Pilots Broadcast Bait Pellets on South Georgia Island While Good Weather Prevails
At the other end of the Southern Hemisphere, the largest island rat eradication project to date is currently in progress on South Georgia Island in Antarctica, where researchers hope to restore the island to its former status as one of the world's most important seabird havens.
On March 1, after months of preparation, including shipping two Bolkow-105 helicopters and other equipment to this remote and mountainous island in the southern Atlantic Ocean, pilots successfully spread the first round of bait along the edge of the island's old whaling station at Grytviken.
Throughout March, before winter weather puts a halt to baiting activities, pilots will broadcast some 58 tons (52,616 kg) of bait to eradicate rats on three adjacent areas on the north coast that surround the only inhabited part of the main island.
Rodenticide Bait is Critical Part of Rat Eradication
The green bait pellets broadcast on South Georgia Island were developed and shipped to the island by Bell Laboratories last October. Peter Martin, Bell's Director of Research and Development, pointed out that bait used in island conservation project is specifically formulated to meet the unique conditions of each location. The South Georgia Island bait, for example, was formulated for wet conditions while bait used on another rat eradication project on the Galapagos Islands was designed for arid conditions.
Island conservation baits contain the active ingredient, brodifacoum, but lately Bell has also added a special additive, Biomarker, that passes through the rodent unchanged. "Biomarker appears under black light as fluorescent green in rodent feces and intestines, which helps researchers determine the distribution of the bait on the island and verifies that dead rodents consumed the bait," Martin pointed out. Bait is a critical factor in island rat eradication projects.
South Georgia Island Habitat Restoration Project Director, Tony Martin (no relation to Peter Martin) acknowledged that killing rats on an island as large as South Georgia is "a challenge of global significance. " "It will only be achieved by bringing together world-class expertise and assets, of which the rodenticide bait is one of the most critical," he noted on site at South Georgia Island. A professor of Animal Conservation at the University of Dundee, Scotland, Tony Martin singled out Bell's contribution in the project. "I was delighted when Bell Laboratories agreed to work with us in ensuring that the product delivered to the island was exactly right for the conditions, and I am confident that our choice of supplier was the right one," he noted.
Last fall, Bell shipped 2,558 bags of bait, filling seven 20-foot containers, on a three-month journey from Madison to South Georgia Island. "Following a very long sea journey, the bait arrived at South Georgia in perfect condition, testament to the care with which it was manufactured and packed in Wisconsin," Professor Martin pointed out. "At every stage in the process, the performance of the Bell Laboratories' staff was faultless, and I am most grateful for their various contributions in support of this huge and important project."
Melting Glaciers Call for Immediate Action
Undertaken by the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT), a Scottish-registered charity, the seven-year SGHT Habitat Restoration Project aims to completely eliminate non-native rats from the island. South Georgia Island is a haven for seabirds, particularly ground-nesting birds, that are under siege from rats that devour their eggs and chicks.
Rats first came to the island aboard the ships of early explorers and whalers. Today, their many descendants prey upon the 31 species of birds that nest and breed on the island. Among the endangered birds is the South Georgia pipit, the world's most southerly songbird. Driven from the island, the few remaining pairs survive on small offshore isles where their numbers are drastically down from the 3,000 to 4,000 pairs found on the island a decade ago.
Daunting in its size and scope, the project also faces another critical element -time. Currently rats reside in sub-populations on the island, separated by either water or glaciers. With climate change, however, the glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, removing the barriers that have kept rat populations segregated. "Not only are rats on the brink of invading the few areas currently rat-free but delays could make the project impossibly complex and expensive," Professor Martin added.
After the aerial baiting phase, researchers will monitor, evaluate and assess the results in this test area for two years. Their findings will be integrated into the operation plan for Phase II, which is scheduled to begin in 2013.
With steady progress being made to completely rid the island of rats over the next seven or so years, researchers are hoping seabird populations will rebound and endemic species, such as the South Georgia pipit, will no longer face extinction.
For additional information, visit the SGI Habitat Restoration Project website: www.sght.org or follow events on Facebook
© Photos courtesy of SGI Habitat Restoration Project