Habitat Restoration Project
2017/18 Monitoring and Survey work.
– We need your support.
Article by Denise Landau (October 2015)
Above Slide prepared by Tony Martin, Project Director
Hide and Seek!
RatWatch (.pdf document) – how you can help us.
It’s been a thrilling ride thus far to be part of the team which has carried out the world’s largest rodent eradication to date. So what’s next? We’re currently planning our next phase of the project. Having dropped bait along the coastal areas of the island we are setting up a series of inspection trips to monitor and detect if we were successful. We must eradicate 100% of the rodents in order to succeed in this project. We need to secure a vessel, ensure that we have the right equipment in place throughout South Georgia such as camera equipment and more, and develop a communication system amongst the teams involved to ensure that we have succeeded. Frankly fundraising is a greater challenge than actually eliminating rodents!
Interested in buying a helicopter?
We are currently searching the world for interested buyers of our helicopters; or to at least talk with other projects around the world to see if they are interested in working with our helicopters and equipment and most importantly our incredibly talented field team that have been working with us for many years.
We still have bills to pay (large ones) from our charter of the British Antarctic Survey Vessel, the Sir Ernest Shackleton from January-April 2015. So we are still actively fundraising from our 2015 activities and then have to plan for our upcoming set of inspection trips. We hope to give Percy our Penguin (look to the right) a head so any donations are helpful.
2017 Conference Planning: We are currently planning a conference at the University of Dundee in Scotland in order to share in our experience, knowledge and logistical experience with future eradications. We’ve learned so much and want to share it with future projects. We’ll keep you updated with dates for the conference! Join us! We are eternally grateful for the support, academic infusion and assistance provided to this project from the University of Dundee staff and administration.
What have we done so far?
The aim of the Habitat Restoration Project is to rid South Georgia Island of invasive rats and mice. These invasive rodents were unwittingly brought to the island in visiting ships from the late 18th century onwards before the strict bio-security procedures, that are now in place on the island, existed.
Those rodents have done huge damage to the island’s wildlife, destroying the eggs and chicks of many of the smaller ground-nesting bird species, two of which, the South Georgia Pipit and South Georgia Pintail, are endemic to the island. Once the rats are gone millions more birds are expected to be hosted on the island.
To this end the island has been baited in three phases (2011, 2013 and 2015) and will be surveyed in 2017 to check for any signs of surviving rodents. The area being cleared of rodents is about 10 times larger than has ever been attempted anywhere else.
At the conclusion of Phase 1, we were over the moon, to date it was the largest rat eradication area baited anywhere in the world. But..to add Phase 2 and 3 to our list is monumental. In 2014, we sent a monitoring team into the Phase 1 and in part Phase 2 areas to look for signs of rat! So far so good! fingers crossed!
In 2013, we had to purchase one additional helicopter and hired a slightly larger team and needed to purchase much more equipment to take south. Fortunately the British Antarctic Survey vessel Sir Ernest Shackleton was available for charter to move our helicopters from the United Kingdom to South Georgia. Tour Vessels were a huge help in moving supplies and personnel south too. Working closely with Tour companies shows that linking tourism with conservation is an important aspect of achieving success.
Excitement by all for the commencement of Phase 3. If we succeed, we will have achieved something that no one else in the world has accomplished! On January 24, 2015 18 members of Team Rat and 7 support staff from Team Albatross and the officers and crew embarked the Sir Ernest Shackleton. Nearly three weeks later, hurricane force winds, our incredible pilots and deck team, GIS Specialists, Radio and Communications specialists, Deck Crew and everyone else managed to drop the bait pods and fuel barrels to prepare for the next job of baiting. By April and the good fortune of enough weather windows, baiting was achieved. Our team baited the largest land mass ever attempted. On USA terms, South Georgia is nearly the same size as “Long Island” but much more rugged, mountainous, glaciated and in the middle of the South Atlantic. In three years of baiting, We achieved our set goals of dropping bait where needed. Phase 3 cost us much more than we anticipated as we were required to add additional helicopter GPS equipment, unused (thankfully) safety nets and more.
Phase 4: Monitoring, evaluating and inspecting the sites
What next? Phase 4 Monitoring: We plan to send out teams to inspect but in the meantime over the next 3 seasons for sure, our teams will be looking for any signs of rodent presence, but more importantly the presence of nesting pipits, pintails, petrels, prions, albatross and more. If we succeed, it will have been the largest and most successful rodent eradication anywhere on earth.
Having been working with this project since 2009, to be able to sail with Team Rat in January and February was a privilege. Our team was incredibly competent, professional and frankly, the best in the world!
Thanks to all of Team Rat for three phases thus far and to all our administrative support staff, committee members, Trustees, board members, volunteers and most importantly our donors. You have contributed towards securing South Georgia as one of THE main breeding sites for seabirds and our pipit anywhere else in the world. In the future, South Georgia will have black clouds of seabirds choosing this island for its breeding preferences.
With gratitude and respect, we thank you all thus far for everyone’s community efforts.
In March 2015 we reached a historic milestone in this project when the phase 3 baiting of the island was completed.
The project director, Professor Tony Martin, wrote from South Georgia Island of the importance of this milestone in the “Late March 2015 Project Newsletter“:
“…the enormity of what we’ve achieved is beginning to sink in. And when I say ‘we’, I’m not referring to Team Rat, but to the thousands who have contributed to this project in so many ways over many years. …And of course the donors of many nations who share a vision of a rejuvenated South Georgia. A South Georgia free of destructive predators that should never have been here; an island once again able to host the millions of birds that once filled its night sky with a cacophony of sound and honeycombed its soil with myriad nesting burrows.”
The 2017 large scale survey of the island is the next major milestone in the project.
“our job is far from over…the Habitat Restoration Project must and will continue until we know that the baiting has achieved its aim.
…we cannot afford to take anything for granted.
We have to be vigilant for any sign that rodents have survived the initial baiting operation, and be ready to snuff out any such pockets of survivors. To that end a large scale yacht-based survey (with all its concomitant costs) will be carried out in a couple of years’ time; only after that can we truly relax and know that the job has indeed been done.”
If you are interested in our work and would like to support us, read more about us and the conservation work we are contributing to on South Georgia Island.
Indicators of success
We had thrilling news, in January 2015, that the first South Georgia Pipit nest was discovered in an area we had cleared of rodents in 2013. This shows the rapid impact of the Habitat Restoration Project on this potentially endangered species. The South Georgia Pipit, which is the world’s most southerly song bird, cannot breed in areas infested with rodents.
As South Georgia Pintails and Pipits cannot breed in areas where rats live, they are indicator species for the success of rat eradication efforts. The presence of these species in areas already cleared of rats during the first two phases of the Habitat Restoration Project is an important indicator of it’s success.