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Action on the Ground - Ecosystem Restoration in Gwaii Haanas

SGin Xaana Sdiihltl’lxa: Night Birds Returning

Ancient Murrelets on the water
Ancient Murrelets on the water
© Parks Canada / C. Bergman

Seabirds at risk

Ancient Murrelets (or “night bird” as translated from the Haida language), a species at risk in Canada, are being devastated by invasive rats. A significant proportion of the world population of these seabirds breed on remote islands in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site.

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Ancient Murrelet chick
Ancient Murrelet chick
© Laskeek Bay Conservation Society / Jake Pattison

Ancient murrelets come and go from small islands by night during breeding season and spend the rest of their time on the water. Burrowed under the forest floor, the tiny chicks hatch and within days scuttle through the night-shaded undergrowth as their parents call to them from the sea. These seabirds also once played an important role in the diet of the Haida people and the colonies were once prime food gathering places.

Devastated by Rats

Black rats trapped in Gwaii Haanas during the population assessment phase of project
Black rats, like this one, were abundant on islands
© Parks Canada / Carita Bergman

The birds have long since abandoned many rat-infested islands. Rats, first introduced to Haida Gwaii with the advent of maritime shipping in the late 1700s, are known to occur on at least 18 islands throughout the archipelago and have had a devastating effect on several seabird colonies.

Island Conservation, Coastal Conservation and Parks Canada are working together
Island Conservation, Coastal Conservation and Parks Canada are working together
© Parks Canada / Andrew Wright

Restoring habitat

Phase One: 2011

In 2011, Parks Canada, the Haida Nation, Island Conservation and Coastal Conservation implemented a ground-based eradication of invasive Norway rats from Arichika and Bischof Islands, once home to significant ancient murrelet colonies. This work was supported by Parks Canada’s Action-on-the-Ground program which funds ecological restoration across Canada’s national parks and by the US Coast Guard’s Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund – a fund set up to offset the damage done to seabirds by a sunken oil tanker, the S.S. Jacob Lukenbach, which went down in 1953 off the coast of California.

The Bischof Islands with Lyell Island in the background
The Bischof Islands with Lyell Island in the background
© Parks Canada / Andrew Wright

Results

  • In 2011, field crews implemented a three month eradication effort. This operation involved using a rodenticide in the specialized stations, daily monitoring and the manual removal of rat carcasses on Bischof and Arichika Islands.

  • No evidence of rats was found at the end of the field season in November 2011 or at start-up Spring 2012, but monitoring must continue until September 2014 before the islands can be declared rat-free.

  • Scientists managed for the possibility that other species could have been affected by the eradication, and reported very few impacts on other species and no population-level impacts.

Ongoing monitoring activities continue
Ongoing monitoring activities continue
© Parks Canada / Andrew Wright

Phase Two: 2013

In September 2013, an aerial eradication took place on Murchison and Faraday Islands (two larger islands within the park reserve). The work is a collaboration between Parks Canada and the Haida Nation, and its partners Coastal Conservation and Island Conservation. In addition, Parks Canada draws on technical expertise from international experts in New Zealand and Mexico and has received a $400,000(US) contribution from the US National Fish and Wildlife Foundation – a non-governmental, charitable body established by the US Congress.

Murchison and Faraday Islands are located within the Juan Perez Sound, an area that includes islands which are recognized internationally for their globally outstanding seabird populations (Ancient Murrelets, Cassin’s auklets) and other seabird (Leach’s storm-petrels, Fork-tailed storm-petrels) and shorebird species.

Murchison and Faraday Islands are close to Ramsay Island, which is currently rat-free, and hence removal of rats here is necessary to reduce risk of rat invasion to these nearby intact seabird colonies.

Aerial Eradication

The eradication of invasive rats from Murchison and Faraday Islands involves an aerial broadcast of bait containing a rodenticide dispensed by helicopter, very similar to aerial seeding applications used in forest management or agricultural applications. This is a proven conservation management technique to remove invasive rats from islands that has been used extensively in New Zealand, Mexico, the United States and the Galapagos.

Continued Monitoring

Automated acoustic listening devices have been deployed on these islands and on unaffected islands to measure seabird response to the eradication. Scientists will study the frequency and distribution of the birds’ calls to gauge project success, as well as monitor a number of other ecosystem responses. In coming years, restoration techniques including the construction of artificial nesting burrows may be employed to encourage the birds to re-colonize.