The Minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage, Brian Wightman, today welcomed news baiting has been completed on Macquarie Island, signalling a major step forward in the eradication of three pest species and the eventual restoration of the island’s significant natural values.
Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service staff and contractors have now completed two whole-of-island bait drops, with only small areas such as offshore rock-stacks left to complete.
Mr Wightman said the project to eradicate the large numbers of rabbits, ship rats and house mice from the 12,800 hectare island was the largest yet attempted in the world for three pest species.
Macquarie Island is a nature reserve and World Heritage Area located 1500 kilometres south-east of Tasmania.
Mr Wightman said that the completion of this first phase of the project was the results of years of careful planning to protect the outstanding universal values of Macquarie Island.
“It is great news that this milestone has been reached,” Mr Wightman said.
“The baiting phase of the project was crucial to eradicating rabbits and rodents from Macquarie Island to protect the island’s unique flora and fauna and irreplaceable World Heritage values.”
Since completion of the second bait drop, only three rabbits have been sighted on the island, from a population estimated at more than 100,000. Teams will disperse around the island in the coming weeks to further identify the number and location of surviving rabbits. No sign of rats has been detected since the first bait drop in May.
Mr Wightman said that he is very proud of the dedicated team of staff and contractors who have applied their skills and dedication to this task in the often very challenging conditions of the sub-Antarctic during early winter.
“It is fantastic to see that this first stage is now complete and that our efforts to restore Macquarie Island to an ecosystem free of introduced pests is well underway.
The number of non-target species impacted by baiting has been minimised, with a total of 855 birds affected to date. The introduction of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus on the island earlier this year drastically cut rabbit numbers which resulted in fewer carcasses on the ground and a reduction in secondary poisoning among non-target species.
Another key factor in reducing non-target species mortality has been an increased effort by specially dedicated ground crews collecting and burying poisoned carcasses after baiting.
Mr Wightman said that while the impact on non-target species was unfortunate, if the pests continued to cause damage it was likely that some seabirds and unique plant species would no longer exist on the island.
“This short-term impact will be balanced out by the long-term protection to the island’s ecosystems achieved through the pest eradication.”
The team involved in the baiting operation is expected to return to Hobart in late July.
Twelve trained hunting dogs are already on the island ready to begin the next phase of the operation, hunting down the rabbits that survived the baiting project. Hunters will work with the dogs and their handlers to dispatch any rabbits found. This is expected to take up to five years.