Celebrating 10 years of pest eradication at Macquarie Island

Nick Duigan, Minister for Parks and Environment

In April 2014, a major project to eradicate all rabbits and rodents from Macquarie Island was officially declared a success.

Ten years on, the island is showing remarkable signs of recovery, with lush vegetation lining its once barren slopes and the return of breeding seabirds such as burrowing petrels.

Macquarie Island is located halfway between Tasmania and Antarctica. It is one of Australia’s most significant conservation reserves and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Area.

Planning for the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project began in 2007 with the aim of removing three introduced pest species – rabbits, rats and mice – and restoring the island’s outstanding natural values.

The $24 million project was co-funded by the Tasmanian and Australian Governments and managed by Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service with the assistance of the Australian Antarctic Division.

Tasmanian Government Minister for Parks and Environment, Nick Duigan, said it was the most ambitious pest eradication program conducted in the state’s history.

“The introduction of rabbits, rats and mice to Macquarie Island had devastating impacts on the island’s natural wildlife and ecology,” Minister Duigan said.

“Overgrazing by rabbits caused extensive loss of vegetation cover, destroying the breeding grounds of nesting seabirds and triggering widespread erosion. Rats preyed on seabird eggs and chicks, while mice ate insects, worms and other invertebrates, disturbing the ecological balance of the island.

“Following years of meticulous planning, the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication teams of 2011 and 2012 successfully rid the island of all three targeted species. This remarkable outcome is testament to the tireless efforts of the rangers, baiters, hunters and their support crews who delivered the program in remote and challenging conditions. We thank them for their contributions.

“We also acknowledge Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service for its ongoing management and preservation of the outstanding universal values of Macquarie Island.”

Federal Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek said the eradication of rabbits and rodents had huge benefits for threatened species on the island.

“Macquarie Island is a wildlife wonderland – home to millions of penguins, seals and seabirds. It is fantastic to see the island’s plants and animals thrive 10 years after the eradication of rabbits and rodents.

“The increase in vegetation cover has improved breeding habitat for albatross and the eradication of rodent predators has seen burrowing petrels flourish.

“The long-term benefits and impacts of the pest eradication program will continue to be monitored through the 10-year Macquarie Island Wildlife Monitoring Program.

“This project will assess wildlife populations on Macquarie Island so we get an accurate snapshot and monitor trends over time. The data will allow us to better protect this exceptional place for our kids and grandkids.

“This is a great example of our government’s commitment to restore damaged landscapes and shows what marvellous results can be achieved.

“The Australian Government also announced in this month’s budget we will rebuild the station on Macquarie Island to continue world-leading science like this.”

About Macquarie Island:

Macquarie Island was placed on the World Heritage List in 1997 and the National Heritage List in 2007.

It is almost 34 km long, 5.5 km wide and located 1,500 km south-east of Tasmania. The island is the exposed crest of the undersea Macquarie Ridge, raised to its present position where the Indo-Australian tectonic plate meets the Pacific plate.

It is a site of major geoconservation significance, being the only place on earth where rocks from the earth’s mantle (6 km below the ocean floor) are actively exposed above sea-level.

About the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Program:

Macquarie Island has a long history of battling the impacts of introduced pests.

The island was discovered by sealers in 1810, and they brought with them cats, dogs and rodents. From the 1860s they introduced rabbits and weka, or Maori hen, as a food source. Weka were eradicated in 1989 and cats were eradicated by 2000, but rabbits, mice and rats continued to thrive.

By the mid-2000s, the rabbit population was estimated to exceed 125,000. After extensive planning and research, calicivirus was introduced to Macquarie Island in February 2011 and proved very effective, killing an estimated 80-90 per cent of the rabbit population in a few weeks.

This was followed by an aerial baiting program in the winter 2011. The last rabbit was recorded on the island in November 2011, and after three years of intensive patrolling by conservation dogs and their handlers, the project was declared a success in 2014.

LINK TO FOOTAGE: https://images.antarctica.gov.au/rs9/pages/search.php?search=%21collection13512&k=8cc46929bd#

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