01 November 2010

RSBP to Conduct Rat Removal Project at Henderson Island

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has committed to a project to eradicate Polynesian rats from the globally unique Henderson Island.

"We have raised £1.286m (1.788m USD) towards the £1.7m (2.36m USD) cost of the project, and have made a provisional decision to proceed with the operation in August 2011," said Jonathan Hall, Henderson Island project coordinator, said from his office in the United Kingdom.

The society needs to raise an additional £400,000 (556,074 USD) by next July to ensure before they can proceed with the project, Hall said.

"We are very excited to be on the cusp of carrying out this world-leading operation. At 37 km2, Henderson Island will be the largest tropical or sub-tropical island ever cleared of introduced rodents. The benefits from this single intervention will be enormous and long-lasting:
* the Henderson petrel saved from its slide towards extinction,
* the populations of four unique land-birds boosted,
* at least ten further unique species safeguarded for future generations, and
* a globally significant seabird sanctuary created.

Research suggests that seabird populations will increase up to a hundred-fold once rats are removed."

Online donations are being accepted, and any amount would be very much appreciated, Hall added.

During a mid-October visit to the Pitcairn Island group by Zegrahm Expeditions, a report prepared by Elizabeth Gould, expressed vividly the difference of not having rats present on Ducie Island, also an island in the Pitcairn group. Rats were eradicated here in 1997.

"The skies were filled with birds and one could not take a step upon the land without saying "excuse me" to a tiny chick or parent sitting on a nest—predominantly Murphy’s petrels, as well as dozens of sooty terns and a variety of other rare tubenoses, such as Christmas shearwaters, Herald petrels, Kermadec petrels, and Phoenix petrels. Zegrahm founder, Peter Harrison, was able to find and photograph the first pair of nesting Phoenix petrels found on this island since the 1920s. The phoenix petrel makes a nice metaphor for the recovery of the island after rat eradication."

Details of the pending project on the uninhabited Henderson Island, are available at the Society website. Henderson Island - a UNESCO World Heritage Site - is a Part of the Pitcairn Island group, a UK Overseas, Territory in the South Pacific.