All Projects | Save Our Seabirds: George Rocks

Save Our Seabirds: George Rocks

The impact of introduced pests on our island wildlife can be devastating.  Introduced rodents, particularly black rats, are known to decimate island wildlife populations, especially seabirds.  At George Rocks, black rats have wiped out the island’s population of white-faced storm-petrels and common diving-petrels.  These are Tasmania’s smallest seabirds and they rely on predator-free islands to lay eggs and raise their chicks.  These seabirds have no defences against rats and they urgently need assistance to re-claim their precious land.

The Pennicott Foundation and Friends of Fisher Island (Wildcare Inc) are undertaking a project to eradicate black rats from George Rocks and upgrade the 70 year old Fisher Island research station, established to study and protect seabirds.

George Rocks – Rat Eradication: The George Rocks cluster of rocks and islets is a Nature Reserve for seabird diversity and part of Mt William National Park in NE Tasmania. There are three islets with vegetation that support burrowing seabirds, and the largest, George Island (4 ha) has black rats present. Black rats will eat almost anything up to their own body size and are one of the most damaging pests for seabirds on islands. Black rats will eat seabird eggs and chicks, reptiles (including their eggs and young), tree nesting birds, small mammals, invertebrates, seeds and vegetation.

Two small burrowing petrel species, the white faced storm petrel and diving petrel are present on the two nearby islets but cannot breed on George Island because of the rats. George Rocks is a significant breeding site for the black faced cormorant and is home to short tailed shearwaters, little penguins, crested terns, sooty oyster catchers, Pacific and silver gulls. The two small petrel species are expected to return to George Island once rats are removed.

Rat eradication on George Rocks will use trap stations, regularly monitored until the reserve is able to be declared rat free.

The program includes weed removal which will promote the restoration of native vegetation and burrowing seabird habitat.

Fisher Island – Research Base: A a small granite island, lying in eastern Bass Strait between Flinders and Cape Barren Islands, Fisher Island is home to the longest running continuous bird banding study in the world with its focus on the short-tailed shearwater. Fisher Hut provides a research base for this multi generational study of seabirds. The Hut is now in a dilapidated state due to strong winds and weather on the Island, it is also full of asbestos. Without an update the Hut will not be viable as a base for this important research, which will threaten the capacity for the bird banding study to continue.

Funds for this project will cover all materials and labour to rebuild the hut including removal of asbestos.

In 1947, Dominic Serventy, one of Australia’s leaders in ornithology began a 30 year study of the short-tailed shearwater on Fisher Island in Franklin Sound, just off the south of Flinders Island, Bass Strait. To support an extended study into the population dynamics and breeding of this long-lived seabird, a hut was built in 1948. Responsibility for the project changed hands in 1978, with Dr. Irenej Skira continuing to follow the lives of each one of the island’s shearwaters, through banding every chick before it fledged. The Fisher Island short tailed shearwater project is now the longest-running continuous bird banding study in the world, and continues today under the charge of the Tasmanian government with help from the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania.

Every past and present short-tailed shearwater on Fisher Island from 1947, has a record updated annually, including information on their hatching date and age, when they first return to breed, egg laying dates, the identity of their partner/s, how many chicks they produce over their life time and in which years, and then which of their chicks eventually return to breed. The oldest bird recorded is 36 years of age. The Fisher Island shearwater study is a truly amazing multi-generational study of a seabird population.

More About This Project

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It can be difficult to protect seabirds from threats like over-fishing, climate change and plastic pollution. One option we do have to help, is to protect their island homes from pests. Removing introduced predators and weeds from islands is an effective and economical way to help protect seabird populations.

Having seen first-hand the rapid response of seabirds after removal of pests like cats and rats, eradication expert and biologist Dr. Sue Robinson has teamed up with award-winning nature tourism operator Rob Pennicott to rid Tasmania’s seabird islands of pests. They have an ambitious target of ten islands in ten years.

“The pest eradication programs on Macquarie and Tasman Islands clearly show strong positive responses from seabirds as soon as pest animals are gone. Amazingly the birds know that their island is safe again and they quickly occupy new areas to dig burrows. Seeing large numbers of fairy prion fledglings for the first time after cats were removed from Tasman Island, has been one of the highlights of our work”.

During 2008-2011, Sue was involved in the Pennicott Foundation sponsored island restoration of Tasman Island, Tasmania, where feral cats were removed after 100 years of roaming the island. Fairy prions have boomed since then, and greater numbers of short tailed shearwater chicks are able to fledge.