The State Party provided the requested copy of the Plan for the Eradication of Rabbits and Rodents on Sub Antarctic Macquarie Island to the World Heritage Centre in August 2007. The plan, which is based on New Zealand experience in successfully eradicating rabbits and rodents from similar sub Antarctic islands, recommends a two-phased approach: aerial application of poison baits, now planned for the southern winter 2010, followed by intensive ground hunting with hunting dogs for some years.
The State Party provided updated information on the state of conservation of the property in January 2008 indicating that, following the agreement on 4 June 2007 of the Australian and Tasmanian Governments to jointly fund the eradication of rabbits and rodents from the property, the implementation of the eradication plan has commenced, with governance arrangements established and key staff appointed. The State Party reports that the Steering Committee for the eradication project had met four times and a Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee was being appointed. A project manager and administrative assistant have commenced duty, while an assistant project manager was expected to commence duty in March 2008.
The State Party further reports that the milestones in the planning phase have largely been completed, with the exception of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and a Workplace, Health and Safety Plan, which are part of the ongoing planning work of project staff. A biosecurity committee has also been established to ensure that appropriate biosecurity measures, including quarantine practices and protocols to protect the island from invasion and reinvasion by pest species, are implemented throughout the project and beyond.
Preparatory operations outlined in the eradication plan have commenced. A tender for the provision of trained hunting dogs was advertised, and it was anticipated that a provider would be appointed early in 2008. Field trials, including on the mitigation of impacts on non-target species, have continued to be carried out and work has commenced on the EIS which will fully assess potential impacts of the eradication project on the environment including non-target species as well as measures to avoid those impacts. To protect vulnerable plant species and samples of undisturbed vegetation, 23 enclosures have been constructed on the island, and a further 5 enclosures are to be constructed in 2008. To protect native wildlife during the eradication phase, poison baits will be dropped in winter when most of the native wildlife which might otherwise be at risk from poisoning has left the island. Information included in the State Party report indicates that most of the native wildlife present in winter is unlikely to be adversely affected by the poison baits and/or which measures will be taken to avoid their poisoning. The EIS is expected to be completed in 2008 and mitigation measures will be incorporated into the Operational Plan for the eradication project.
The State Party notes that rabbit numbers have stabilised in recent months; however, it is too early to determine whether this is a plateau in the population growth, or whether a decrease or increase may occur. Impacts due to the rabbits continue to vary in various localities across the island, with vegetation condition improving in some areas and deteriorating in others. As a temporary measure, the North Head locality has been fenced off from the rest of the island to protect vulnerable seabirds and retain vegetation in good condition.
The State Party further notes that there are currently three introduced plant species on the island, and that there is no evidence that any of these are displacing native plant species, nor that they are adversely affecting native species. One of the introduced species is expected to be rapidly displaced by a native species when the rabbit grazing pressure is reduced. To protect the island’s values and prevent further species introductions, access to the island is restricted and authorised visitors must meet quarantine requirements.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that the State Party has made important progress with the planning and preparation of the eradication of invasive rabbits and rodents. However, they note that a detailed Operational Plan was not included in the eradication plan submitted in August 2007, or in the plan published on the internet, contrary to statements in the State Party report. A plan has now been received from the State Party, and it appears from the State Party’s Operational timelines that the aerial application of poison baits is planned for the southern winter 2010, not 2009 as originally hoped for, to allow for adequate planning and preparation including training of hunting dogs. It is now imperative that the State Party makes good progress and avoids further delays, as any further delays are likely to result in a slower recovery rate of the island’s ecosystems.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN commend the Australian and Tasmanian Governments for jointly allocating AUD 24.6 million to the implementation of the eradication plan, and also commends WWF-Australia and Peregrine Adventures, an Australian tourism operator, for providing AUD 100,000 to set up some initial infrastructure that supports the planning and implementation of the eradication project. However, they stress the importance of securing and allocating sufficient financial and technical support for key pre and post eradication monitoring activities, such as vegetation and seabird monitoring on the island, which will help to demonstrate the benefits of the eradication project.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN are concerned about information on a potential new threat to albatrosses and petrels nesting on the island that arises from the State Party’s approval in 2007 of a proposal for long-lining fishing trials in the waters around the property and its marine area. These trials were planned for 2008 and could potentially compromise any positive effects on seabird survival gained from the eradication project.
IUCN considers that Macquarie Island has been listed as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1977, although it is not a functional biosphere reserve as it lacks human residents and does not demonstrate sustainable development. In light of the discussions at the World Congress of Biosphere Reserves held in Madrid in February 2008 and the international efforts to revitalize the biosphere reserve concept and programme, IUCN therefore encourages the State Party to review again the status of the island as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. This is also in line with the 2003 recommendation of the Bureau of the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme that this site was not functional as a biosphere reserve, and that, due to the absence of human residents, there was no possibility of applying the concept. It recommended the Australian authorities to: (a) focus on the World Heritage status of this site, with its marine area; and (b) consider withdrawal of this site from the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.