Conservation Society calls for invasive species alert

By Marc Membrere 09 July 2020, 4:00PM

The Samoa Conservation Society (S.C.S.) has called for more awareness on invasive species which could threaten the country’s endemic flora and fauna.

S.C.S. Vice-President, James Atherton, told the Samoa Observer in a phone interview that there should be more awareness on these invasive species as they could pose a threat to the local ecosystem as well as marine environment. 

“These are species that are not from here that tend to be quite aggressive," he said.

"They are adapted to breed fast and spread and so when they come in they get into the native forests they compete with the native species and sometimes they eat the native species as well.

"That is the problem with these introduced species, they are not from here, they are not adapted to our environment and they tend to be more aggressive if they’re animals or in terms of plants they spread faster.”

Mr. Atherton emphasised that it is a problem around the world, but are particularly serious on islands because islands have species that are not adapted to the competitors

“Around the world, islands are most impacted by invasive species. For birds, the biggest problem is the rats,” he said. “So managing rats is one of the main ways you can save your native birds and over the years we have had a few projects where we looked at this issue.”

One of their projects was located at Nu’utele and Nu’ulua around 2009 where those islands were eradicated of rats in an operation using a helicopter.

“A helicopter went in and dropped rat bait on both Nu’utele and Nu’ulua and that was to manage the rats to save the native birds," he said. 

Mr. Atherton said the recent rat management project, in which they collaborated with Auckland Zoo is at Maloloelelei and Faleaseela, which uses a similar concept of managing the rats with rat bait.

The rat bait is placed in tiny boxes in what they call "special stations" so that other animals would not get to it and are highly controlled and managed carefully.

“We hope to do more in the future because rats are probably one of the biggest threats for our native birds,” he added. 

The rat management project at Maloloelelei was a pilot programme to find out how they could manage rats in a small area on the "mainland.”

Mr. Atherton emphasised that off-shore islands are the ideal places to manage rats as you can eradicate them and they would not return “unless you allow them back.”

Out of the two islands that were part of the first rat management project, Nu'ulua is the only one that remains rat-free but the rodents have returned to the island of Nu’utele.

When the rat population decreased on the island, Mr Atherton said there was a large increase in the bird population as numerous ground doves were visible, which was not a normal sight prior to the start of the rat management project.

“They were all visible and previously they were all hiding from the rats, so it did have a positive impact but unfortunately it wasn’t sustained because the rats somehow, either came back in on rafts or fishermen brought them in or they were survivors from the original project,” he added.

According to Mr. Atherton, they are keeping an eye out for other invasive species and have urged the public to report any sightings to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the S.C.S.

By Marc Membrere 09 July 2020, 4:00PM

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