Restoring habitats at earth’s end to protect native and endemic seabirds
Invasive rodents on South Georgia Island have preyed upon nesting birds, including the endemic South Georgia pipit, since whalers inadvertently introduced rats and mice in the 19th century. Researchers believe that if these invasive rodents were eliminated, over 100 million more seabirds would thrive on this sub-Antarctic island—an incredible number of birds added to the current, breathtaking populations.
Guests aboard Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic expeditions have supported the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) in its Habitat Restoration Project through the adopt-a-hectare program and on-board auctions. With our support, SGHT has systematically eradicated millions of rats and other rodents, which have decimated the flora and fauna of South Georgia's fragile ecosystem.
In March 2011, phase 1 began. During the trial phase, specially prepared bait was dropped from two helicopters on the island. Although the first phase involved only 12% of the land area of South Georgia, the 30,800 acres that were treated made this project the largest rodent eradication operation in the world.
As of March 2015, after three seasons of baiting, there has been no reliable sighting of mice or rats on South Georgia, which means that the island may be entirely rodent-free for the first time in two centuries. Guests and staff aboard LEX-NG expeditions have been acting as the eyes and ears on South Georgia as they visit many of the areas previously inhabited by rats and mice. Not only are there no rodents to be found, but there have been many sightings of the South Georgia Pipit, which cannot successfully breed in areas with rodents present. Pipit nests have been found in the areas treated in all three field seasons, which is a positive sign that the eradication project has been a success.
The success of this project will enable South Georgia to once again serve as one of the most important seabird sanctuaries in the world. Not only will this initiative mean the return of countless seabirds to this sub-Antarctic Island, it will also save millions of seabird chicks from destruction as glacial retreat would have opened up new areas of the island to rodents. This project will bring about the recovery of bird populations, and restore the native terrestrial ecology and biodiversity of South Georgia.
SGHT is now raising funds to complete an official survey of the island two years after the last baiting work, to be performed in 2017-2018. SGHT will deploy rodent detection devices throughout the treated areas and possibly use sniffer dogs to track down any surviving rodents, if there are any. Once those devices have been checked, we can officially announce to the world that the South Georgia Habitat Restoration Project has been a success, inspiring many more island eradication projects around the world.
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