Although strident efforts to completely eliminate rats from the country’s cherished offshore islands have reaped major dividends for wildlife populations, the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG) is poised to roll out another rat eradication programme on Green Island in August.
Green Island’s last rat eradication programme was in 2017 and was deemed a success as over the years, environmentalists have seen numbers of both native and migrating birds soar, along with endemic lizards and the Antiguan Racer snake.
But maintaining the islands’ rat-free status is a feat all of its own, with a number of offshore islands – including Green Island – once again showing signs of the invasive pests.
Because of this, the EAG is currently conducting a study to count the numbers of lizards and birds on the outer islands, and is recording which species are seen, how many, which are nesting and which are just passing through.
Wildlife Officer Britney Hay explained that doing a survey like this helps their group assess several different environmental factors.
“We have actually covered 23 offshore islands. It’s really important to give us an understanding of how these ecosystems are doing because some of them including Green Island has rats on them. So, going back and monitoring the bird population and the lizard population gives us some insight into how those reinvasions are affecting the wildlife population. It also gives us an idea of what sort of birds visits Antigua and Barbuda throughout the year,” Hay explained.
While numbers of some species appear healthy, according to Hay, one in particular is causing some concern.
“The seabird population is interesting because there is little to none over there. Historically, there is known to be a Red Bill tropical bird but we didn’t see nay signs of it this year and that might be due to the presence of rats on Green Island, so it will be interesting to see once we remove the rats if that colony reestablishes itself on the island,” she revealed.
Environmentalist, Ruleo Camacho – who has been assisting with the latest count – spoke of the work’s significance.
He mentioned that without intervention, the rats mean disaster for many of the country’s indigenous species.
“They can eat the eggs. They can eat the young chicks. They will bite the tails off of the snakes and leave them non-reproductive. They can affect the lizard population and the lizard is a major food source for the snakes, so the rats really cause havoc. Kind of like what Covid has done to our society and we are really trying to ensure that we keep it under control,” he said.