World Firsts on Henderson Island

22 December 2011 | News story

The Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB), an IUCN Member, and the Pitcairn Islands Government have announced that the ground-breaking rat eradication operation to restore Henderson Island, a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site in the South Pacific, has been successfully implemented. The final result as to whether all rats have been successfully removed will be known in 2013.

At 43km², Henderson is the largest tropical or subtropical island ever to be subject to a rat eradication operation, and the third largest island yet treated in the world. The project was also the first time an aerial eradication operation has been conducted from the deck of a ship, and saw Henderson rails successfully bred in captivity for the first time.

The RSPB formed a unique international partnership with two other island restoration projects in order to share equipment and expertise. The partnership involved a number of organisations, including IUCN Members: The Nature Conservancy and US Fish & Wildlife Service.

In May, a single vessel, the MV Aquila, was loaded with two helicopters in Seattle, USA, before setting out to complete a remarkable 27,000km voyage of conservation. Sailing first to Palmyra Atoll (USA), the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA, Kiribati) and then Henderson Island, the MV Aquila worked to restore crucial seabird habitats at every stop by removing the introduced rats that have proved so devastating.

On Henderson Island, rats have been killing over 25,000 petrel chicks a year and driving the Henderson petrel towards extinction. Seabirds, which would have numbered in the millions before rats arrived, have been reduced to just 40,000 pairs. Rats have also been limiting the populations of other endemic bird species, altered the forest through seed consumption, and preyed upon marine turtle hatchlings and Henderson’s unique invertebrate populations.

This was one of the very first times that such a boat-based operation had been implemented and it is hoped that this success will lead to many more similar operations both in the Pacific and elsewhere in future. The possibilities to link up future island restoration projects and achieve large-scale conservation benefits is significant.

Read the latest issue of the Henderson Island Project Newsletter for an update on operations, news of a number of world-firsts achieved by the team and a selection of photos from this remarkable UNESCO World Natural Heritage site.

For more information, please contact Jonathan Hall, Henderson Island Project Coordinator, RSPB or visit the project website.