Macquarie Island an environmental disaster
Macquarie Island criticised as environmental disaster
ABC Online, Australia - Sep 1, 2006
MARK COLVIN: A World Heritage area that's a national embarrassment: that's how some scientists are describing Macquarie Island in Australia's sub-Antarctic waters. They say a population explosion of rabbits and rats is wrecking what should be an environmental treasure.
TIM JEANES: At 55 degrees south, Macquarie Island lies about half way between Tasmania and Antarctica. It's a haven for a range of wildlife, including about three-and-a-half million seabirds, including a threatened population of wandering albatrosses.
And recently it's been a haven for exploding numbers of feral rats and rabbits. The problem is partly due to a successful eradication program of feral cats.
Doctor Scott, from the University of Tasmania's School of Geography and Environmental Studies, says the end result is the trashing of sensitive environmental areas.
TIM JEANES: Equally heartbreaking, says Doctor Scott, is that an eradication plan for the rabbits and rats is already in place, just waiting to be put into action. She's laying the blame with the Federal Environment Department.
JENNY SCOTT: Bureaucracy and money, I guess. As a university scientist I can say these things. It's quite a large sum of money, but it's a very small sum of money in terms of getting a successful eradication of a feral species.
It's a good news story, absolutely, if that money is given. And internationally and nationally it would be a great thing.
TIM JEANES: A statement from the Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell says that as Macquarie Island is part of Tasmania, it's principally a responsibility of that State Government.
But Mr Campbell says recognising the island's World Heritage Status, and the impact of pests on its values, the Government has contributed $1.3 million for pest eradication.
The Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service says the eradication of pests is one of the main conservation priorities for the island. It says funding options are being explored. Whoever's responsible, tourist operators say urgent action is needed.
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Feral Cat Blog! History:
Joint Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon. Dr David Kemp
Tasmanian Minister for Primary Industries, Water and Environment
25 June 2003
Macquarie Island Declared Feral Cat Free
Seabirds on Australia's remote World Heritage listed Macquarie Island, south-east of Tasmania, have been saved from extinction following a highly successful joint Commonwealth and Tasmanian Government campaign to eradicate feral cats.
"The cats - introduced by sailors to the island in the 1800s - devastated populations of many ground- nesting seabirds and caused the extinction of the Macquarie Island Parakeet and the Land Rail, a small flightless marsh bird," Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, said.
"A successful $1.2 million eradication program - funded under the Natural Heritage Trust by the Commonwealth and Tasmanian governments and which began in 1997 - has wiped out the feral cat population. Next week marks three years since a feral cat has been sighted. Now the island, 1500 km south east of Tasmania, has been officially declared cat free."
The program was carried out by staff from Tasmania's Nature Conservation Branch and Parks and Wildlife Service backed with Commonwealth support. Baiting was initially trialled but was not successful. It was replaced by trapping in which the feral cats were then humanely put down.
Since 1974, 2500 cats have been taken off the island through eradication programs carried out on the island. This includes 315 cats culled under the Trust-funded eradication program which experts believe successfully wiped out all feral cats.
Tasmanian Minister for Primary Industries, Water and Environment, Bryan Green, said the Trust-funded program would have a major positive impact on important seabird breeding.
"Macquarie Island Marine Park - proclaimed in 1999 - is home to 38 species of seabird, a number of which are under threat. These include three species of Albatross, the Grey and Blue Petrel and the Antarctic Tern," Mr Green said. "Had there not been an eradication plan in place, these birds would have become endangered and eventually not exist on the island.
"The Grey Petrel - endangered according to IUCN (International Union Conservation Nature - now known as the World Conservation Union) criteria - has successfully bred on the island for the first time in a century just recently. The endangered Blue Petrel also continues to make a good recovery since the eradication of feral cats."
The Blue petrel is listed as vulnerable under Federal Government's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act as are the Wandering, Sooty and Grey-Haired albatross. The Antarctic Tern remains endangered under EPBC Act.
Mr John Wamsley, well-known wildlife crusader and the 2003 Prime Minister's Environmentalist of the Year, welcomed today's announcement that Macquarie Island is feral cat free.
"Feral cats are a critical issue on a number of islands and it's refreshing to see such a positive outcome. I congratulate the Commonwealth and Tasmanian governments on this initiative," he said.
Despite the success with feral cats, there is more pest management work to be done on the island with a plan to eradicate rodents and rabbits now being drafted. This plan is funded by the Federal Government ($173,550) under the NHT. Rodents prey on smaller species of burrow nesting birds and rabbits are a problem for vegetation. They have been a growing problem on the island for over a century, but have become a serious problem since the early '70s.
For more information on Macquarie Island Marine Park, visit www.ea.gov.au/coasts/mpa/macquarie.