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Government of Western Australia - Department of Fisheries
Wednesday 13 June 2012

Abrolhos conservation project restoring nature’s balance

 Rat Island in the Houtman Abrolhos

Rat Island - Photo: Jenita Enevoldsen

WA Conservation Council members have been working with the Department of Fisheries on plans for an August field trip to the Abrolhos, to continue the Rat Island Recovery Project.

The project, which has already achieved some successful outcomes, involves monitoring the recovery of seabird colonies and assisting with the recovery of Rat Island’s terrestrial ecosystem.

Department of Fisheries’ Senior Abrolhos Islands Operations Manager Greg Finlay said that, under its Citizen Science Program, the council had enlisted the support of Durack TAFE students and SeaNet team members, to plan and carry out work to eradicate non-native species.

“The Houtman Abrolhos is an A-class Reserve, managed by the department to protect the important habitat and historical value of the area and oversee activities associated with commercial and recreational fishing, aquaculture industries and tourism,” Mr Finlay said.

“Rat Island is in the Easter Group of the Abrolhos and the human impacts on it go back more than a century. There has already been significant work over the years to eradicate cats, rats and rabbits, so the mobile native fauna can re-populate the island.

“After work to track the re-establishment of seabird colonies, the Recovery Project’s next goal is to remove the introduced weeds and plants, to prevent them inhibiting the natural regeneration processes. The August field trip will help map the extent of the non-endemic flora and identify the best way to carry out eradication.

Dr Nick Dunlop from the Conservation Council of WA said several tern species, including more than 5000 pairs of Sooty Terns, had recolonised Rat Island after an absence of 70 years caused by the depredations of rats and cats.

Sooty Terns at Sunset

Sooty Terns at Sunset - Photo: Jenita Enevoldsen

“The Abrolhos Islands group is one of the most significant sea bird breeding sites in in the Indian Ocean and it is pleasing that we are resetting the clock at Rat Island to restore the terrestrial environment and nature’s balance,” Dr Dunlop said.

“We began work on introduced plants and weeds in February this year, examining the threat they pose to the redeveloping natural ecosystem on Rat Island. There is much more to be done, but the return of the birds has proved the real benefits of the recovery and the island’s potential value as a breeding site and research location.”

Mr Finlay said the Rat Island Recovery Project provided opportunities in research, monitoring and invaluable knowledge about the natural ecosystem that could be applied across the Abrolhos.

The Abrolhos Islands - Information Guide is available online at


Last modified: 31/07/2013 10:52 AM

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