How would you like a 15 to 1 return on your investment? Well, that’s what we’re looking at under a plan to rid Lord Howe Island of rats and mice. Island Conservation’s Dr Ray Nias takes a look at the economics.
For just $9 million one of Australia’s most famous and beautiful islands could be rid of invasive rodents, and the return on the investment amounts to $141 million over 30 years. This is extraordinary value, but what do we really get for the money?
In what appears to be a world first, the Lord Howe Island Board calculated the expected impacts over 30 years of removing all invasive rodents on the island by comparing the likely outcomes from two scenarios – the island ecosystem with and without invasive rodents.
The major costs of the ‘without rodents’ scenario are simply the cost of the eradication operation itself – helicopter and ground-based operations as well as a staff of 30-40 people working for several months of the year. The operation will also need to maintain and improve island biosecurity to ensure rodents do not re-invade.
There would be an initial, short-term cost to the tourism industry, but it would be quite small – the operation would take place in the off-season when there are fewer visitors on the island, and the loss would be more than compensated for by the temporary workforce.
The other major economic benefit comes from the prevention of extinctions and the return of species lost from the island. Studies have found that the community is willing to pay up to $8 million to avoid the extinction of species. The additional economic benefits of an increase in abundance of non-threatened species were not costed, but would also add to the overall socio-economic tally.
The benefits of removing invasive rodents from a World Heritage-listed island are well known and documented. Among other things it’s expected to avoid seven extinctions over the next 20 years and four species, including the Kermadec petrel and white-bellied storm petrel, could be returned to the island after having been lost due to predation by rats and mice.
A unique and endangered palm-forest ecosystem would be restored to health and other World Heritage values maintained.
The tourism industry would be another big winner. It is estimated that without rodents, and with more abundant wildlife, the prestige of Lord Howe Island as a nature-based tourism destination would increase and so too would the price tourism operators can charge.
Importantly for many people on the island the economic benefits from improved production of Kentia Palm seeds (a popular ornamental palm sold around the world) and local fruit and vegetables, largely completes the picture.
I fell in love with Lord Howe Island as a graduate student surveying its endangered woodhens. I have been following the proposed removal of invasive rodents from the island now for more than 16 years. I have never had any doubt about the ecological benefits of restoring the rodent-free status of Lord Howe Island. It is great to see that the economic analysis agrees with me.