Offshore islands are too easily accessible, says environmentalists

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Redonda Restoration Programme coordinators, Natalya Lawrence and Shanna Challenger, said in an interview yesterday on OBSERVER AM, that access to the dozens of offshore islands around Antigua is too easy.
“The fact that we still have this free movement of people isn’t good. It is good that they want to visit the islands, but there are no biosecurity protocols that they have to go through, so it is so easy for Cuban tree frogs, giant African snails and things like that to get onto the islands on your shoes for example,” Lawrence explained.
She admitted that the authorities have not gotten the situation under control on the mainland and if proper procedures are adopted and implemented soon, then the same could be said of the inhabitation of offshore islands by invasive species as well.
She said that Redonda has been the focal point of the offshore island conservation programme but the initiative has cleared 16 of the 30 offshore islands and rocks over the last 20 years. She added that because of the lack of biodiversity protocols, some of the islands have been reinvaded with rats because people would have carried rats back to these islands unknowingly and rats tend to repopulate very quickly.
She then went on to highlight that in the neighbouring island of St. Lucia, individuals can venture to offshore islands but can only do so after obtaining approval from the relevant agencies and even then, they are still subjected to checks that ensure that they are not transmitting anything that may be harmful to the island and its inhabitants.
Lawrence and Challenger were on the programme to speak of the work that they have been doing to remove goats and rats from the offshore island of Redonda. The rats had become a serious problem on the small island with over 6000 of them have been removed thus far.
She pointed out that when a new aggressive species is introduced to an environment where prey have never had to deal with them before, the new species usually wreak havoc on the biodiversity of that area and throws off the ecosystem.
She noted that rats were never a part of the initial ecosystem of Antigua and Barbuda but were brought here inadvertently. Since then, they have killed many other species that were indigenous to our islands. According to Lawrence, some of the species that were brought to extinction were parrots, curly-tailed lizards, owls and mountain-chicken.
Challenger added that the mongoose was deliberately brought from India back in the 16th century to curb the growing rat problem. However, there was one flaw with that plan. She said that rats are nocturnal so they only come out during the night and mongoose are diurnal, meaning they only come out during the day and therefore their paths never crossed.
She claims that the unrestricted mongoose population then led to the near extinction of the Antigua Racer snake, a harmless snake which is considered as being one of the rarest in the world. The mongoose totally wiped out the snake from the mainland but they can still be found on Great Bird Island.
Lawrence also brought to light that mongoose were responsible for eating all the eggs of a hawksbill turtle just recently after that turtle came on shore to nest.

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