Azara Blog: An ecological disaster on Macquarie Island thanks to people playing god

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Date published: 2009/01/12

The BBC says:

The removal of cats in 2000 caused "catastrophic" damage to the ecology of a sub-Antarctic island, a study says.

Since cats were removed from Macquarie Island, rabbit numbers have soared, and the animals are now devastating plants.

Cats previously kept a check on rabbits but were eradicated because they were also eating seabirds, scientists relate in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

The Australian government plans to eradicate rabbits, rats and mice from the island, a World Heritage Site.

The rabbits have now caused so much damage to the island's flora that the changes can be seen from space.

The scientists behind the research say conservation agencies must "learn lessons" from the episode.

"Our study shows that between 2000 and 2007 there has been widespread ecosystem devastation and decades of conservation effort compromised," said Dana Bergstrom from the Australian Antarctic Division.

"The lessons for conservation agencies globally is that interventions should be comprehensive and include risk assessments to explicitly consider and plan for indirect effects, or face substantial subsequent costs."

In this case, one element of the cost is the 24m Australian dollars ($17m, £11m) that authorities will spend eradicating rabbits and the rats and mice that eat seabird chicks.

Unbelievable this. Is anyone going to be held responsible for this complete and utter disaster? It's a classic case where a whole system outlook is needed, but even an ounce of common sense should have told someone that just eliminating cats was not a bright idea. Of course there is the separate question of whether man should be inflicting total death and destruction on these kinds of islands on species the conservation scientists happen not to like (so any species associated with man) all for the sake of allegedly helping the species they happen to like (so any species not associated with man). Unfortunately these people feel a compulsion to play god.

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