Jul 7

The Galápagos archipelago is known for its extraordinarily rich abundance and diversity of native plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. However invasive species present on islands are threatening the Galápagos’ rare species, pushing many to the brink of extinction. To date, seven vertebrate species have become extinct, while 40% of the still existing 96 species are endangered – with invasive species as the primary threat.

The world’s only marine lizard, the endemic Galápagos marine iguana, is extremely vulnerable to invasive species which consume the young and even occasionally adults

Island Conservation began working to protect species in the Galápagos Archipelago in 2008. In 2011,  the Galápagos National Park, supported by Island Conservation, Charles Darwin Foundation, The Raptor Center, and Bell Laboratories, removed invasive rats from the islands of Rábida, North Plaza, three Beagle islets, and three of the Bainbridge Rocks to protect 12 unique Galápagos species considered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature to be threatened with extinction.  One success story from this project was the rediscovery of a land snail species on Rábida Island, which was presumed to be extinct as no live specimens had been observed or recorded since 1905-1906.

In 2012, work began to remove invasive species from another island in the Galápagos Archipelago, Pinzón Island. Over 150 years ago, invasive black rats invaded this island and began feeding on the defenceless eggs and hatchlings of the Pinzón giant tortoise. By the turn of the 20th century the island endemic tortoise was unable to establish its next generation of tortoises, resulting in a captive rearing program being set up.

Pinzon giant tortoise 2

Adult Pinzón giant tortoise © Island Conservation

By December 2012, the project to remove the invasive rat species from this island was completed. With the removal of the last remaining invasive vertebrate species threat, tortoise hatchlings are now emerging from native tortoises on the island and the Galápagos National Park have successfully returned 118 hatchlings to their native island home.

The removal of invasive species from these islands is part of a much larger project to restore other key Galápagos Island ecosystems to protect native plants and animals. The next major endeavour is to remove multiple invasive species from Floreana Island. Feral goats have already been removed from the island, but other invasive species remain which are a threat to the island’s rich biodiversity. This rich biodiversity includes the Critically Endangered Floreana mockingbird which has disappeared from the island, mainly as a result of invasive species. Now only surviving on two small neighbouring islets, the removal of invasive rats and cats from Floreana will allow for this bird to comeback from the brink of extinction.

The Critically Endangered Floreana mockingbird

To find out more about the great work that Island Conservation carry out, visit their website or facebook page.

Find out about more South Pacific Islands on Arkive.

Jun 19

Over $1.8 billion has been pledged by various parties at the ‘Our Ocean’ 2014 summit, and proposals have been made to double the amount of protected marine habitats around the world.

‘Our Ocean’ 2014 brought together leaders from business, government and academic institutions, and NGOs from over 80 countries to discuss how economic development and ocean conservation can be reconciled. The oceans are extremely important for humans, generating more than 50 percent of the oxygen we breathe, absorbing excess carbon dioxide, and providing a source of food and income for millions of people worldwide.

Oceans provide invaluable environmental services and supports vast arrays of animal and plant life.

The summit concentrated on several key themes in ocean conservation including sustainable fishing, marine pollution, and ocean acidification. Perhaps one of the most significant announcements at Our Ocean was President Obama’s intention to expand and create new marine reserves in the Pacific Ocean, while Kiribati announced it will expand its already vast Phoenix Islands Protected Area. If implemented, these proposals will more than double the total area of legally protected oceans.

President Obama said in a video to participants at Our Ocean, “I’m going to use my authority to protect some of our nation’s most precious marine landscapes.”

The yellowfin tuna, along with other tuna species, are heavily fished for commercial and recreational purposes.

Many of the world’s fish stocks are being fished at unsustainable levels, and it is thought that around 30 percent of the world’s fisheries are overexploited. The Our Ocean summit aimed to examine the steps fishery management authorities need to take to reduce, and ultimately end, overfishing and to mitigate adverse impacts on the broader marine environment. Initiatives proposed at the summit aim to end all overfishing on marine fish stocks by 2020, through a series of measures including increased transparency in allocating fishing rights, tougher enforcement of legislation and penalties for illegal fisheries, elimination of excess capacity in fishing fleets and minimising bycatch.

To this end, President Obama has announced a comprehensive new national programme on seafood traceability and openness which will allow customers in the United States to ensure that their seafood has been harvested legally and sustainably. Additionally, the United States launched the ‘mFish’ partnership, which will provide mobile devices to small-scale fisheries in developing nations with apps designed to access market and weather information and ensure accurate and easy catch reporting. Norway also pledged more than $150 million to promote fishery management and development abroad, including a new research vessel to train fisheries experts and managers around the world.

