The coastal slopes of Macquarie Island, a sub-Antarctic island approximately half way between Australia and Antarctica, are home to seven species of ACAP listed albatrosses and petrels. Macquarie Island is a State Nature Reserve managed by the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service and has been a World Heritage Site since 1997. The island is surrounded by an Australian Commonwealth Marine Reserve in the Exclusive Economic Zone declared in 1999.
Over the last two decades, grazing by introduced European Rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus has had a substantial impact on many of these coastal slopes, in many cases reducing them to bare ground. Such heavily grazed areas are much more susceptible to erosion and the establishment of non-native plant species.
Heavy grazing and the associated effects have impacted on the breeding habitat of several seabird species, including of the Grey-headed Thalassarche chrysostoma (shown here) and Black-browed T. melanophris Albatrosses. In addition to these two mollymawks there is a small population (<20 pairs) of Wandering Albatrosses Diomedea exulans in the south of the island.
Other species whose breeding habitat has been impacted include the Light-mantled Sooty Albatross Phoebetria palpebrata (shown above) and several species of burrowing petrels, including the ACAP-listed Grey Petrel Procellaria cinerea. An eradication operation (the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project - MIPEP) was initiated in 2010 and completed in 2011. No rabbits, rats or mice have been sighted on the island for over 12 months; however, intensive searching with the help of specially trained dogs still continues. Many of the coastal slopes are already showing promising signs of vegetation recovery.
Although there was some non-target mortality, including of the ACAP-listed Southern Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus (shown above) and particularly of the Northern Giant Petrel M. halli, the long-term benefits of the eradication exercise are thought to far outweigh short-term impacts such as these.
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Aleks Terauds, Australian Antarctic Division, Kingston, Tasmania & John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 31 March 2013