TON003
Late


Year of compilation: 2007

Site description
The Late IBA comprises the whole island of Late, an uninhabited 15 sq km island which rises to 565m. It is volcanically active but has been dormant since 1854. Late has some of the finest forest to be found in Tonga and is a global stronghold of the threatened friendly ground-dove Gallicolumba stairi and the endemic Tongan whistler Pachycephala jacquinoti. A translocation attempt of the Tongan megapode Megapodius pritchardii to Late in was made in 1992, an initial positive report (1997) was not confirmed by searches at the translocation site in 2003 and 2004. Late is also home to seven central Polynesian Restricted Range Species, as well as eleven species of seabird which are currently believed to breed on the island. Late is an isolated 6-km-wide circular island about 55 km WSW of the island of Vavau which rises to 565m. It is a stratovolcano lying along the Tofua volcanic arc containing a 400- m-wide, 150-m-deep summit crater with an ephemeral lake, and on its eastern flank there are two large pit craters, the lower of which is partially filled by a slightly-brackish lake. Late is volcanically active but has been dormant since 1854, although steam vents have been seen from time to time (Crane 1992). Late has some of the finest forest to be found in Tonga comprising a lowland broadleaf rain forest, with a canopy to 30 m with Alphitonia zizyphoides, Calophyllum neo-ebudicum Rhus taitensis, and Elattostachys falcata significant dominants on Late’s young volcanic soils (Sykes 1981). Casuarina equisetifolia dominates communities on newer ash deposits and lava flows, in the areaaround the crater and generally on thin soils, often with Pandanus tectorius, Syzygium dealatum, Hibiscus tiliaceus, and Scaevola taccada (Sykes 1981). Late was formerly inhabited but its inhabitants were moved to the mainland of Vava'u in the 1830s (?) to forestall the slave raiders who were raiding isolated islands at the time.

Key biodiversity
Late is particularly important for the conservation of the endemic Tongan whistler whose status on Vava’u gives rise for serious concern but appears secure on Late. The friendly ground-dove (Vulnerable; A1) is very common on the island, and Late clearly represents a major stronghold for this species in Tonga. 63 eggs of the Tongan megapode were translocated to the island in September, October 1992 (Goth pers. comm.) Adults were reportedly observed in late 1996 by a team from the Tongan Wildlife Centre (Beaudry et al. 1997), however, searches in 2003, 2004 found no megapodes or any signs of breeding activity, or elevated temperatures in the soils in the location where they were released in 1992 (Watling 2003, 2004). A further survey on the eastern side of the island is required to confirm the success or otherwise of the translocation. Late has eight (perhaps nine – the megapode) of the ten central Polynesian ‘restricted range species’ for which the Tongan Secondary Area (s130) was created (A2). Late is also important for its seabird breeding colonies, although these are poorly documented at the moment, however, it is very likely that combined they exceed 10,000 breeding pairs (A4iii), and that it may be a stronghold for tropical (Audubon's) shearwaters (A4ii).

Non-bird biodiversity: Late has some of the best remaining high diversity native forest in Tonga and still supports large populations of birds and reptiles (Steadman 1998). A plant list of 145 species was prepared by Sykes (1981), the highest island number for Tonga behind Tongatapu and ‘Eua. There is no published list of the reptiles of Late.



Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Tofua and Late support the largest remaining areas of Tonga’s high diversity rainforest. Rinke (1986) has suggested that the greatest potential for conservation lies in the protection of uninhabited, forested, and predator-free islands such as these two islands to which could be translocated threatened flora and fauna from inhabited islands. Late is uninhabited and there are few visitors to the island because of the difficulty of landing, however, informal clearing for plantations and cutting of timber is taking place. Pigs were once found on the island but do not appear to be present at the moment1. The WSSE was told that pigs were present on the island but noted that they saw no sign of them. The introduction of rats (Rattus rattus or R.norvegicus), feral cats or pigs would have disastrous consequences on the island’s wildlife.

Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
There are no research or conservation projects on Late at the present time (Prescott & Folaumoetu’I 2004).

Habitat and land use
Late is an isolated 6-km-wide circular island about 55 km WSW of the island of Vavau which rises to 565m. It is a stratovolcano lying along the Tofua volcanic arc containing a 400- m-wide, 150-m-deep summit crater with an ephemeral lake, and on its eastern flank there are two large pit craters, the lower of which is partially filled by a slightly-brackish lake. Late is volcanically active but has been dormant since 1854, although steam vents have been seen from time to time (Crane 1992). Late has some of the finest forest to be found in Tonga comprising a lowland broadleaf rain forest, with a canopy to 30 m with Alphitonia zizyphoides, Calophyllum neo-ebudicum Rhus taitensis, and Elattostachys falcata significant dominants on Late’s young volcanic soils (Sykes 1981). Casuarina equisetifolia dominates communities on newer ash deposits and lava flows, in the areaaround the crater and generally on thin soils, often with Pandanus tectorius, Syzygium dealatum, Hibiscus tiliaceus, and Scaevola taccada (Sykes 1981). Late was formerly inhabited but its inhabitants were moved to the mainland of Vava'u in the 1830s (?) to forestall the slave raiders who were raiding isolated islands at the time. Late was formerly inhabited and traces of habitation remain in the presence of fruit trees in certain localities, otherwise the island is fully forested with a savanna-like habitat of Casuarina equisetifolia dominated grass and fernland on the thin soils around the summit. There is a small, slightly brackish crater lake on the eastern flank.


Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Late. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 08/08/2020.