A rocky shoreline with rough oceans in the background and seals frolicking on the shore in the foreground
Macquarie Island 2024

Macquarie Island thrives 10 years after successful pest eradication

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​​​Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) is marking the 10-year anniversary of Macquarie Island being declared pest free.

Planning for the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project began in 2007 with the aim of removing three introduced pest species – rabbits, rats and mice – and restoring the island's outstanding natural values.

The $24 million project was co-funded by the Tasmanian and Australian Governments. It was led by PWS and included staff members from the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania (NRE Tas)'s biosecurity and environment divisions, as well as the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD).​

Tussocks which have been destroyed by rabbit grazing

West coast tussock which had been destroyed by rabbit grazing prior to the project 
Photo: Dana Bergstrom

​The Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project was declared successful in April 2014.

PWS Regional Manager Southern Tasmania Ashley Rushton said the benefits of removing rodents and rabbits from the UNESCO World Heritage Area could be seen within a year.

“We were astounded at the rate of recovery of vegetation across the island, there were clear signs of restoration within a year of the last rabbit being removed in November 2011. We had been cautiously optimistic about seeing these benefits within 10 years, so this outcome exceeded our expectations," Mr Rushton said.

“The success of the program was underpinned by the incredible effort of those involved, from the meticulous planning of the project team through to the monitoring and follow-up of the hunting teams and field staff. Their work has enabled Macquarie Island to not only recover, but to thrive well into the future."

Macquarie Island in it's full beauty

Spectacular views showcase the recovery on Macquarie Island 
Photo: Pete Harmsen

The island's recovery continues, with the height of species like tussock grass increasing and late successional plants such as the fern Polystichum vestitum expanding in cover.

Previously, overgrazing by rabbits had caused extensive loss of vegetation cover, triggering widespread erosion and increased risk of landslips. Areas that were previously covered in tussock grass had been reduced to patches of bare dirt and lichen.

The vegetation loss damaged the breeding habitat of burrow-nesting seabirds, who need cover to shelter and protect their chicks from the elements and from predators.

NRE Tas will continue to monitor wildlife on the island in collaboration with the AAD and the University of Tasmania as part of the 10-year Macquarie Island Wildlife Monitoring Program, capturing changes in recruitment, survival and reestablishment.

“This program will continue to document the long-term benefit and impacts of the pest eradication, with a particular focus on species impacted by secondary poisoning such as skuas and giant petrels," NRE Tas wildlife biologist Dr Kris Carlyon said.

“It will also assess those impacted by habitat change - albatross, penguins and burrowing petrels - and newly colonising species like burrowing petrels."

NRE Tas has best-practice biosecurity measures in place at the point-of-departure in Hobart, including screening of passengers, contractors and vessels to help prevent the establishment of any pest species on the island.

“We need to stay vigilant to prevent the introduction of any pest species on Macquarie Island in the future," Mr Rushton said.

Four people standing on a remote island

Dr Aleks Terauds (third from left), Australian Antarctic Division/Research Scientist with Dr Kris Carlyon (far right), Department of Natural Resources and Environment/Wildlife Biologist on Macquarie Island.  
Photo: Pete Harmsen

Published 29/05/2024