Rat Island Now A Thriving Ecosystem After 11 Years

The beautiful spot in Alaska called the Aleutian Islands was once ridden with rats. People would avoid visiting this beautiful spot for fear that they would come across the wretched rodents.

Now, the island paints a beautiful picture. What was once nasty has become beautiful after recovery efforts were made. It took 11 years of perseverance, but it was all worth it.

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The island is found along the western edge of the Alaskan archipelago. The parcel of land was home to thousands of rodents. Thus, its undignified name – Rat Island. These aggressive invaders came to the islands after shipwrecks were washed ashore in 1700s and in the World War II occupation. What was even worse was the fact that these invasive animals damaged the thriving ecosystem that was once found there. And despite the cold climate, the hardy rodents were able to adapt and thrive in their new home. They overtook everything and disrupted the natural ecology that had once been there. They managed to drive out native species and become the sole citizens of the Aleutian Islands.

So, intrepid and hardworking men got together and organized a coordinated conservation effort. They found the means to remove the rats. They then renamed Rat Island to Hawadax Island. The study was led by a University of California San Diego researcher who also documented the changes made the impressive recovery the ecosystem had achieved once efforts were put in place.

Carolyn Kurle, associate professor in the UC San Diego Division of Biological Sciences Section of Ecology, Behavior and Evolution and also lead author of the study in published in Scientific Reports  reported, “We were surprised that the level of recovery unfolded so quickly—we thought it could be longer.”

Kurle and a team of researchers from UC Santa Cruz had conducted surveys on Hawadax in 2008 when the meddlesome rodents dominated the once beautiful ecosystem. They found that the rats living on it had disrupted the natural food chain. These rats preyed on shore bird eggs and chicks. They had managed to almost wipe out the breeding shorebird population there. And without these birds around to consume herbivorous seashore invertebrates such as snails and limpets, the intertidal plant-eaters managed to flourish. As an effect, the bountiful marine kelp dwindled down to dangerous levels.

Island Conservation

The researchers were looking for ways to preserve the island and reverse the effects. They organized conservation plans and methodical strategies to save these native species. They administered rat poison in 2008. This rare case had yet to be observed, and five years later, they found significant changes. Now, 11 years later, they saw that the ecosystem had fully recovered.

Kurle wrote in a report, “Sometimes it’s hard to say that a conservation action had any sort of impact, but in this particular case we took a conservation action that was expensive and difficult, and we actually demonstrated that it worked. But we didn’t expect it to be so fast.”

After the rats had been eradicated, thanks to Island Conservation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and The Nature Conservancy, the seabirds were once again living on its grounds and consuming the seashore invertebrates. Now, the kelp community in the surrounding ocean has rebounded and recovered as hoped for.

Kelp elaborates, “When the birds returned it led to an entirely different structure in the marine community on this island.”


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