Can We Save Paradise?

In order to protect native plants and animals on Lord Howe Island, Australia, invasive rats must be removed. But are we able to come together to make it happen?

By: Ray Nias

When you read about Lord Howe Island you will find frequent references to “paradise”. Indeed, this 15 km2 island, situated 660km east New South Wales’s northern coast, is spectacularly beautiful and occupied by less than 800 people at any given time. Here, you can easily find yourself alone on the beaches or wandering among the palm forests. However, there is a major threat to this world-heritage listed paradise—the presence of an estimated 70,000 introduced invasive rats and countless more invasive mice. Complete elimination of these rodents would significantly enhance the island’s biodiversity, tourism appeal, and remove the ongoing cost and environmental impact of controlling rats in the township and hotel areas.

Island conservation science lord howe balls pyramid

Ball’s Pyramid – Photo by John White

A comprehensive plan for rodent removal was developed in 2009 and funding has been secured. The hope is that it will be implemented in 2017. However, while the technical aspects of the plan—a combination of conservation techniques that are relatively simple and have been implemented successfully on hundreds of other islands—there remains a substantial hurdle. A significant minority of the 350 local residents do not support the plan. As part of the community consultation process, only a slim majority of the islands residents voted in favor of the removal plan. Given that every single property and dwelling owner will need to participate in the treatments to remove the rats, this represents a major risk of failure. Ongoing efforts to address the concerns of the small and close-knit community continue. The project cannot go ahead without their support. The next few months will be critical in determining whether or not the planned project proceeds with sufficient community support.

Rohan Cleave with a Lord Howe Island stick insect, Dryococelus australis. Image: Jane Satchell, Melbourne Zoo, Australia

Rohan Cleave with a Lord Howe Island stick insect, Dryococelus australis. Image: Jane Satchell, Melbourne Zoo, Australia

I first visited Lord Howe Island in 1987 as part of a team to monitor the recovery of the endemic Lord Howe Island Woodhen, which had just been bought back from the brink of extinction through a captive management program and through control of introduced invasive predators such as feral cats, pigs and rats. Like everyone who goes there, I fell in love with the island and ever since I have taken the opportunity to support efforts to restore and protect paradise by removing the island’s rodents. As with many others, I have become increasingly concerned about the negative impact of rodents on the island’s birds, insects, and world famous palm forests in particular. As a member of the scientific advisory group for the rodent eradication plan, I am still looking forward to the day that Lord Howe Island will be a paradise regained.

Island Conservation science Lord Howe Island Woodhen Jack Shick.

Lord Howe Island Woodhen, Photo by Jack Shick.

Similar stories:

The Guardian – Trouble in paradise: Lord Howe Island divided over plan to exterminate rats

Click here to see one of Lord Howe’s most infamous creatures, who held on to survival for 80 years on a nearby island. In order to reintroduce this species back to Lord Howe, invasive rats must be removed. To learn about how scientists came to discover this species, check out the gorgeously animated short film below.

Sticky by Jilli Rose

About Ray Nias

With his scientific and management background, fundraising experience and knowledge of the Southwest Pacific region, Ray is ideally placed to help make Island Conservation a major force for island conservation in the Southwest Pacific region.

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