Laysan albatross fledging with neck caught in plastic coathanger, an example of the effects of marine pollution.

Significant advances have been made in addressing marine pollution from land- and ocean-based sources, by individuals and local communities at the regional and global scale, although much more needs to be done. Our Ocean 2014 has facilitated the development of initiatives to reduce total nutrient pollution in the ocean by 20 percent and to significantly reduce the input of debris into the marine environment by 2025. To help achieve this, Norway will allocate up to $1 million for a study on measures to combat marine plastic waste and microplastics. Additionally, the United States announced the Trash Free Waters programme, which aims to stop waste and debris from entering the ocean though sustainable product design, increased material recovery and recycling, and a new nationwide waste prevention ethic.

It is thought that coral reefs could be the first victims of ocean acidification, with one reef being destroyed every other day.

Due to ocean acidification, our oceans are approximately 30 percent more acidic than before the industrial revolution, and the ocean’s chemistry is currently changing 10 times faster than at any other time in the past 50 million years. Many organisms will not be able to adapt to the changes within their habitat, which will negatively impact both biodiversity and the crucial services that the oceans provide us. Initiatives to prevent further increases in ocean acidification were developed at the Our Oceans summit, which aim to reduce carbon emissions and monitor ocean acidification on a global scale.

Norway announced that it will allocate over $1 billion to climate change mitigation and adaptation assistance in 2015. The United States presented new projects to meet the challenges of ocean acidification and marine pollution in Africa, Central America, and the Caribbean, as well as contributing $640,000 to support the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Center in Monaco.

Find out more about the Our Oceans summit.

Find out more about coral reef conservation on Arkive.

Read more about ocean acidification on Arkive.

Read our blog on protecting our oceans for the future.

Learn more about the islands of the South Pacific on Arkive.

Ben Hogan, Wildscreen ARKive PIPS Intern

Jun 12

“When I first landed on what was Rat Island in 2007, it was an eerily silent place. A typical Aleutian island is teeming with wildlife, swirling with noisy, pungent birds. Not this place. It was crisscrossed with rat trails, littered with rat scat, scavenged bird bones, it even smelled…wrong,” reports Stacey Buckelew, an Island Conservation biologist. Buckelew first visited the island to help document centuries of damage to native birds and plant species from introduced invasive Norway rats.

Hawadax Island (formerly Rat Island), located in the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska, is a 6,861 acre island uninhabited by humans. This treeless island has steep costal cliffs, a small central mountain range and broad rolling plateaus of maritime tundra. In the early 1780’s a shipwreck left the island with invasive Norway rats. Since their arrival the rats had decimated the islands native bird species by eating eggs, chicks, adult birds and plants.


Hawadax Island (formerly Rat Island), Alaska © Island Conservation

In September 2008, Island Conservation, The US Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy successfully removed invasive rats from Hawadax Island. Following the removal of the rats all direct impacts, such as predation and competition for resources, immediately ceased.

Today the island is thriving. Since the removal of the rats, breeding tufted puffins (Fratercula cirrhata) have been documented on the island for the first time and species thought to have been extirpated due to the rats, such as Leach’s storm-petrels (Oceanodroma leucorhoa) and fork-tailed storm-petrels (Oceanodroma furcate), have been recorded.


Tufted Puffins in waters around Hawadax Island, Alaska © Rory Stansbury / Island Conservation

Ground-nesting and shorebird numbers are increasing as well. A 2008 survey documented nine glaucous-winged gull nests whereas an identical survey carried out in the summer of 2013 discovered twenty eight nests, a three-fold increase. Black oystercatchers (Haematopus bachmani) and rock sandpiper (Calidris ptilocnemis) nests have also increased significantly. Song sparrows (Melospiza melodia), thought to be nearly extirpated by rats, and snow buntings, also decimated by rats, are rebounding as well.

Snow bunting in autumn

In 2012, Rat Island formally had its original Aleut name, Hawadax, restored in acknowledgement of the absence of rats.

To find out more about the great work that Island Conservation carry out, visit their website or facebook page.

Find out about more North Pacific Islands on Arkive.

Jemma Pealing, Arkive Content and Outreach Officer

Jun 10

Located 14 miles off the coast of California, Anacapa Island is the easternmost island in the Channel Islands Archipelago. Comprised of three islands strung closely together (East, Middle and West Anacapa), Anacapa Island is part of the Channel Islands National Park. Native species to the island include the Vulnerable Xantus’s murrelet (now renamed Scripps’s Murrelet), the endemic Anacapa deer mouse and the largest breeding colony of brown pelicans in California.

