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The Wetlands: Ducie Atoll

Used by Permission of Wetlands International

[Oeno Atoll] [Henderson Island] [Ducie Atoll] [Wetlands Introduction]

Site descriptions compiled from information provided by J.R. Setterfield (Office of the Governor of Pitcairn Island), M. de L. Brooke and I. Hepburn.

Ducie Atoll

Location: 24 degrees 40 minutes S, 124 degrees 47 minutes W; in the central South Pacific, 472 km east of Pitcairn Island and 1,336 km WNW of Easter Island.

Area: Land area, 70 ha; land, reef and lagoon, 320 ha.

Altitude: Sea level to 4 m.

Overview: A seldom visited, exceptionally undisturbed atoll; the easternmost atoll in the Indo-Pacific biogeographic region, possessing a pure, though impoverished, Polynesian biota.

Physical features: A small coral atoll comprising a main island (Acadia) and three small islets or “motu” (Edwards, Pandora and Westward) encircling a lagoon approximately 1.5 km in diameter. The islands are composed of coral rubble, echinoid remains and dead shells. Acadia is largely surrounded by reef flats, the reef to the northwest consisting for the most part of a somewhat uneven reef pavement flat. Small channels between the lagoon and the ocean are found at the northernmost extension of Westward and western end of Acadia, but these have little influence on water exchange within the lagoon. The greatest seaward extension of the reef is at the southwest, where the shelf extends 270 m offshore to a depth of 30 m. There is a regular semi-diurnal tide. Salinity in the lagoon is about 38 p.p.t., and water temperature averages 26.5 degrees C.

Ecological features: The reef flats are generally covered by a thin layer of sand and fine algal growth. There is a fair amount of coral cover in the lagoon, the dominant genera being Montipora and Astreopora. The lagoon floor between the patch reefs consists of fine white sand. The outer reef has fairly good coral cover, with very high cover (as much as 50%) recorded in deep water. Corals of the genera Acropora and Montipora dominate. Terrestrial vegetation is confined to Acadia, and comprises an impoverished atoll scrub dominated by Tournefortia. There is also one Pemphis bush.

Land tenure: State owned (Crown Land).

Conservation measures taken: None. Considerable protection is afforded by the extreme remoteness of the island.

Conservation measures proposed: Ducie was proposed for listing as an “Island for Science” in 1969 (Elliot, 1973). Hepburn et al. (1992) have recommended that the entire atoll be designated as a Ramsar Site.

Land use: The atoll is visited very infrequently (less than five times a year) by passing yachts and cruise ships, but because of the difficulty in landing, few people set foot on the islands.

Disturbances and threats: Polynesian Rats (Rattus exulans) are present, but apparently cause relatively little predation on nesting sea-birds. There is a possibility that the crews of passing fishing boats occasionally land on the islands to harvest seabirds. In 1970, there was evidence of a relatively recent mass mortality of corals, the cause of which was not identified, although a sudden drop in water temperature was postulated. Some recovery seemed to have occurred by 1987 (UNEP/IUCN, 1998).

Hydrological and biophysical values: Not known.

Social and cultural values: Limited value for tourism.

Noteworthy fauna: Atoll is particularly important for its large breeding populations of sea-birds. The island supports probably the world’s largest breeding colony of Murphy’s Petrels (Pterodroma ultima), with around 250,000 pairs, as well as about 20,000 pairs of Kermadec Petrels (P. Neglecta) and 20,000 pairs of Herald Petrels (P. heraldica). Other breeding seabirds include Christmas Shearwater (Puffinus nativitatis), Red-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon rubricauda), boobies (Sula spp.), Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor), Sooty Tern (Sterna fuscata), Brown Noddy (Anous stolidus), Blue-grey Noddy (Procelsterna cerulea) and Fairy Tern (Gygis alba). Three species of migrant shorebirds have been reported, Wandering Tattler (Heteroscelus incanus), Bristle-thighed Curlew (Numenius tabitiensis) and Sanderling (Calidris alba), but numbers are generally low (less than 20). There are no land-birds, and the only mammal present is the Polynesian Rat (Rattus exulans). Two species of land hermit crab (Coenobita spp.) Have been recorded. The fish fauna is considered to be impoverished; only 138 species were recorded by Rehder and Randall (1975), with 15 of these being confined to southeastern Oceania. However, the island has a reputation for its large shark population. Insects, crustaceans, echinoderms and corals are listed by Rehder and Randall (1975).

