Exotic Marshall Islands

Photos by Marrelie Page

Majuro--There are a lot of terns on Majuro, which is funny because there is just one road. These sharp, swift, snow-white acrobats are the stars of the day sky, gliding with aerial majesty then dropping like a stone before darting up and around with the agility of bats dogfighting in a mosquito cloud.

Were it not for the Eurasian sparrows white terns would certainly be the most conspicuous avian fauna in Majuro, the capital of Marshall Islands. Instead, it is hard to look at a building, street or open space without seeing flocks of little, brown, plump, white-crested birds scrambling around pecking and pecking at bits too small to see.

Eurasian sparrows are recent arrivals. They were introduced by humans at some point and they look the farthest birds can get from seabirds. They do not fit in, almost comically so. Sparrows do not migrate and rarely fly even 20 miles.

Exotic species are organisms that have been brought by humans to an environment they are not native to. (Some exotic species even take on regional significance, such as potatoes in Ireland and apples in the U.S., which are from South America and Central Asia, respectively.)

The Marshall Islands has 523 exotic, or invasive, species, including both flora, fungi and fauna, according to the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program.

Exotic species contrast with indigenous and endemic species. Indigenous are species that are found somewhere without human interference. This includes birds or other species that might stop by occasionally, such as snow geese. A species is endemic if it is from that place originally. Coconut palms are indigenous on the Marshall Islands but not endemic, as they are most likely not originally from here.