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From Silence to a Wall of Sound—How the Removal of Invasive Species Turned the Sound Up On Hawadax Island

As Earth Day approaches, Island Conservation will share stories of hope and success in conservation.

Researchers record Tufted Puffins nesting on Hawadax Island, Alaska formerly known as Rat Island, for the first time ever.

The Aleutian Archipelago, which Hawadax Island forms a key part of, has been designated a Biosphere Reserve for over 40 years. Lying 1,300 miles west of Anchorage, Alaska the chain of islands contained a spectacular range of biodiversity—all except Hawadax Island, which was, aptly, formerly known as ‘Rat Island.’

The Challenge

For over 200 years invasive rats had made their home on Hawadax Island—Stacey Buckelew, an Island Conservation biologist remarked following her first visit to help document centuries of damage to native birds and plant species:

When I first landed on what was Rat Island in 2007, it was an eerily silent place. A typical Aleutian island is teeming with wildlife, swirling with noisy, pungent birds. Not this place. It was crisscrossed with rat trails, littered with rat scat, scavenged bird bones, it even smelled…wrong.”

island-conservation-invasive-species-preventing-extinctions-hawadax-rock-sandpiper-eggs
Rock Sandpiper eggs in a nest on Hawadax Island. Credit: Island Conservation

It was clear the rats would need to be removed if Rat Island truly was to become Hawadax Island.

The Solution

In 2007 and 2008 Island Conservation and the Coastal Conservation Action Lab at the University of California, Santa Cruz conducted baseline surveys of select native species on the island.

Following the surveys, the work started in earnest to remove Rattus norvegicus from the island and restore key species to their former homes.

The Outcome

Surveys were again conducted in 2009 and 2010 the team found no sign of invasive rats that had decimated native bird populations for more than 200 years.

island-conservation-invasive-species-preventing-extinctions-hawadax-black-oystercatcher-chicks-hatchlings
Black Oystercatcher chicks hatch on Hawadax Island. Credit: Rory Stansbury/Island Conservation

The results were spectacular—several bird species, including the Rock Sandpiper, Pigeon Guillemot, Common Eider, Red-faced Cormorant, and Gray-crowned Rosy Finch, were successfully nesting on the island, along with many other birds that were once highly susceptible to rat predation.

Black Oystercatchers and Glaucous-winged Gulls produced chicks, and both species were more abundant in 2010 than they had been in previous years. The Song Sparrow appeared for the first time in 2010, potentially indicating a return of this species to Rat Island. In 2013, Tufted Puffins were documented nesting on the island for the first time ever recorded.

Hawadax was once again teaming with wildlife and the sounds of seabirds.

Featured photo: A Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata) soaring over Hawadax Island, Alaska. Credit: Ilana Nimz/USFWS

About Anton Nebbe

Anton is a public relations, communications, and change management specialist with two decades of experience in a range of industries. He is a journalist by trade, having earned his qualifications in South Africa and reported on the country's transition into democratic rule. Having grown up in a conservation-minded family in Africa, that passion has stayed with him and he is delighted to volunteer with Island Conservation.

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