Wildlife on the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia evolved in the absence of land mammals. Today, South Georgia is one of the most vital breeding oases for some of the world’s greatest wildlife populations. Beginning in the late 1700s, however, the Norway brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) and other non-native rodents were inadvertently carried to South Georgia by sealing and whaling ships. The introduction of Norway rats had devastating effects on the island’s seabird populations. Though they have long been contained and separated by glacial barriers, the rats are abundant on most of South Georgia where they prey on the eggs and chicks of ground-nesting native species. The main island has been all but abandoned by the storm petrels, prions, diving petrels and blue petrels that once nested there. South Georgia pipets and burrowing petrels are now found only in a few remaining rat-free areas of the main island and on small offshore islands.
Time is of the essence. The island’s sea-level glaciers are retreating rapidly and, with the loss of these barriers, the remaining rodent-free areas are at grave risk of being overrun—and threatening South Georgia’s native bird populations even further.
A bold program to eradicate the island’s rats—on a scale never before attempted—was begun in 2011 by the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT). The trust’s Habitat Restoration Project’s goal is to eradicate all rodents from South Georgia by the year 2015. The first two phases of the project have been completed and have met with success. Using helicopters to spread toxic bait pellets in specifically targeted areas—units created by the natural division of the island by its numerous sea-level glaciers—signs are already good that rats have been eliminated and birds have been returning to the Phase 1 locations.
As with all conservation efforts on this scale, funding is necessary. Many generous donors—including travelers to this extraordinary sub-Antarctic Island with TravelWild’s sister company, Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris—have aided in this effort. For Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the project, funds were raised to clear 65% of South Georgia of invasive rats.
Now, the final year of this monumental project is underway and needs your help! The goal of Phase 3 is the eradication of every rodent from the remainder of South Georgia by 2015. All of the island and small offshore islands must be treated to ensure all of South Georgia is rodent-free and for seabirds to nest safely.
Over the past two decades, TravelWild Expedition’s sister company, Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, has been operating trips that take photographers to the Antarctic region. On its 2013 Ultimate Antarctica photo cruise—which included 6 days photographing on South Georgia—trip participants pitched in to assist with this rat eradication operation, raising a total of $5,500 in donations. In addition to their financial generosity, participants also submitted photos they took while at South Georgia. Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris is compiling these photos to create a free eBook with the aim of further increasing awareness about the Habitat Restoration Project’s rat eradication program on South Georgia. The free eBook will be available in late Spring of 2014. Information for downloading the eBook will be announced via TravelWild’s eNewsletter.
If you would like to support this amazing conservation effort and help South Georgia return to an important breeding ground for seabirds, you can contact the South Georgia Heritage Trust at: