survivors of the 2004 tsunami in Aceh, Indonesia, reported flights of birds coming inland well before the wave arrived.

Our missions

Kivi Kuaka teams will capture hundreds of migratory birds in the Pacific and fit them with new generation GPS tags that transmit their data via the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the ICARUS initiative. Five species were chosen for their migratory abilities: the Alaskan Curlew (Kivi in Polynesian), the Red-winged Godwit (Kuaka in Maori), the Red Knot, the Redshank and the Sooty Tern. The tags on the birds will also collect meteorological data that could improve climate modelling and weather forecasting in this ocean. To study these species, field missions are planned for 2021 and 2022 in French Polynesia, New Caledonia, New Zealand and Alaska.

Our goals

Through international collaboration, the ultimate goal of this interdisciplinary project is to increase safety in the Pacific for human populations suffering the dramatic consequences of devastating natural disasters. Kivi Kuaka will also provide new knowledge to identify the risks faced by species in the face of climate change and coastal degradation, to target dedicated conservation efforts: to preserve these species because every bit of biodiversity must be conserved, but also to preserve the services they can provide to human populations.