Noteworthy flora: The island is exceptional for the paucity of its flora; only two species of vascular plants are known.

Scientific research and facilities: The island was visited by the Whitney South Sea Expedition in 1922, by the 1970-71 National Geographic Society-Oceanic Institute Expedition to Southeast Oceania, and by Operation Raleigh in 1987. Scientists from the Pitcairn Islands Scientific Expedition (based on Henderson) visited the island at approximately three-monthly intervals during 1991.

Recreation and tourism: The island has some value for “high-quality” tourism, e.g. for passengers from Society Expedition cruise ships.

Management authority and jurisdiction: Pitcairn Islands Council in conjunction with the British Consulate-General in Auckland (New Zealand).

References: Dahl (1980, 1986); Elliot (1973); Hepburn et al. (1992); Rehder & Randall (1975); UNEP/IUCN (1988).

Reasons for inclusion: 1a, 2a, 2c. An exceptionally undisturbed atoll ecosystem and one that, by virtue of its geographical location, is likely to remain so.

Source: M. de L. Brooke and references.

[Oeno Atoll] [Henderson Island] [Ducie Atoll] [Wetlands Introduction]


Brooke, M. de L., Spencer, T. & Benton, T. (1991). Pitcairn Islands Scientific Expedition: Interim Report, Cambridge: PISE.

Collar, N.J. & Andrew, P. (1988). Birds to Watch: The ICBP World Checklist of Threatened Birds. ICBP Technical Publication No. 8. ICBP, Cambridge, U.K.

Dahl, A.L. (1980). Regional Ecosystems Survey of the South Pacific Area. SPC Technical Paper No. 179. South Pacific Commission, Noumea, New Caledonia.

Dahl, A.L. (1986). Review of the Protected Areas System in Oceania. UNEP & IUCN Commission on National Parks and Protected Areas, Gland, Switzerland.

Elliot, H. (1973). Pacific Oceanic Islands Recommended for Designation as Islands for Science. In: South Pacific Commission Regional Symposium on Conservation of Nature - Reefs and Lagoons, 1971. Part II: Working Papers: 287-305. South Pacific Commission, Noumea, New Caledonia.

Hay, R. (1985). Bird Conservation in the Pacific Islands. SPREP Topic Review No. 25 (ICBP Study Report No. 7). South Pacific Commission, Noumea, New Caledonia. (ICBP, Cambridge, U.K.).

Hepburn, I. (in prep). Henderson Island World Heritage Site. Draft Management Plan. Prepared by NaturData for the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

Hepburn, I., Oldfield, S. & Thompson, K. (1992). UK Dependent Territories Ramsar Study: Stage 1. Report submitted to the Department of Environment, European and International Habitat Branch, by the International Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau and NGO Forum for Nature Conservation in UK Dependent Territories.

IUCN (1991). IUCN Directory of Protected Areas in Oceania. Prepared by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, U.K.

Philipson, W.R. & St. John, H. (1960). List of the Flora of Oeno Atoll, Tuamotu Archipelago, South-Central Pacific Ocean. Trans. Royal Society of New Zealand 88: 401-403.

Pratt, H.D., Bruner, P.L. & Berrett, D.G. (1987). A Field Guide to the Birds of Hawwaii and the Tropical Pacific. Princeton University Press, Princeton, U.S.A.

Rehder, H.A. & Randall, J.E. (1975). Ducie Atoll: its history, physiography and biota. Atoll Research Bulletin 183: 1-55.

St. John, H. & Philipson, W.R. (1962). An account of the flora of Henderson Island, South Pacific Ocean. Trans. Royal Society of New Zealand 1: 175-194.

UNEP/IUCN (1988). Coral Reefs of the World. Volume 3: Central and Western Pacific.

UNEP Regional Seas Directories and Bibliographies. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, and Cambridge, U.K./UNEP, Nairobi, Kenya.

Weisler, M., Benton, T.G., Brooke, M. de L., Jones, P.J., Spencer, T. & Wragg, G. (1991). The Pitcairn Islands Scientific Expedition (1991-1992): First results; future goals. Pacific Science Association Information Bulletin 43: 4-8.

Williams, G.R. (1960). The Birds of the Pitcairn Islands, Central South Pacific Ocean. Ibis 102: 58-70.

Wetlands International

[Oeno Atoll] [Henderson Island] [Ducie Atoll] [Wetlands Introduction]