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GETTING RATS OFF THE REEF

Queensland authorities are making bold strides towards banishing pest rodents from the barrier reef islands. 

Hoping to have the same success as a number of other recent rodent eradication programs on islands around the world, the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service has closed a number of barrier reef islands to start a rodent baiting program.

A three-week aerial baiting program was carried out at the end of May on the World Heritage listed Frankland Islands and Northern Barnard Islands, south of Cairns. The islands had become infested with black rats (Rattus rattus) and pose a threat to nesting seabirds.

“They cause major extinctions and a decline in island biodiversity around the world, and we certainly know on our Australian islands they have a huge impact on nesting seabirds, damaging seabird eggs and eating hatchlings,” said Warrick Armstrong, ranger-in-charge.

“We also have a lot of visitors to campgrounds, so there’s a risk of disease that’s carried by these pest rats.”

The rats probably arrived on the islands as stowaways on boats or were potentially swept out to sea during mainland flooding events. Many of these islands do not have their own freshwater source and the rats have adapted to island life by gnawing on the native cabbage to get moisture.

The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service is confident of eliminating the rats, having previously carried out a successful eradication program on the nearby South Barnard Islands, where there has been a dramatic return in seabirds since the removal of the rats.

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