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Big Green Island rat eradication under way


The first stage of a project to eradicate rats from Big Green Island and provide increased protection for its biodiversity values, is under way, following the installation of more than 2,100 bait stations on the island by volunteers using the latest digital technology.

The project is an inspiring collaboration of community conservation efforts, involving the Department of Primary Industries, Parks Water and Environment, the Pennicott Foundation, Wildcare Inc volunteers, the Aboriginal community and the island’s lessee. They are combining their efforts to rid the island of rats, which continue to impact on the natural and agricultural values of the island.

The Pennicott Foundation has committed an initial donation of $60,000 towards the project.  Founder Robert Pennicott said they are pleased to be a part of another significant island eradication conservation project.

“Restoring island habitats by removing pest species that can have huge impacts on native species and habitats, is immensely satisfying and we are proud to a part of this project. From our involvement in the eradication of cats from Tasman Island several years ago, we have seen firsthand the benefits to seabirds, birds and invertebrate species when pests such as cats are removed. We look forward to seeing a similar result on Big Green Island,” Mr Pennicott said.

Big Green Island is a 125 ha island six kilometres south-west of Whitemark off the coast of Flinders Island. It is a nature reserve with high biodiversity values, including significant colonies of Cape Barren geese, shorebirds and seabirds.

Black rats arrived on the island in the 19th century and have survived severe drought and numerous baiting cycles. The pests are some of the largest contributors to seabird extinction and endangerment worldwide and they can take a terrible toll on seabirds by attacking eggs, chicks and even adults. They also impact invertebrates and plants, which may lead to biodiversity impacts.

While eradication of every individual rat on the island is a major effort, it will have long-lasting positive benefits for seabirds and the island’s ecosystem.

The first stage of the project was completed last week, with 10 volunteers from Wildcare Inc and other conservation groups travelling to the island from Whitemark. Over five days, more than 2,100 bait stations were installed on a 25 by 25 metre grid over the entire island and its three adjoining islets.

The latest technology is being used by the Wildcare Inc group Friends of GIS, which has provided crucial mapping support with an iPad-based mapping and field data recording program.

The 2100 ‘pins’ denoting the bait station locations were progressively changed from red to green on the iPads as each station was installed on the ground. At the end of each day, the stations installed, and those remaining to be installed, could be readily viewed by the volunteers.

Baiting of the island will begin next month, after the rats have had time to become accustomed to the stations and ‘free feeds’ have been delivered to encourage their use of the stations. Baiting will then occur from April to July and post-eradication verification of success of eradication will be undertaken two years after baiting.

The baiting has been scheduled to begin after the island’s birds have finished breeding and every effort will be made to minimise possible impacts on the island’s sea birds.