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Western Australia to reconstruct one of the world's most important islands for mammal conservation

20/02/2013 08:48:32
au/Hartog_dec

Dirk Hartog Island is to be taken back 400 years. Photo by Jeremy Flynn/DEC

Return to 1616: Dirk Hartog Island National Park ecological restoration project

February 2013. A ground-breaking and world-class project is set to restore ecosystem health and wildlife diversity to Western Australia's biggest island, Dirk Hartog Island, situated in the Shark Bay World Heritage area on the far western edge of the Australian continent.

13 ground dwelling mammals disappeared from the island
The Return to 1616 project aims to return the 63,000 hectare island to its pristine state of 400 years ago, when Europeans first landed there. In 1616 at least 13 ground-dwelling native mammal species occurred on the island. These included small kangaroo-like boodies and woylies, and western barred bandicoots, chuditch and dibblers.

Removal of sheep and goats
The ambitious program will see the removal of all sheep, goats and feral cats from Dirk Hartog Island, re-establishment of healthy vegetation and re-introduction of mammal species once known to exist there.

The project is funded by DEC and the Gorgon Barrow Island Net Conservation Benefits fund in a partnership that has the potential to yield world-class conservation outcomes over the next 20 or more years.

Dibbler  (Parantechinus apicalis) will be reintroduced onto Hartog Island, but it is vital that feral cats be cleared from the island first.

Dibbler (Parantechinus apicalis) will be reintroduced onto Hartog Island, but it is vital that feral cats be cleared from the island first.

Chuditch and dibblers
In 1616 the island was pristine, with at least 13 ground-dwelling native mammal species. These included small kangaroo-like boodies and woylies, and western barred bandicoots, chuditch and dibblers. From the 1860s until the early 2000s, the island was used by pastoralists to run sheep, and the Cape Inscription lighthouse was established in 1910. By the late 20th century the island had become popular with fishing enthusiasts, divers and snorkellers.

All but 3 mammals disappeared
By this time goats and feral cats were well established on the island and only three small mouse-sized native mammal species still occurred; the ash-grey mouse, sandy inland mouse and little long-tailed dunnart. In 2009 Dirk Hartog Island became a national park, providing the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) with the opportunity to restore its natural environment in partnership with the island's other land managers and the Shark Bay community

Eradicating feral animals
Over the past 150 years, sheep, goats and cats have caused the local extinction of 10 native mammal species on the island. DEC has already taken steps to reduce the number of sheep and goats on Dirk Hartog Island. In July 2010 an aerial survey revealed there were up to 3,600 of these animals on the island. Sheep are now considered to have been removed. Through continued operations, DEC has made significant progress to reduce the feral goat population and aims to eradicate them by 2014. If this program is successful, Dirk Hartog Island will be the largest island in the world where feral goats have been eradicated. Removal of goats and sheep will promote soil and vegetation recovery, which will improve habitat, food and water availability for native species.

Feral cats a major problem
Feral cats are currently widespread across the island and prey on turtle eggs and hatchlings, small mammals, reptiles and birds. DEC is building on its expertise in feral cat eradication, having undertaken successful operations on several smaller islands, including Faure Island in Shark Bay. The department will construct a temporary 10-kilometre cat barrier fence across the island to divide it into two sections. This will allow cat control efforts to be concentrated in one section at a time. Intensive monitoring, baiting and trapping will follow. The eradication of cats is critical to the success of the island's restoration, as it is unlikely that introduced mammals will survive there if cats remain.

Return to 1616: ecological restoration project
Significant funds are being invested by DEC and the Gorgon Barrow Island Net Conservation Benefits fund in a partnership that has the potential to yield world-class conservation outcomes over the next 20 or more years. The Dirk Hartog Island ecological restoration project will see some of the most extensive feral animal eradications ever attempted in the world. It is at the global forefront of science, conservation and land management. The groundbreaking project aims to re-introduce 10 native mammal species that once existed on the island and introduce a further two species considered likely to have been there. It will also involve weed management, vegetation reconstruction and fire management. Biosecurity protocols will be implemented to prevent the introduction of high-risk invasive species

Dirk Hartog Island National Park
Dirk Hartog Island is Western Australia's largest island, covering 63,000 hectares and spanning almost 80 kilometres in length. Situated in the Shark Bay World Heritage area on the far western edge of the Australian continent, the island shelters the shallow waters of Shark Bay.

It was at Dirk Hartog Island in 1616 that Europeans first landed on Western Australian soil. The island is named after the Dutch sea captain who landed at Cape Inscription, the northernmost tip of the island, aboard the Eendracht. English explorer William Dampier also visited the island aboard HMS Roebuck in 1699, making many detailed observations of wildlife and vegetation. The 400th anniversary of the first landing at Dirk Hartog Island will be celebrated in 2016.

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