hañaral Island belongs to a Natural Reserve that supports 80% of the world’s population of the globally threatened Humboldt Penguin—a burrow nesting seabird that is sensitive to habitat disturbance. Chañaral is thought to have been home to as many as 100,000 pairs of the Endangered Peruvian Diving Petrel, a species that was extirpated from Chañaral after foxes were introduced to the island in 1941. The continued presence and impacts of rabbits prevent them from recolonizing.
Invasive rabbits on Chañaral Island are destroying the ecosystem by occupying seabird burrows, increasing erosion, and browsing on vegetation. Fortunately, invasive rabbits can be removed from Chañaral Island. This will result in a greater number of nest sites available for vulnerable species, including Humboldt Penguins and Peruvian Diving-petrels. This one-time action will immediately benefit native plant and animal species and ignite long-term recovery of the island’s ecosystem. Island Conservation and local partners are assisting CONAF in removing invasive rabbits from Chañaral Island after a successful project that left Choros Island—part of the same Reserve—free of invasive rabbits in 2014. These actions drive Chile to achieve AICHI biodiversity targets, specifically targets 5, 9, and 12.
To protect the globally threatened seabird and plant species that depend on Chañaral
The island’s native species are thriving and free from the threat of invasive species.
Invasive European rabbits are destroying nesting habitat for penguins and petrels and
devouring the island’s vegetation.
In support of work led by CONAF (the Chilean government agency responsible for protected areas and forest management), Island Conservation, local community leaders, and scientists are working together to restore populations of native species on Chañaral Island by removing invasive rabbits.
By comparing the population size of animals and plants before and after removal of invasive rabbits, we can measure the impact that our actions have in restoring key habitat and threatened species, such as the Endangered Peruvian Diving-petrel and Vulnerable Humboldt Penguin. Monitoring our impact ensures that island restoration efforts are successful, imperiled species are protected, and ecotourism continues to develop.
HUMBOLDT PENGUIN Humboldt Penguins are only found along the Pacific coast of South America, where they thrive in the cold, nutrient-rich waters of the Humboldt Current. Humboldt Penguins make their nests on Chañaral Island in dugout bowls under cacti and other vegetation. Invasive European rabbits are competing with the penguins for limited burrow space, causing the continued decline of this population on Chañaral Island. Removal of invasive rabbits from Chañaral is necessary to save this important penguin population.
PERUVIAN DIVING-PETREL The Endangered Peruvian Diving-petrel is also only found in the Humboldt Current region off Peru and Chile. Chañaral once supported the world’s largest population of this diving-petrel, but they were extirpated due to invasive species. However, large rafts of this seabird continue to frequent the water surrounding Chañaral and individuals were recorded vocalizing on the island in 2010. Changes recorded on Choros as a result of the rabbit removal project will act as an indicator of the level of vegetation recovery and subsequent seabird recolonization we can expect for Chañaral.
VEGETATION Chañaral Island is an important site for conserving native Chilean plant species, such as native cactus, herbs, and shrubs, including threatened species like Alstroemeria philippii, Loasa elongata, and Tetragonia ovata. Invasive European rabbits are devouring native plant life and facilitating the expansion of invasive plants; rabbits must be removed to protect the island’s native plants species and ensure their continued existence.
ECO-TOURISM Nearby fishing communities have developed a growing eco-tourism industry focused on the unique biodiversity found in the reserve. Every year a variety of cetaceans pass through including humpback, fin, and blue whales, as well as bottlenose and Risso’s Dolphins. Eco-tourism offers a sustainable future for Chañaral’s native plant and animal species. The Humboldt Penguin National Reserve is an established eco-tourism site, ensuring the protection of threatened species, such as the Vulnerable Humboldt Penguin and Endangered Peruvian Diving-petrel, once Chañaral is restored.
Maddy received her AB cum laude in biology and Romance languages from Bowdoin College. After graduating, she taught English at an engineering school in Nantes, France. Maddy spent her summers working seasonal field jobs in remote areas of Mexico, Maine, and the Canadian Maritimes. After deciding to pursue ecology full time, she spent a number of months working in Mauritius to protect the Endangered Pink Pigeon from the threat of invasive species. Maddy’s combined passions for unique species, islands, and foreign languages make her an invaluable component of the Island Conservation team. Maddy loves to get out and observe plants and animals in the wild while camping, hiking, or kayaking. When confined to more urban settings, she enjoys biking, baking, and making a strong cup of tea.