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Invasive Rat on St. Paul Island Evades Strike Team

Conservationists continue to search for an invasive rat on St. Paul Island, Alaska after the rapid response team implements new methods for finding and tracking invasive predators.

St. Paul Island, off the coast of Alaska is a rat-free island or at least it was until early September when a camera captured an image of an invasive rat. Conservationists and biosecurity agents on the island quickly jumped into action in order to try and locate the rat.

The island is part of the Pribilof Islands which are considered one of the most important seabird nesting sites in the Bering Sea. For more than two decades, the island has had active biosecurity measures in place in order to protect against the introduction of non-native species especially rats and mice. In order to help protect the island, St. Paul Island’s Ecosystem Conservation Office and other partners reached out to Island Conservation to join the rapid response team and try to locate the invasive rat.

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Two Least Aucklets perched on a rock on St. Paul Island, Alaska. Credit: Tom Wilberding

Lauren Divine of the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island’s Ecosystem Conservation Office (ECO) explained:

It poses a serious threat to our island. It’s wildlife, its sensitive habitat. It’s an invasive species. It’s something that would devastate the seabirds and would change wildlife life on the island forever.”

Although the team worked tirelessly to track the invasive rat, so far there has been no luck. Biosecurity measures are being increased around the island and new strategies are being used to try and address the issue. Chris Gill, a contractor for Island Conservation who was sent to join the project, commented:

Making sure that your biosecurity measures work is really critical. You literally have one chance to catch that rat. And you you want that trap to fire when it fires. Islands only make up less than 5 percent of the Earth’s land mass, but they harbor a disproportionate portion of endemic species. Therefore, when an invasive species, such as a rat, gets to those islands, there’s a high likelihood that an extinction could occur.”

The strike team has left St. Paul Island, but have left behind a number of new techniques and methods for the local biosecurity efforts to use. Refuge Manager Steve Delehanty is hopeful that the invasive rat will be located before any serious damage is done. He explains that although implementing a rapid response team was expensive, it is a fraction of the cost of an eradication. He points to Hawadax Island, where Island Conservation and partners removed invasive rats in 2010, as the only island in Alaska where a successful rat eradication has been done but hopes the rapid response team and biosecurity measures will protect St. Paul and its thriving seabird colonies.

Source: KTOO
Featured photo: A Crested Auklet perched on a rock on St. Paul Island. Credit: Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith

About Emily Heber

Emily is a recent graduate from UC Santa Barbara with a BS in Zoology. As a student, she discovered that she had a passion for the conservation of endangered species and their ecosystems. Her background in informal education has allowed her the opportunity to share her passion for animals with others, something she seeks to continue doing while working with the communication team. In her spare time, Emily enjoys exploring the amazing hiking trails found in Santa Cruz and tries to SCUBA dive whenever possible. Emily is excited to join the Island Conservation team and to help share the amazing work that is being done here.

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