Colleagues from Mexico have just announced the successful eradication of invasive rats from the massive Banco Chinchorro reef complex off the Yucatan peninsula. Although Mexican islands are usually more famous for their marine activities, Mexico has aggressively tackled the problem of invasive species eradication on islands over the past decade, putting many other nations to shame with the rapidity with which they have been clearing islands. The Grupo de Ecología y Conservación de Islas (GECI) has now cleared invasive mammals from over 30 islands and 50,000 hectares, and by working from smaller to larger islands developed capacity to tackle islands such as Banco Chinchorro, and Isla Guadalupe in their future sights. At the same time they have used a strong scientific underpinning to their work, and were the first place in the world to trial a new rapid eradication assessment method to confirm rodent eradication.
I was fortunate enough to visit Banco Chinchorro in 2010 during the early stages of eradication planning. I took the plague of rats very personally when one chewed threw my computer cord, and remember an entire day during a rain storm marking land crabs under the raised research station with marker pens to track their movements over the following weeks. What was particularly daunting about the eradication, and the landmark achievement today, is the treatment of large tracts of mangrove forest which rats resided in, but were tidally flooded, making bait dispensing challenging. The innovative Mexican solution was to simply kayak around all these mangroves and attach bait in to the branches directly! Its really pleasing to see the results of this eradication confirmed following the publication earlier this year of the special issue of the Journal Biological Conservation highlighting just how important such conservation is on tropical islands.Tiny Cayo Lobos, the only island of Banco Chinchorro never to be invaded by rodents (Photo by James Russell)