Two years after a rodent eradication program began on two Galapagos Islands, conservations are excited to finally declare the lands rat-free—and drones, for the first time, contributed to the big success.
The actions carried out over the last two years on Seymour Norte and Mosquera islands will now ensure that native biodiversity on the island ecosystems can return to normal.
Seymour Norte, for instance, hosts one of the largest populations of magnificent frigatebirds (pictured), whose eggs and babies became constant prey to the two rat species that had run amok since arriving with ships in the 1800s and early 1900s.
In January 2019, Galapagos National Park officials together with the nonprofit group Island Conservation worked with drone pilots from Envicto Technologies in a groundbreaking effort to eliminate the black rat and the Norwegian rat from both islands.
How they did it
The drone was equipped with a dispersal bucket and followed GPS-guided transects to distribute a “conservation bait” manufactured by Bell Laboratories all across the island. Following initial implementation, bait was placed in stations along the coastline, ensuring no rodents re-invaded the island.
“After two years of waiting, this project has given the expected results, according to the planning and according to the highest protocols for these cases,” said Danny Rueda, director of the Galapagos National Park this week. “Galapagos, once again, is a benchmark in terms of the protection of this globally important ecosystem.”
As a long-term preventive measure, a biosecurity barrier consisting of 289 bait stations will remain installed to prevent a re-invasion of rodents from Santa Cruz or Baltra, but still keep it safe for tourists to walk the trails.
Seymour Norte and Mosquera Islands were the first instances of a drone being used to eradicate invasive vertebrates from an island, serving as a proof-of-concept, according to a Island Conservation.
In 2021, similar projects on three island groups across the Pacific will be implemented using drones—particularly on small islets, where it is not feasible to conduct a hand-based project, as was done on three islets in the Tetiaroa Atoll where bait was dispersed by humans.
Drones will be used on Kamaka Island in the Southeast region of French Polynesia soon, benefitting at-risk seabirds like the endangered Polynesian Storm-petrel.
Invasive vertebrate species are a leading cause of extinction on islands, contributing to 86% of recorded extinctions, but efforts to combat them—with over 1,200 invasive mammal eradications attempted on islands worldwide—have shown an 85% success rate.