Issue 22
Monday, 05 December 2016
Charles Darwin University
The conservation status of the endangered Black-browed Albatross has been downgraded to least concern
The conservation status of the endangered Black-browed Albatross has been downgraded to least concern

Successful pest eradication saves seabirds

Seabirds inhabiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Macquarie Island have been brought back from the brink of extinction thanks to one of the biggest pest-eradication programs in the world.

Charles Darwin University Professor of Conservation and Sustainable Livelihoods and co-ordinator of BirdLife Australia’s Threatened Species Committee, Stephen Garnett said that Macquarie Island, located between New Zealand and the Antarctic, was celebrating five years of being rabbit-free.

“Eradication of island pests has made seabird populations safer from extinction,” Professor Garnett said. “BirdLife Australia’s Threatened Species Committee recognises an improved conservation outlook for eight out of 14 species of seabirds breeding on Macquarie Island.”

For more than a century, Macquarie Island - part of Australian territory, was riddled with introduced pests including rabbits, cats, rats, mice and weka (a flightless bird from New Zealand). They wreaked havoc on the island’s nesting seabirds, preying on their eggs and young, and eating the island's unique vegetation down to the ground, destroying habitat and destabilising slopes, and destroying an entire penguin and albatross colony.

Professor Garnett said that when it was clear the future of the island’s seabirds was hanging in the balance, the Tasmanian and Australian governments funded an ambitious program to eradicate all introduced pests.

“Cats were exterminated by 2000, and the last rabbit on Macquarie Island was recorded five years ago in November,” he said. “Sniffer dogs used to detect their presence have drawn a blank since then, so the island can now be regarded as pest-free.”

Professor Garnett said the program was the biggest one-off threatened species downlisting in Australian history and has been hailed by BirdLife Australia’s Threatened Species Committee.

“The Australian and Tasmanian governments need to be congratulated on their vision and determination, and the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service team on doing such a fabulous job in one of world’s the harshest climates,” he said.

Head of Research at BirdLife Australia James O’Connor confirmed that BirdLife Australia’s Research and Conservation Committee would accept the recommended down-listing of the eight species.

“This result clearly shows that well-planned investments can make a real and lasting difference to the prospects of threatened species,” he said.

“The birds that breed on Macquarie Island can breathe a sigh of relief.”