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Parks Canada
Working together to restore habitat for Ancient Murrelets on remote islands in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia.
Haida Gwaii, an archipelago in British Columbia, is renowned for its rugged coastline, temperate rain-forests and distinct flora and fauna, which evolved through 14,000 years of isolation from the mainland. Yet the islands’ biodiversity is under threat from a range of biological, climate and human impacts, especially the millions of seabirds that nest in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site (in the southern half of Haida Gwaii).
 
Introduced species are one of the most significant threats to the ecological integrity of Gwaii Haanas. Rats were first introduced with the advent of maritime shipping in the late 1700s. Since then they have had a devastating effect on several seabird colonies and are known to occur on at least 18 islands throughout the archipelago.

The Ancient Murrelet (or “night bird” as translated from the Haida language),a Species-at-Risk in Canada, has been particularly impacted. These birds embody the land and sea connection in Gwaii Haanas, the first area in Canada to be protected from mountain-top to deep sea floor. Ancient Murrelets come and go from small islands by night during breeding season and spend the rest of their time on the water. Burrowed under the forest floor, the tiny chicks hatch and scuttle through the night-shaded undergrowth as their parents call to them from the sea. These seabirds once played an intrinsic role in the diet of the Haida people and the colonies were once prime food gathering places.

But the birds have long since abandoned many rat-infested islands. Because of this Parks Canada and the Haida Nation are committed to the ecological restoration of island ecosystems in Gwaii Haanas and the restoration of seabird populations. In 2011, Parks Canada, the Haida Nation, Island Conservation, and Coastal Conservation, removed invasive Norway rats from Arichika and Bischof Islands, once home to significant Ancient Murrelet colonies. This work was supported by Parks Canada’s Action-on-the-Ground program which funds ecological restoration across Canada’s national parks and by the US Coast Guard’s Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund – a fund set up to offset the damage done to seabirds by a sunken oil tanker, the S. S. Jacob Lukenbach, which went down in 1953 off the coast of California.  

Field crews implemented baiting operations from August 1 to October 3, 2011, using a series of specialized bait stations. No evidence of invasive rats was found at the end of the field season in November 2011, but monitoring must continue until September 2013 before the islands can be declared rat-free. Post-removal ecosystem recovery monitoring is underway, including monitoring of seabirds, small mammals, songbirds and intertidal communities. Automated acoustic listening devices have been deployed on these islands and on unaffected islands to measure seabird response to the removal of invasive rats.  Scientists will study the frequency and distribution of the birds’ calls to gauge project success, as well as monitor a number of other ecosystem responses. In coming years, restoration techniques, including the construction of artificial nesting burrows, may be employed to encourage the birds to re-colonize.
 
Similar ecological restoration work is being planned for nearby larger islands, Murchison and Faraday in 2013. 
Ancient Murrelets taking off in Haida Gwaii, Canada

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