Promoting action to build resilient and sustainable island communities

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island conservation galapagos national parkThreatened Galápagos Land Iguanas Return to Santiago Island En-Masse After 180-Year Absence

Galápagos Land Iguanas once roamed Santiago Island and fed on native cactus and other vegetation. In 1835, Charles Darwin visited the island and described iguanas so abundant that he had trouble finding a place to pitch a tent. Three years later, Abel du Petit-Thouars became the last person to record iguanas on the island. Since then, the only signs of these iguanas have been skeletal remains.

After a 180 year absence, Galápagos Land Iguanas are once again roaming Santiago Island. The reintroduction is all part of an effort by the Directorate of Galápagos National Park (DPNG), Island Conservation, and Massey University in New Zealand to revive the native ecosystem.

Galapagos Land Iguanas are a vital part of the ecosystem, helping to disperse native seeds across the island. The Iguanas were sourced from Seymour Norte Island where they had been introduced in the 1930s, but due to a skyrocketing population have faced food scarcity.

Land Iguanas were then held in captivity for almost four weeks in order to ensure no seeds in their guts were passed from Seymour Norte Island to Santiago Island. Now that the iguanas have been released, the DNPG and Massey University will begin monitoring the population and plan to introduce up to a total of 2,000 individuals.

CI 169 ISLANDS169 Islands that Offer Hope for Stemming the Extinction Crisis

Restoring islands by eradicating damaging, non-native invasive mammals such as rats, cats, goats, and pigs has repeatedly proven to be a high impact conservation action. New research published in PLOS ONE shows this conservation action can have a major contribution towards stemming the global extinction crisis by identifying 107 islands that could have eradication projects initiated by 2020, and 62 islands where projects could be initiated by 2030, to benefit 9.4 percent of the Earth’s threatened island species.

The paper, titled “Globally Important Islands Where Eradicating Invasive Mammals will Benefit Highly Threatened Vertebrates,” used biological and geographic data compiled for 1,279 islands with 2,823 populations of 1,184 bird, reptile, mammal and amphibian species listed as Critically Endangered or Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ – the world’s most comprehensive information source on the conservation status of animal, fungi and plant species. Practical criteria were applied to consider the technical and socio-political feasibility of eradicating damaging non-native invasive mammals. In total, 54 experts contributed to the assessment which considered whether these island restoration actions would be socio-politically feasible to initiate before 2020.

Eradicating invasive mammals from islands is a powerful way to remove a key threat to island species and prevent extinctions and conserve biodiversity,” stated Dr. Nick Holmes, lead author on the study and Director of Science at the international biodiversity conservation nonprofit, Island Conservation, “This study is an invaluable global assessment of where these future conservation opportunities exist and supports regional and national decision-making about where and how to prevent extinctions.”

Global collaboration

The paper represents an important global collaboration coming together to recommend practical actions where progress can be made against the global species extinction crisis. Fifty authors representing more than forty institutions from around the world contributed to publishing this paper, including non-government organizations, government, and academic institutions.

The paper was led by conservation biologists from Island Conservation, the Coastal and Conservation Action Laboratory at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC), BirdLife International, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission (SSC) Invasive Species Specialist Group.

Global Impact

Stuart Butchart of BirdLife International stated, “This research highlights an extraordinary opportunity to deliver disproportionate conservation benefits from applying proven methods of island restoration. We can now target conservation funds at the key locations where they will deliver the greatest benefits for native biodiversity.”

“Through the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the global community has agreed to halt the loss of biodiversity and preventing extinctions by 2020. Eradicating the non-native invasive species on the priority islands identified through this research would significantly contribute towards meeting this important target,” said Co-author Piero Genovesi of the IUCN SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group.

Restoration Opportunities

CI Floreana Island

 

 PHOTO: aerial island view is Floreana Island which is one of the eight highest priority islands for Island Conservation

 

The study highlighted restoration opportunities including:  

  • Floreana Island, Galápagos Archipelago, Ecuador, Galápagos Archipelago, Ecuador: Eradication of feral cats and invasive rats would remove the threat of non-native predation threatening the Critically Endangered Galapagos Petrel, a burrow-nesting seabird that is dependent on this island to breed safely. Invasive predator eradication will also allow for the reintroduction of 13 locally extinct species.

  • Gough Island,Gough Island, Tristan da Cunha Archipelago, United Kingdom Overseas Territories: Tristan da Cunha Archipelago, United Kingdom Overseas Territories: Gough Island provides vital nesting habitat for a number of species including the Critically Endangered Tristan Albatross and Gough Bunting and the Endangered Atlantic Petrel, now at risk from predation by invasive house mice. Eradicating this mouse population is a critical action to protect these globally threatened species and this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Alejandro Selkirk Island, Juan Fernandez Archipelago, Chile:, Juan Fernandez Archipelago, Chile: Eradicating feral goats and cats and invasive rodents would remove key threats of habitat loss and non-native predation for the Critically Endangered Masafuera Rayadito, a small songbird endemic to this remote island and found nowhere else in the world. This island restoration action would also benefit numerous other unique native plants and animals at risk from invasive mammals. 

CI droneWorld’s First Drone Project to Rid Two Galapagos Islands of Invasive Rats

PHOTO: field staff member on Seymour Norte Island stationed to do the final drone check
Credit: Island Conservation

Invasive species on islands are one of the greatest threats to our world’s biodiversity today. To date, there have been over 400 successful invasive rodent removal projects on islands all around the world to protect native island plants and wildlife. Historically, this has required shipping helicopters and specially trained pilots to remote islands. Although this method is highly effective, it is not always feasible for small or difficult-to-maneuver islands due to terrain and/or prohibitive costs.

Luckily, new technology is improving the means through which we do conservation. Earlier this year, the Directorate of the Galápagos National Park (Dirección del Parque Nacional Galápagos – DPNG) and Island Conservation completed a world first by using drones to rid two Galápagos Islands of invasive rats.

The two small islands of Seymour Norte and Mosquera Islands are home to some of the Galapagos’ most iconic species including Blue-footed Boobies, Magnificent Frigatebirds, and Swallow-tail Gulls, which are the only nocturnal gull on the planet. Just over a year ago, invasive rats were detected on the island. This promoted, the DPNG and Island Conservation to begin planning to remove them to protect the native wildlife.

Small islands such as Seymour Norte are no less valuable to the conservation of seabirds and endemic island species than large islands, but oftentimes helicopters are not a practical approach for restoration. Now, technology is catching up and drones, in particular, have increasingly seemed like the next frontier for projects on small and mid-sized islands. Island Conservation program director, Karl Campbell, said:“This type of operation previously required helicopters, specialist pilots, and bait spreader buckets. The use of drones is more precise, and now increases the feasibility and reduces costs of invasive rodent eradications on small-medium sized islands globally.”

The operation used two drones, each weighing 55-pounds, which distributed conservation bait over Seymour Norte and Mosquera Islands. The drones were launched from a boat offshore where the operators tracked and controlled the flight-path according to a predetermined grid over the island. Island Conservation project director, Chad Hanson, explained:“You can take a drone and pack it up and put it on a plane and you can go anywhere in the world with it. That’s effectively opening up a door to a whole new suite of islands that haven’t been feasible in the past.”

Seymour Norte Island (184 ha) and Mosquera Island (5 ha) made for a perfect location to implement this new technology, opening up a new strategy for restoring islands. While drones are not the answer to all invasive species removal projects, this new technology can and will help save island species around the world. Projects that previously seemed impossible such as small islands with rugged terrain could now benefit from the removal of invasive species and help prevent extinctions.

Learn more here: https://www.conservation.org