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In 2016, a group of environmentalists joined forces to restore Redonda Island and eliminate invasive species.
In the space of just two years, this small island in the Caribbean has gone from a barren rocky landscape to a haven for wildlife. This recovery is due to the efforts of local environmentalists and the area was granted protected area status this month.
The vegetation on this island, which belongs to Antigua and Barbuda, was devastated both by invasive black rats, which fed on reptiles and ate birds’ eggs, and wild goats, introduced by the first settlers. Without the vegetation, the land mass began to crumble, with the rocks and soil sliding into the sea and suffocating the marine ecosystem.
In 2016, a project was launched to relocate the goats and eradicate the rats, revitalizing the vegetation and increasing the number of native species. The work was carried out by a local non-governmental organization (NGO), the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG), in partnership with the government and foreign partners, including the NGO Fauna & Flora International (FFI).
The island was officially declared rat-free in 2018 and has maintained that status ever since. Today, Redonda is teeming with biodiversity, including dozens of endangered species, colonies of seabirds of global importance (15 species of land birds have returned to the island) and endemic lizards (such as the Redonda ground dragon, a critically endangered species).
“To date, we haven’t planted anything, we haven’t reintroduced any species. We just removed the rats and goats and the island transformed right in front of our eyes,” Johnella Bradshaw, EAG coordinator, tells CNN.
The environmental group is now studying the feasibility of reintroducing species found on Redonda Island many years ago, such as the barn owl and iguanas, and creating a surveillance system to ensure that the island remains free of invasive creatures. This system includes cameras to detect stray rats and monitor local fishing activities, which have to follow strict guidelines.
Although sustainable fishing is authorized in the region, a “replenishment zone” will be established around the island, acting as a buffer, where unauthorized vessels will not be able to enter. Boats and people approaching will be checked to ensure that there are no rats on board and to prevent the accidental transport of invasive seeds in their clothes or bags.
In addition, the Antigua and Barbuda Defense Force will collaborate in monitoring the area. There are also plans to acquire specific boats with a full-time patrol team, as soon as the government receives sufficient funds, explains Nneka Nicholas, legal adviser to the Department of the Environment, to CNN.
Although eradicating invasive species is one of the most effective tools for reversing biodiversity loss, the process of elimination is not always easy. According to Bradshaw, a team worked to gather the goats by hand and then airlifted them to the mainland for relocation. After that, another team camped out on the island for two months, baiting the rats and monitoring their populations as they slowly declined.
“Before the eradication, there was only one tree on Redonda and one resident land bird on the island,” recalls Bradshaw. Although the ecosystem is working, the EAG coordinator points out that the island “is still taking its first steps towards recovery” and “all it takes is one mouse to destroy all that work”.
The Caribbean islands are facing the highest extinction rates in modern history, so the recovery and protection of areas like Redonda are “fundamental”, says Jenny Daltry, from FFI.
In October, the island was officially designated as a protected area by the country’s government, ensuring that its status as a key nesting site for migratory birds and a habitat for unique species is preserved for posterity.
The Redonda Ecosystem Reserve covers 30,000 hectares and includes marine prairies and a coral reef. Its size means that the country has already met the “30×30” target, the global goal of protecting 30% of the planet by 2030.
“This is the largest marine protected area in the Eastern Caribbean and it shows the amazing work that conservationists and environmentalists can do right here,” says EAG executive director Arica Hillà, speaking to the
. “What’s even more significant is that the government has trusted us to manage it legally.”
She could have studied Meteorology and Oceanography but ended up going for Communication. And that's fine because if they don't get their weather predictions right, she wouldn't be the one to change that. She started by looking for sustainable ideas and projects for her university, and since then, she has never stopped (who stops, really?). She loves to watch tv shows, but she watches few because she is demanding. You don't need much to convince her to embrace new, "greener" habits and challenges.
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