05 March 2007

Poison, Pests, and Politics

Grey-headed Albatross (Thalassarche chrysostoma)
Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans)

Macquarie Island, a World Heritage site, and part of the Australian state of Tasmania, is currently overrun with pests. Cats, rats, and rabbits were introducted to the island in the 19th century by sealers and whalers, all of which are extremely harmful to the native wildlife, especially birds. And the birds that live here include several endangered and vulnerable species. About 80 pairs of Grey-headed Albatross breed there, and the island is important habitat for both Grey-headed and Wandering Albatrosses.

In 2000, the last cat on the island was removed, but this had the unfortunate effect of allowing a population explosion among the rabbits and rats that were left. Plans are underway to exterminate the rabbits and rats, using poison delivered by helicopters during the winter, when most of the birds are at sea. However, the plans have been delayed because of wrangling between the state and federal governments over who should fund the approximately 16.5 million dollar program. The federal government has agreed to fund half the program, but the state believes they should cover the whole cost.

Cool fact about Macquarie Island: It is the only place in the world where the oceanic crust is exposed above the surface of the sea.

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