Sub-Antarctic pest eradication to save Macquarie Island

Mon Dec 14, 2009 10:54pm EST
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By Pauline Askin

COMMONWEALTH BAY, Antarctica (Reuters Life!) - Australia is planning the world's biggest pest eradication program on the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island, where thousands of mice and rabbits are damaging the world-heritage island.

The pests are causing so much environmental damage that native flora and fauna, including species of seals, penguins and sea birds, are at risk, Australian wildlife officials say.

The eradication exercise will involve aerial baiting and about 12 hunters and 11 dogs. It is due to start in May 2010.

"It will be the largest eradication worldwide for rabbits, rats or mice," said Keith Springer, eradication manager with the Parks and Wildlife Services in Australia's Tasmania state.

Australia's Macquarie Island lies about half way between New Zealand and Antarctica, where the cold polar water meets warmer water, and is one of the few islands in the Pacific sector of the Southern Ocean where fauna in the region can breed.

The long, thin island is a breeding place for millions of seabirds, mostly penguins. Seals, including the world's largest species, the elephant seal, haul out on the beaches for breeding.

Around 80,000 elephant seals arrive on Macquarie each year.

Fur seals are beginning to re-establish populations on the island after being nearly exterminated by commercial operations in the early 19th century.   Continued...

<p>Dog trainer Steve Austin checks a rabbit burrow that his dogs have indicated contained a rabbit at Hasselborough Bay on Macquarie Island in this handout picture taken October 17, 2009. AREUTERS/Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service/Handout</p>