Biosecurity: protecting South Georgia’s wildlife forever

The island of South Georgia is located in the Southern Ocean. Due to its proximity to major oceanic currents, South Georgia is a wildlife haven and the site of globally significant environmental and conservation research. For centuries, this rich and remote ecosystem has drawn entrepreneurs and intrepid explorers from around the world.

Unfortunately, soon after the island was discovered in 1775, it became overrun by rats and mice which arrived on the ships of sealers and whalers.  Accomplished predators, the rats consumed the eggs and young of millions of ground nesting birds for nearly 200 years.

The Habitat Restoration Project

The Habitat Restoration project, led by the South Georgia Heritage Trust and Friends of South Georgia Island, sought to free the island’s wildlife from the grip of these invasive rodents, saving endemic species from the brink of extinction and increasing the numbers of native by millions. Three phases of aerial baiting in 2011, 2013 and 2015 treated all areas of the island that were known to be infested with rodents. This was followed by a comprehensive monitoring survey in the 2017/18 season. Everywhere on the island that the survey team went, they saw evidence of the recovery of bird populations in the absence of rats and mice!

Success!

In May 2018, following this concerted decade-long effort, the South Georgia Heritage Trust, Friends of South Georgia Island and the Government of South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands declared South Georgia rodent-free. This Herculean effort engaged partners and supporters from around the globe and remains the largest programme of its kind ever attempted.       As time passes it is increasingly clear that the Habitat Restoration Project has instigated a biological renaissance on South Georgia.

A Rodent Detection Program for South Georgia

While the Habitat Restoration project was an inspirational feat, the possibility of rodents returning to South Georgia is an ever-present threat.

For this reason, we are supporting the South Georgia Government in its aim to put in place robust and well-integrated biosecurity measures. Most vessels arriving in South Georgia come via the Falkland Islands. This allows a skilled dog team to check vessels are rodent free before departing for South Georgia.

There have been two successful pilots of the rodent detection programme, operating from Stanley. From October 2019 there will be a permanent rodent detection dog programme in place in the Falkland Islands. Samurai (left) and his new handler Naomi (a Falkland Islands local who is receiving training from organisation Working Dogs for Conservation WD4C) will perform inspections to check for the presence of rodents on vessels bound for South Georgia.

Given the importance of implementing rigorous biosecurity for South Georgia, SGHT and FOSGI have given their support to this vital program.

Please help us to secure a future for South Georgia’s remarkable wildlife by making a donation.