Today Tides Canada celebrates the International Day for Biological Diversity, whose theme this year is alien invasive species — one of the greatest threats to biodiversity, and to the ecological and economic well-being of the planet.
We asked Gregg Howald, one of the world’s foremost experts on island restoration and Project Director of Island Conservation Canada, a Tides Canada project, to write about their work to prevent extinctions by removing rats and other invasive species from islands in the North Pacific, including Rat Island itself.
“We are losing the earth’s biodiversity at an alarming rate. Data from birds, our best studied group, show that ancient extinction rates were about 1 species in every 100 years. This is just about the rate at which new species evolve. However, recent extinction rates are about 1 species every year. Data on endangered birds predict that future rates will be about 10 species per year if we don’t act now to protect them.
Much of that biodiversity is found on islands which are hotspots for endemic species and critical habitat for marine vertebrates.
Though islands make up only about 3% of the earth’s land area, they host about 20% of all species and 50% of endangered species. Sadly, extinction rates are also exponentially greater on islands: globally, 50-90% of recorded animal extinctions have occurred on islands, with most of these extinctions caused by invasive species.
Island Conservation Canada’s mission is to prevent extinctions by removing alien invasive species from islands. We prevent extinctions by working where the concentration of both biodiversity and species extinction is greatest – islands – and by removing one of the greatest threats to the continued existence of plant and animal species there – introduced invasive vertebrates.
Once damaging invasive species are removed from islands, native species and island ecosystems can recover with little or no additional intervention, making islands an exceptional conservation opportunity.
To date, Island Conservation has restored 32 islands, protecting 125 species and subspecies from the threat of extinction.”
Island Conservation is currently working with Tides Canada to restore islands in the Scott Islands (Northern Vancouver Island) with Parks Canada, and in Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlottle Islands. The objective of these projects is to remove the threats of introduced predators to seabird breeding, and restore habitat for recolonization, or enhance the breeding of seabirds.
Learn more about the work of Island Conservation on Rat Island in this National Geographic article.