Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Gets Underway

Three years after Peregrine and WWF-Australia won an historic campaign to protect Macquarie Island from environmental devastation, the operational phase of a $24.6 million pest eradication plan is set to begin on the World Heritage-listed island, which is being severely damaged by rats and rabbits.

In 2006/7, WWF-Australia and Peregrine partnered to persuade the Tasmanian and Commonwealth Governments – which had been in an extended stalemate - to reach an agreement on funding the pest eradication plan. The agreement was signed by the respective government ministers on June 4, 2007.

Following three years of intensive planning and training, a team of about 20 staff, four helicopters, pilots and equipment set sail aboard Aurora Australis on Friday, May 21, bound for Macquarie Island to commence the first operational stage of the plan.

The project will be the largest in the world to eradicate rabbits and rodents, and will be one of the most challenging due to the island’s rugged terrain, isolation and extreme weather. However, the plan represents a long-term solution to a problem that has plagued the island for more than a century.

Macquarie Island, 1500km south-east of Tasmania, is home to nearly four million seabirds and is one of the world’s most important seabird nesting habitats. It provides a haven for four threatened albatross species including the only Australian nesting site of grey-headed albatrosses.

The populations of rabbits and rats on the island have exploded in recent years, leading to extensive erosion and massive landslips that are destroying nesting sites for penguins and albatrosses. Unless the rabbit plague is controlled, these albatrosses will almost undoubtedly be driven to extinction in Australia.

Recognising the situation’s urgency, in 2007 Peregrine and WWF-Australia stepped in with $100,000, in part raised through fund-raising auctions on board Peregrine’s ships in Antarctica, to kick-start key parts of the plan and to spur the governments into action.

If the rabbits and rodents are successfully eliminated, researchers believe the island will largely heal itself – with the first signs of recovery likely to be seen by Spring.

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