Conservation powerhouse BirdLife South Africa has joined the Island-Ocean Connection Challenge (IOCC) – a global initiative aiming to restore, rewild and protect islands, oceans and communities – to support its work to save internationally significant albatross populations at risk from invasive house mice.
Through BirdLife South Africa, Marion Island – a remote and windswept refuge halfway between Cape Town and Antarctica, and the largest of the two Prince Edward Islands – now joins this important conservation movement. The Mouse-Free Marion Project was established by BirdLife South Africa and the South African Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment to restore Marion Island’s natural ecosystem and biodiversity, and reclaim this globally significant island as a sanctuary for seabirds.
Marion Island is home to a quarter of the world’s Wandering Albatrosses which are currently threatened, along with 27 other seabird species. Marion Island was, and should be, a haven for wildlife, but invasive house mice accidentally introduced by sealers in the early-1800s have devastated the island’s invertebrates and plants, and the resultant food shortage has driven the mice to now prey on seabirds.
The IOCC aims to restore and rewild 40 globally significant islands worldwide by 2030, from sub-Antarctic islands like Marion Island to tropical islands bursting with colourful marine life and coral. Restoring islands by removing invasive species is repeatedly proven to be one of the most impactful ways to restore biodiversity and island ecosystems. There have been more than 1,000 successful island invasive species eradications worldwide resulting in long-term benefits, including increased seabirds, landbirds and native plants, recovery of natural ecosystem functions, protected and thriving reefs, and a more climate-resilient island.
Mark D. Anderson, Chief Executive Officer, BirdLife South Africa explains: “Islands are biodiversity hotspots and therefore provide a crucial focus of global conservation efforts. We have joined the IOCC to add impetus to international action restoring islands by tackling the important environmental issue of invasive alien species. Marion Island is home to two million seabirds, including four species of albatrosses and a range of other species including petrels, prions and penguins, several of which are threatened with extinction. It is vital that we remove the invasive mice, as otherwise Wandering Albatrosses – arguably the most iconic of the ocean-wandering seabirds – and the majority of Marion Island’s globally important seabirds, could become locally extinct.”
“Rodent-free islands offer a glimmer of hope in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss. Successful eradications have shown that islands can recover to their former ecological condition in a relatively short time. Joining the IOCC will raise awareness of the current risk posed to Marion Island, and the urgency needed to prevent the worst-case scenario from happening. We are delighted to have joined this important worldwide initiative and, by being part of it, look to make a step-change in protecting Marion Island’s biodiversity forever.”
Dr Anton Wolfaardt, Mouse-Free Marion Project Manager, adds: “Put simply, if we can remove invasive mice from Marion Island we can address once and for all one of the significant threats that the island’s seabirds face, and thus facilitate a favourable conservation future for this globally important island and its magnificent seabirds. Rather than containing or mitigating the threat, we solve it. Although the seabird populations on Marion Island are being increasingly impacted by mice, we have an opportunity to intervene to remove that threat, and allow the seabird populations to recover naturally without the need for species reintroduction programmes.”
“The global importance of the seabird populations on Marion Island cannot be overstated, so we must do everything in our power to protect them. Becoming part of the IOCC will help us achieve this goal and contribute to global biodiversity objectives.”
Dr Penny Becker, Vice President Conservation at Island Conservation, a co-founder of the Island-Ocean Connection Challenge (IOCC) says: “Indigenous knowledge, combined with emerging science, shows us that everything is connected. Restoring and rewilding islands is not just an act of conservation; it is one of our most powerful defences building resiliency against climate change. By nurturing these ecosystems, we build stronger environments and help biodiversity hotspots like Marion Island to recover.”
Ben Goldsmith, Chair – Conservation Collective, “Eradicating invasive species from islands offers perhaps the greatest bang for your buck in nature restoration. Once freed of invasive rats, goats, or – in this case – invasive mice, the recovery of nature on these islands is just extraordinary to see. Moreover, restoring island ecosystems has a huge healing effect on the surrounding ocean too.”
The Mouse-Free Marion Project enjoys global support from five Patrons committing to save seabird populations on Marion Island: His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, renowned conservationist and ornithologist Peter Harrison MBE, Japanese broadcaster Christel Takigawa, South African businesswoman and entrepreneur Gloria Serobe, and Antarctic scientist and conservationist Professor Steven Chown. Each will be working to highlight the urgent need to protect Marion Island and its seabirds in their respective countries and sectors, helping the Mouse-Free Marion Project go from strength to strength.
At 30,000 hectares, the removal of invasive house mice from Marion Island will be the largest rodent eradication project in the world to be undertaken in a single operation. The Mouse-Free Marion Project is also supported by BirdLife International, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and other conservation organisations.
To watch a short film about this globally important initiative, and to find out more about the Mouse-Free Marion Project, visit https://mousefreemarion.org/about-the-project/