Galápagos Restoration Projects Makes Islands Safe for Native Species

In support of work led by the Galápagos National Park, Island Conservation, Charles Darwin Foundation, The Raptor Center, and Bell Laboratories announce that several Galápagos Islands are confirmed free of invasive rodents.

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Contact:

Rosita Leon, Head of Public Relations, Galápagos National Park, rleon@dpng.gob.ec

Amy Carter, Communications Manager, Island Conservation, amy.carter@islandconservation.org
Swen Lorenz, Executive Director, Charles Darwin Foundation swen.lorenz@fcdarwin.org.ec
Julia Ponder, Executive Director, The Raptor Center, ponde003@umn.edu
Glyn Young, Conservation Biologist, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Glyn.Young@durrell.org
Craig Riekena, Bell Laboratories, Inc., criekena@belllabs.com / Mary Ellen Spoerke, Dunlop Associates, Inc., mspoerke@dunlopinc.com

The Galápagos National Park, assisted by partners including Island Conservation, the Charles Darwin Foundation, Bell Laboratories and The Raptor Center of the University of Minnesota, are working to prevent extinctions and restore altered ecosystems on the Galápagos by permanently removing damaging introduced rodents from key islands.  Following a series of monitoring surveys, today partners announce that several islands are free of invasive rodents as the result of an eradication project. Partners also announce that restoration of additional islands is already underway.Galápagos National Park Director, Edwin Naula, stated that “invasive species are the primary threat to Galápagos’ world-renowned biodiversity; however, the Galápagos National Park and its partners are now employing new techniques to remove these threats and prevent the extinction of species found nowhere else in the world, like the Pinzón tortoise.”

Rábida, North Plaza, three Beagle islets, and three of the Bainbridge Rocks are home to 12 unique Galapagos species considered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature to be threatened with extinction. These threatened species include, Galapagos penguins and Scalesia stewartii (a tree forming daisy and the plant equivalent of one of Darwin’s finches). In the project executed in January 2011 and declared successful today, these islands were treated with specialized rodent bait donated by Bell Laboratories, as part of a series of projects designed to protect native species by ridding the Galápagos Islands of invasive rats and mice.

The partners had anticipated that removing rodents from these islands would benefit endemic animals, like Darwin’s finches, marine iguanas and lava lizards, as well as plants like the native Opuntia cactus. Ecological monitoring of the effects of the project is long term; however Victor Carrión, Ecuador Program Director with Island Conservation, explained that “in an unexpected twist, on Rábida Island there have been discoveries of land snails and geckos previously thought to be extinct.”

Executive Director of the Charles Darwin Foundation, Swen Lorenz, describes, “Our participation in the monitoring of ecological changes has been an important component to documenting the recovery of these islands.”

With the conclusion of applications of rodenticide on Pinzón and Plaza Sur Islands on December 9th, the Galápagos National Park, Island Conservation and other collaborators complete another phase of ecological restoration projects designed to prevent extinctions of native species. As rodents can be difficult to detect at low densities, two rodent breeding seasons of monitoring is standard practice to confirm that the islands are rodent-free. However the project has immediate benefits for the Pinzón Giant Tortoise, which will once again reproduce successfully in the wild for the first time in decades. The importance of this work was driven home by the death of the last Pinta Island tortoise, Lonesome George, in June.

“Planning is underway between the Galápagos National Park and Island Conservation for future projects that will build on capacity gained here, setting goals for restoration of larger islands within the Galápagos Archipelago where ecosystems are also threatened by invasive species,” according to Danny Rueda, Director of Conservation and Restoration of Island Ecosystems of Galápagos National Park.

Introduced black rats on Pinzón Island have prevented the Pinzón Giant Tortoises from successfully reproducing in the wild for nearly 150 years by preying on eggs and hatchlings. For over 45 years, the Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation have raised Pinzón tortoises in captivity and then returned them to the wild when they are more “rat-proof” at about 4 years of age. Since the first 20 tortoises were repatriated to Pinzón in 1970, over 550 young tortoises have been released there. The rodent bait used in the project does not pose a risk to tortoises.

This restoration project also included the capture of 60 Galápagos hawks prior to the start of the operation, building upon the successful techniques first employed in 2011 on Rábida Island to capture and care for hawks in captivity in Galápagos. The partners established a holding facility for the hawks on Pinzón Island. The hawks are being held in captivity for approximately two months until there is a lower risk of them consuming rodents which have consumed bait.

According to Julia Ponder, Executive Director of The Raptor Center, “TRC is pleased to be able to provide the expertise needed to protect the hawks, thus allowing this important conservation project to move forward and facilitating the recovery of tortoise and lava lizard populations.”

Pinzón (also called Duncan) Island is approximately 4500 acres (1800 ha) with a maximum altitude of 1,503 feet (458 m) and marks the geographical center of the Galápagos Archipelago. Access is restricted to researchers and National Park staff. Plaza Sur Island is small (30 acres/12 ha), but biologically significant. Both islands are uninhabited and are fully within the Galápagos National Park.

In addition to allowing natural recovery of the islands’ ecosystems and native species, these projects have furthered the development of infrastructure, capacity and supporting information necessary for future rodent eradications in the Galápagos Islands. The projects on Pinzón and Plaza Sur islands build on successes from North Seymour and Rábida islands and set the stage for success on larger and more complex islands, such as the inhabited island of Floreana at 17,200 ha.

These restoration efforts were funded by Galápagos National Park, The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Galápagos Conservancy, University of Minnesota and other supporters.

For more information about the project and island restoration, please visit these partner websites:

Galápagos National Park http://www.galapagospark.org/
Charles Darwin Foundation http://www.darwinfoundation.org/
Bell Laboratories http://www.belllabs.com/
Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust http://www.durrell.org

 

To download these photos in high-resolution, please visit  http://www.flickr.com/photos/islandconservation/sets/72157632193863440/

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