Macquarie Island rabbit plague: World Heritage management a disgrace

Posted on 22 April 2007  | 

The rabbit infestation on Macquarie Island has reached a crisis point. The island is in a critical state and its condition is worsening, according to WWF's Andreas Glanznig, the independent observer on the Commonwealth-Tasmanian government Macquarie Island inspection team.

The team returns on Saturday 21 April from a two week voyage to Macquarie Island to inspect the rabbit plague damage to the island.

"This is the most cut and dry issue I have seen in nearly twenty years of conservation work - the Macquarie Island rabbit plague has resulted in the most severe impact to any of Australia's World Heritage properties. It has set a new low in Australia's management of its World Heritage estate," said Mr Glanznig, WWF-Australia's Biodiversity Program Leader.

"The photographs and scientific reports simply don't convey the sheer scale of damage to this World Heritage jewel. The luxuriant blanket of vegetation that encouraged expeditioners to call the island the 'green sponge' or the 'green emerald' is no more," said Mr Glanznig.

Most of the island has been trashed by the plague of rabbits devouring the island's vegetation, leading to increased erosion and land slips. Much of this damage has only happened in the last few years.

"The rate at which the rabbit plague front is moving to the few remaining intact areas reinforces my view that strong committed action is needed now - a delay of another year would be disastrous for the Island's nature and wildlife," said Mr Glanznig.

Unless key parts of the eradication plan, such as training the rabbit dogs and obtaining key approvals, are started within one month, the baiting program will be delayed from winter 2009 until winter 2010. This will result in further irreversible impacts and wildlife deaths.

"It is an absolute folly that the Tasmanian Government is holding their own island to ransom, rather than working cooperatively with the Australian Government at high levels to get the rabbit and rodent eradication plan started and maintain the momentum," said Mr Glanznig.

"The Tasmanian Government needs to demonstrate its good will by putting some dollars on the table. Alternatively, if they can't afford to properly manage the island, ownership should be quickly transferred to the Commonwealth," said Mr Glanznig.

Australia's two other sub-Antarctic islands, Heard and McDonald, are already controlled by the Commonwealth. Macquarie Island is a sub-Antarctic island halfway to Antarctica.

The inspection team was made up of officials from the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service, Australian Antarctic Division, the Federal Department of Environment and Water Resources, a WWF observer, and a New Zealand expert involved in a number of successful island pest eradications, including the eradication of rats from 11,000ha Campbell Island. They were part of Voyage 5 to Macquarie Island on board the Aurora Australis.

New images are available on Monday April 23.

Find out more

Andreas Glanznig, Program Leader Biodiversity, WWF-Australia
Phone: 02 8202 1228
Mobile: 0417 020 174

Angela Heck, Communications Manager Partnerships, WWF-Australia
Phone: 02 8202 1268
Mobile: 0421 053 023
Email: aheck@wwf.org.au

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