Earlier this month, UNESCO warned that two UK Overseas Territories, Henderson Island – an unihabitated raised reef island, in the South East Pacific, and the Gough and Inaccessible Islands – one of world’s least disrupted islands and marine eco-systems in the south Atlantic, could be blacklisted.
Following a recent meeting in Brasilia, UNESCO say that the natural qualities for which these islands are listed, are coming under jeopardy, as poor management has lead to several of the islands’ native birds becoming Critically Endangered; non-native rats and mice are killing the islands’ unique birds species, including Murphy's petrel and the wandering albatross.
Henderson Island received World Heritage Site status in 1988 because of its pristine phosphate reserves and untouched bird life, including endemic species such as the Henderson Crake, Henderson Fruit Dove, Henderson Lorikeet and Henderson Reed-warbler. If rats are allowed to continue pillaging the eggs and killing Henderson’s chicks, the future status of the island will be seriously threatened.
UNESCO have also said that the Gough Islands, which owe their world heritage status to having no introduced species, will be added to the ‘danger list’ by 2014 if non-native house mice have not been removed.
Tim Stowe, International Director of the RSPB, expressed embarrassment on behalf of the UK, in falling behind in its duties.
Plans are now in place to remove the rodents, with fundraising well underway. However, unless the full £1.7 million needed is raised by October, the rats cannot be dealt with in 2011 and another 25,000 chicks are likely to lose their lives.
Many conservationists believe that the UK government should be taking greater responsibility for safeguarding the wildlife of the UKs overseas territories. Richard Porter, of Birdlife International, commented that ‘2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity. Wouldn't it be a great boost if the new UK coalition government could attend the UN Biodiversity Summit in Japan, in October, and lead by example by finding the cash and commitment to fund our unique wildlife treasures.'
Image taken from Sanctuaries of New Zealand