West and Middle Anacapa Islands, Channel Islands National Park, California, USA

Once an island with no natural predators for nesting birds, invasive non-native black rats were inadvertently introduced to the island from ships visiting the islands in the 1940’s. The invasive rats decimated native seabird populations by eating eggs and chicks. In 2001 and 2002, Island Conservation, the Channel Islands National Park, California Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration removed the invasive rats from Anacapa Island. In the absence of these invasive predators Xantus’s murrelets (now renamed Scripps Murrelet) rebounded almost immediately with nesting success increasing by 91% the year after the rats were removed. The nesting success has remained at around 90%, compared to just 20% when rats were still there.

Xantus’s murrelet on water

This was not the only success story. Since the removal of the rats, ashy storm-petrels have been recorded nesting on the island for the first time ever and the Cassin’s auklet, a small seabird which had been unable to nest on Anacapa Island due to the risk of rat predation, has returned. Populations of the island’s only endemic mammal, the Anacapa deer mouse, are also thriving after the removal of the rats which used to compete with the mice as well as predating on them.

Ancapa deer mouse

Anacapa deer mouse © Jacob Sheppard/ Island Conservation

To find out more about the great work that Island Conservation carry out, visit their website or facebook page.

Find out about more North Pacific Islands on Arkive.

May 27

Everyone remembers their first encounter with a whale shark, just as we all remember that first kiss, but experience has taught me that each encounter is in some manner just as unique as the first time.

When I first began diving the northern islands of Wolf and Darwin in the late 1980´s, we really had no idea of the species that we were going to find. Already Darwin´s Arch had begun to get the reputation as being the best dive site in Galapagos. Within days of my arrival to these distant shores I heard rumours of schooling hammerheads, Galapagos sharks and the strangely named ¨Pez Gato¨ or ¨catfish¨ as the fishermen referred to whale sharks. I later learned that the white spots on a whale shark where likened to those of the jaguar. Perhaps some of the fishermen had spent some of their formative years in the Ecuadorian Amazon jungle!

1 Whale Shark with Creole fish - Jonathan Green

Whale shark with creole fish © Jonathan Green

As time progressed we became aware that the whale sharks were aggregating on a seasonal basis, much more frequent during the cold garua season between June and November. The larger animals were thought to be males, although as with many shark species the female whale sharks are larger on average than males. It was only when we began actively checking for male claspers that it became apparent that most of the sightings were actually of females.

By the beginning of the new millennia I was already convinced that most of those whale sharks that passed by Darwin were not only adult females, but that they were also pregnant! Their distended abdomens appear to confirm this, but how could we get solid scientific evidence? It’s not so easy when they average over 10 m in length and weigh upwards of 20 tons. Researchers working with other large pelagic sharks such as tigers and great whites are able to capture the animal and carry out certain medical procedures in a controlled environment, much as we do with humans. The shark is winched onto the deck and immobilised and although there are strict time limitations, blood samples may be taken and an ultrasound test carried out.

1 Whale Shark - Jonahtan Green

Whale shark © Jonathan Green

This is simply not possible given the size and nature of the whale shark, so how do we propose to do this? Certainly a challenge as this has never been tried before. Blood samples have been taken from captive whale sharks, but never ¨on the fly¨. Picture a diver with no means of propulsion but his fins and leg muscles, chasing down an animal the size of a single decker bus with a 4 knot current in a thousand feet of water! Sound exciting?

Next season we hope to have members from the Georgia Aquarium join us in the field to attempt taking a blood sample from a whale shark in the wild, for the very first time. They already have extensive data of the blood chemistry of captive juvenile female whale sharks that are not pregnant. By comparing the blood chemistry of a female in the wild that we are 90% certain is pregnant, we may be able to determine how close to birthing she is. We also hope to try the worlds first underwater ultrasound using a waterproof prototype unit that is self contained and can record video and still images. Perhaps this will give us an indication of the stage of development of the embryos, as well as numbers of pups. Each encounter with a whale shark provides us with more information.

Alan Purton

Whale shark © Alan Purton

Developing new techniques in order to answer some of the many questions that still remain about their natural history has always held great appeal, for it is that voyage of discovery and the resulting data that may help protect whale sharks in the future, wherever in the world they roam.

If you would like to learn more about the project in Galapagos and how you can get involved, visit whalesharkappeal.co.uk.


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