Oh Lord How[e] did it get to this?

Lord Howe Island is rated as one of the top 10 island destinations in Australia, and with a World Heritage Listing, this island is just paradise. But some of their furry, feathered and spineless residents think otherwise. 

Lord Howe Island (LHI) is located 780 km northeast of Sydney and is roughly a 2 hr flight from Sydney. It is a small island measuring 11 km long and 2.8 km wide, and it is part of New South Wales. Bikes are the main mode of transport and shoes are optional. The island has 300 permanent residents and has a limit of 400 visitors on the island at any one time. With a quintessential island lifestyle, LHI has a relaxed atmosphere, and no one is in a rush to get from point A to point B.

My hired bike the main mode of transport around the island (Image: Naomi Huynh)

My hired bike the main mode of transport around the island (Image: Naomi Huynh)

The island boasts a variety of plants and animals that can’t be found anywhere else (endemic). The island is home to 35 species of vertebrates, 530+ beetle species and 130 species of snails. It also has the southernmost barrier coral reef and is home to nesting migratory seabirds. But this World Heritage Listed island getaway has a pest problem.

Unfortunately, there is a long list of introduced pests that have contributed to the extinction of native plants and animals on Lord Howe Island. These include:

  • Black rats, Rattus rattus
  • Brown rats, Rattus norwegicus
  • House mice, Mus musculus
  • Feral goats, Capra hircus
  • Indian mynas, Acridotheres tristis
  • Brown tree snakes, Boiga irregularis
  • Asian house geckos, Hemidactylus frenatus
  • Crazy yellow ants, Anoplolepis gracillpes
  • Giant African snails, Achatina fulica
  • Weeds (often from garden escapes)

Despite the daunting list, LHI has had some pest eradication success stories. Barn owls, Tyto alba, and feral rabbits, Oryctolagus cuniculus, have died out naturally on the island, and with human intervention feral pigs, Sus scrofa, and feral cats, Felis catus, have been completely eradicated. A small number of feral goats remain after a failed attempt at eradication. The island is halfway through a 30-year weed eradication project (targeting over 60 kinds of invasive weeds) and is close to declaring a successful removal of African Big-headed Ants, Pheidole megacephala.

I decided to take a trip to LHI, as there was an exciting package deal advertised called “Protecting Paradise Travel Package 2018.” This package ran from May to September. Its purpose was to encourage citizens to join experts from around the world and participate in a massive conservation effort on the World Heritage Island, particularly on their latest project the Rat Eradication Project.

Lord Howe Island Protecting Paradise Travel Package 2018 flyer (Image: LHI Rodent Eradication Project)

Lord Howe Island Protecting Paradise Travel Package 2018 flyer (Image: LHI Rodent Eradication Project)

 The Rat Eradication Project has been ten years in the making and is the largest conservation project ever undertaken on LHI. Why did the planning take so long? It was important to protect the environment and human health, so extensive research went into the project. Based on over 300 successful eradication programmes from islands around the world, it was decided that baiting by three methods would be most effective: aerial distribution on uninhabited mountains; hand broadcasting; and bait stations in settlement areas. The Rat Eradication Project is a massive deal. Rodents on LHI have already caused the extinction of five bird and 13 invertebrate species and threaten another 70 species. It was time to take action.

With the temptation to not only contribute to a massive conservation project and at a sweet sale price, I found four other interested friends and bought our tickets to LHI for our trip in September. Everyone was keen for the trip, we were looking up activities to do on the island, making lists of things to see (including plants and animals of course) and figuring out where Geocaches were (there was no reception on the island, and it is not worth paying for wifi). My friends and I were hyped. In late March, it was announced that the rat eradication program was to be postponed until 2019 due to a permit delay.

The original permit authorised by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority allowed the program to start in 2018. However, there was a delay that led to the island’s governing board resubmitting the application for the program to begin in 2019. Why the change of heart? The flip in the vote was due to the board’s three-year term cycle. The board is made up of three people appointed by the NSW Government and four elected members. The four newly elected members were split over the proposal. A large number of people on the island opposed the distribution of rat baiting because of concerns around safety and questioned whether the rat problem is being overstated with islanders having never seen a rodent on any walking track, day or night. The debate has raged for 17 years. Despite the controversial decision, our trip still had the go ahead. The only changes were that all the walking tracks would be open (whereas certain walks would have been closed if they were baited).

September rolls around and off we go to LHI! For more about the awesomeness of Lord Howe Island and our trip read this post.

If you want to follow my travels or enjoy animal/plant photographs you can find me on instagram: smilelynaomi


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