Not too long ago, Redonda’s landscape could be described as being closer in appearance to the lunar surface than earth’s. The once heavily-forested rock, was being decimated by invasive species in the form of black rats and non-native goats. Then came the Redonda Restoration Program, which was formed by the Antigua and Barbuda government and the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG), in collaboration with other earth-friendly organisations like Fauna & Flora International, British Mountaineering Council, Island Conservation and Wildlife Management International Ltd.
The mission was simple. Rid the island of the rats and the goats and allow Mother Nature to heal the flora and fauna that are native to the island. For those who do not know, the rock called Redonda is legally part of our bit of paradise. It is said that Columbus gave the island its name because of its shape. In Latin languages such as Spanish and Portuguese, “redonda” is the female form of the adjective meaning “round.” While the island belongs to us, it is actually closer to Montserrat.
Redonda was a guano mine and operated as one from about the 1860’s up until just after the start of World War I – before the age of artificial fertilisers. There are still the remnants of a few buildings from that era on the rock. If you have visited Redonda, it is hard to believe that anyone could live there, but it is reported that the population was 120 in 1901 and the workers produced up to 7,000 tons of guano annually.
This is not intended to be a history lesson on Redonda, but it is nice to know something about this magnificent rock as we celebrate what has been described as a “magical transformation” by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) in just over one short year. Just reading of the successes made possible by the restoration programme is heartwarming and it is something of which the sponsors and the project and the participants should be quite proud. It is a clear demonstration that when we work together towards as common goal, we can achieve great things.
For example, it has been reported that Redonda’s ground dragon, which is a rare black lizard found nowhere else on the planet, has doubled its population. Not only that, the rare Redonda tree lizards have multiplied in the absence of the alien predators, and hundreds of new trees have sprung up. FFI reports that “land birds have increased tenfold, and the island’s globally important seabird colonies – including magnificent frigate birds and several booby species – are having their best breeding year on record.” How a tree lizard ever survived on an island that was near devoid of trees is amazing in its own right.
Interestingly, one of the invasive species, the goats, have been captured, and studies and tests are underway to see if a breeding program can be established to take advantage of their drought-resistant genes. So, aside from restoring Redonda to an environmental paradise, we may be able to
make our local goats more resistant to droughts, and we all know, with the kind of weather that we are experiencing, that would be a good thing.
All of these spectacular results seem like an “overnight” success, considering all that has been achieved in such a short period of time, but it has been a chore for the team that was on the rock. From the capture of dozens of fleet-footed goats to the removal of 6,000 rats from the rugged terrain of Redonda – which included rappelling down cliff faces to set bait – the entire team deserves our praise.
Redonda may be far away and out of our minds but this restoration project should not be. It demonstrates that with proper planning, support and execution, great things can be achieved for our environment. So, please join us in complimenting the government, the EAG and all the other contributing agencies, along with all the individuals who participated in the programme. Their work is invisible to most but they have produced a “magical transformation” that can be used as a framework for future conservation projects. Well done!