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Invasive Rats—A Growing Threat to Sea Turtles

Conservationists are seeing an increase in the threat that invasive rats pose to sea turtle eggs and hatchlings on Tetiaroa Atoll.

Warning: Graphic video. Viewer Discretion is Advised.

Sea turtle populations around the world are facing population declines. Six of the seven species of sea turtles are considered threatened and while there are a number of factors including habitat loss, fishing by-catch, pollution, and the harvesting of eggs, the presence of invasive rats is a growing concern. However, there is hope—removing invasive rats from important sea turtle nesting islands can provide safe habitat.

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Endangered Green Sea Turtle on the shores of Midway Atoll. Credit: Gregg Howald/Island Conservation

New research on Tetiaroa Atoll, French Polynesia, documented predation by a species of invasive rats (Rattus rattus) at main sea turtle nesting sites. Researchers were authorized by the Direction of the Environment of French Polynesia to use motion-sensing cameras to monitor activity by invasive rats. The videos show both adult and juvenile rats digging and sniffing out areas where hatchlings would emerge only two days later. Footage from the nests strongly suggests that invasive rats are searching for and intentionally using hatchlings as a food source.

Credit: Gronwald et al. 2019

Although sea turtles face a number of threats, invasive rats are a solvable problem. Removing invasive rats from sea turtle nesting islands can prevent these kinds of predatory interactions and save sea turtle hatchlings as they emerge from the nests.

Conservation efforts on many sea turtle nesting islands including the removal of invasive rats from Tetiaroa and Ulithi Atolls are underway and will go on to benefit the global population of sea turtles.

Source: Pacific Conservation Biology
Featured photo: Sea turtles on Midway Atoll. Credit: Gregg Howald/Island Conservation

Thank you to Markus Gronwald, PhD student at the University of Auckland for all the work performed by Te mana o te moana’s side.

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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