Caribbean island transforms into an eco-paradise

Masked booby peeking out of vegetation

Redonda is the lesser-known third island of Antigua and Barbuda

There are no resorts, beaches or amenities, and the contribution to gross domestic product is virtually zero. Still, the one-mile-long rocky island of Redonda in the Caribbean is considered one of the region’s most valuable places.

The lesser-known third island of Antigua and Barbuda, which has been barely touched by humans for centuries, has long been a habitat for wildlife found nowhere else on earth, crossing birds from all over the world. It was an important nesting site for a while.

It seemed at best ambitious when environmentalists first advertised the idea of ​​completely eliminating the wildlife-threatening herds of invasive black rats and wild goats.

Fast-forwarding for five years, the former barren terrain of uninhabited Redonda is now a fertile eco-paradise, flooded with fresh new vegetation while bird and endemic lizard populations are skyrocketing.

“Stark Contrast”

Work began in 2016, but the true success of the project was only revealed when conservationists returned for the first time in 18 months.

Shana Challenger of the National Environmental Awareness Group (EAG), who worked with governments and international organizations, says it was a “moving moment.”

“When I first saw Redonda in 2016, it was in stark contrast to the fact that it literally collapsed into the ocean,” she recalls.

Aerial view of Redonda

Aerial view of Redonda in 2017

“As the helicopter approached, I saw all these little green rings and noticed that they were brand new trees and shrubs. Not only did the vegetation recover, but it was prosperous.”

Prior to migration, long-horned goats, introduced by early settlers 300 years ago, steadily ate almost every plant in Redonda until starvation.

Arriving with the 19th-century guano mining community, rodents preyed on reptiles and ate rare bird eggs.

Unusual air transportation

Getting rid of both seeds wasn’t without that challenge. A timid goat, unfamiliar with human contact, was helicoptered and blown away by mainland farmers who were eager to breed because of their drought-resistant genes.

Eradication of mice included carefully feeding every corner of the landscape, “to make sure you get the noisy,” seasoned with everything from peanut butter to chocolate, Challenger said. Explains.

The food contained pesticides that were irresistible to mice but unpalatable to birds and reptiles.

Composite photos before and after in Redonda and 2012 and 2020 photos

Photos in 2012 (top) and 2020 (bottom) show the transformation of the island

Fauna & Flora International (FFI), who also participated in this project, has succeeded in eliminating exotic mammals from about 25 islands since 1995, but Redonda’s relentless volcanic terrain has created special obstacles.

The severe erosion caused by logging has caused cliffs to collapse, frequent rockfalls and dangerously unstable conditions.

“We also rappelled the cliffs to the climbers so they wouldn’t miss a part of the island by dropping food with a helicopter,” says Challenger.

Redonda was officially declared free of mice and goats in July 2018. The team returned regularly to monitor progress, after which a coronavirus pandemic exacerbated transport problems.

The chicks, red-billed tropics, frigate, and peregrine falcons were one of the sights to meet them when they returned home.

Masked booby

The masked booby was among the birds found on the island

Red-footed booby

The team also discovered this red-footed booby

“And don’t even try to start the lizard,” Challenger smiles. “Vegetation means that we have more insects to eat and the numbers have increased significantly, literally crawling over you.

“It was a humble moment to see these endangered species breed in the right habitats, and the impact of our work was very clearly and visually visible.”

No mice, plenty of lizards

According to FFI, the number of unique Redonda lizards has increased eightfold.

Rich in endangered Redonda tree lizards

There are abundant lizards on the endangered Redonda tree after the mice have been eradicated

Ground lizard

The number of lizards on the ground is also increasing rapidly

The island’s former 17 species of plants have surged to 88 species, including new fig trees, cacti and ferns, and more than 12 species of land birds have reappeared.

And the team was pleased that no signs of a mouse were found.

One percent of the world’s gannets breed in Redonda, Helena Jeffrey Brown, the government’s Ministry of the Environment, told the BBC.

“It’s amazing to restore a home of a globally important species,” she says. “Historically, you couldn’t walk Redonda without standing on a bird’s egg, and we’re slowly putting it back in place. I’m the moon with what we’ve achieved. Is over. “

Red-footed booby

Red-footed booby found on the island

Dr. Jenny Dartley of FFI says Redonda is a “model” of how invasive species can revive other Caribbean islands that have devastated native wildlife.

“Redonda turned from a bare rock to an island green gem in front of us, incredibly fast,” she explains.

“At a time when much of the news about the state of our planet is, of course, modest, the rebirth of this island shows that if we naturally give it a chance, it can and will bounce. . “

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