An innovative partnership project that has successfully eradicated black rats (Rattus rattus) from an island off Flinders Island in Tasmania’s far northeast has been recognised with a national Froggatt Award.
The annual awards recognise outstanding achievements in Australia’s fight against environmental weeds, diseases and pest animals.
“The eradication of rats from the 125 ha Big Green Island near Flinders Island in Tasmania shows just how much we can achieve in environmental restoration when we harness the power and passion of Australia’s volunteers,” Invasive Species Council CEO Andrew Cox said.
“Little penguins and short-tailed shearwaters that breed on the island are now safe from black rats thanks to the extraordinary efforts of a volunteer force made up of 73 volunteers from Tasmania and interstate.
“This project could not have been successful without significant funding and support from the Pennicott Foundation and the involvement of Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service, Biosecurity Tasmania, Wildcare Tasmania, the Aboriginal community and the island’s lessee.”
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Black rats first arrived on the island in the 19th century, surviving severe drought and numerous episodes of control to swell to a population of around 10,000. Their presence had devastated the breeding population of 45,000 seabirds, including shearwaters, penguins, Cape Barren geese, gulls and terns.
The eradication project involved the deployment of 2200 bait stations across the island during 2016.
The volunteer workforce, which included four staff from Pennicott Wilderness Journeys, camped on the island during the project and walked the island daily to check rat-baiting stations.
“Three years after the project began, on 25 March 2019, the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service declared success, having reached the key milestone of two years without detection of rats on the island,” Mr Cox said.
“Rigorous monitoring over two years verified the island was free of rats, meeting the internationally-recognised standard for declaring a successful rodent eradication.
“The success of the Big Green Island project will have long-term repercussions for protecting other small islands across Tasmania from pests like rats.
The success of the project has encouraged the Friends of Fisher Island (Wildcare Tasmania) and the Pennicott Foundation to join forces to tackle invasive species on other important seabird islands.
The first of these islands is George Rocks, a nature reserve off the northeast coast of Tasmania where black rats and the introduced weed ‘mirror bush’ have severely impacted many species of seabirds and their breeding habitat, including the once common, diminutive white-faced storm petrel.
Friends of Fisher Island president Mark Holdsworth said the success of efforts so far has spurred on everyone involved.
“Following the success of the Big Green Island eradication project we joined forces with the Pennicott Foundation, Parks and Wildlife Service, Biosecurity Tasmania and our enthusiastic band of volunteers to remove black rats from George Rocks Nature Reserve last August,” he said.
“The post-eradication monitoring is so far showing promising signs that we have removed all the rats from George Rocks.
“With the partnership of government and non-government groups, and our team of hard-working volunteers, the next task is to restore the seabirds’ breeding habitat through the removal of mirror bush.
“Island restoration not only protects the species that have managed to hold on, but importantly it allows for other species, unable to survive predation and habitat loss from introduced pests, to recolonise.”