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The Wetlands: Oeno 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.

Oeno Atoll

Location: 23 degrees 56 minutes S, 130 degrees 44 minutes W; in the central South Pacific, 120 km northwest of Pitcairn.

Area: Land area, 65 ha; land, reef and lagoon, 1,600 ha.

Altitude: Sea level to 3.6 m.

Overview: A seldom visited, ecologically undisturbed atoll with a significant wintering population of Bistle-thighed Curlews (Numenius tahitiensis) and large breeding populations of seabirds.

Physical features: A low coral atoll comprising a central islet surrounded by a lagoon, mostly 3-6 m in depth, which in turn is surrounded by a fringing reef within which there are many smaller reefs. An interesting northward shift of the islet, the result of erosion and deposition under the influence of the prevailing Southeast Trades, has taken place in the past 150 years.

Ecological features: Montipora is the dominant coral genus, with Acropora also common. Other genera recorded are Pocillopora, Psammocora, Pavona, Porites, Cyphastrea, Plesiastrea and Montastrea. The terrestial vegetation is atoll forest and scrub with a few coconuts.

Land tenure: State owned (Crown Land).

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

Conservation measures proposed: Oeno was proposed for listing as an “Island for Science” in 1969 (Elliot, 1973). Hepburn et al. (1992) has recommended that the entire atoll be designated as a Ramsar Site. Hepburn (in prep) recommends that the island be made rat-free to provide a secure nesting site for seabirds, especially gadfly petrels (Pterodroma spp.) which are heavily predated by Polynesian Rats on Henderson.

Land use: Uninhabited, but usually visited once a year (and sometimes more) by about 30 Pitcairn islanders for a fishing holiday. Occasionally visited by the crews of passing yachts (about five a year).

Possible changes in land use: Various persons in Mangareva (Gambier Islands, French Polynesia) have expressed interest in the establishment of black pearl oyster farms in the lagoon.

Disturbances and threats: Introduced Polynesian Rats (Rattus exulans) are present. The disturbance associated with the proposed establishment of oyster farms might be detrimental to the seabird populations, especially if the latter were harvested. Fishing in the lagoon and the harvesting of shells could also be damaging to the lagoon ecosystem. The Pitcairn islanders have recently expressed a desire to plant coconuts and other exotic species on the island.

Hydrological and biophysical values: None known

Social and cultural values: A “holiday resort” for Pitcairn islanders.

Noteworthy fauna: The island supports a significant wintering population of Bristle-thighed Curlews b(Numenius tahitiensis) (about 100 individuals), and a large breeding population of seabirds, including about 8,000-10,000 pairs of Murphy’s Petrels (Pterodroma ultima), 250 pairs of Red-footed Boobies Sula sula), 250 pairs of Masked Boobies (S. dactylatra) and 100 pairs of Great Frigatebirds (Fregata minor). Coconut Crabs (Birgus latro) occur on the island, and the undisturbed lagoon supports prolific fish populations.

Noteworthy flora: There are no endemic species of plants on the island, but this constitutes the extreme southeastern limit for several species (eg. Hedyotis romanzoffiensis). Tournefortia argentea grows to the exceptional height of 8 m.

Scientific research and facilities: The island was briefly visited by a Smithsonian Expedition in 1987. Scientists from the Pitcairn Islands Scientific Expedition (based on Henderson) visited the island at approximately three-monthly intervals during 1991 and early 1992.

Recreation and tourism: Roughly once a year, the island is visited by about 30 Pitcairn islanders for a holiday of one week.

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 (in prep); Hepburn et al. (1992); Philipson & St. John (1960); UNEP/IUCN (1988); Williams (1960).

Reasons for inclusion: 1a, 2a, 2c. One of the least disturbed atolls in southeastern Polynesia, with an internationally important wintering population of Bristle-thighed Curlews.

Source: M. de L. Brooke.

[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]