Conserving the forgotten latitudes: approaches to wildlife management on Southern Ocean islands
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree LevelPostgraduate Certificate
Degree NamePostgraduate Certificate in Antarctic Studies
The Southern Ocean or sub-Antarctic islands are broadly defined as the island archipelagos falling between 30o and 60o south. These islands are greatly influenced by their proximity to the Antarctic continent, but form a unique bioregion. The islands are characterised by low species diversity, but with high levels of endemism. They are also key breeding locations for Southern Hemisphere seabirds. Historically the sub-Antarctic islands have been isolated from human populations so were late to be discovered and rarely visited since then. However the islands were not immune to outside influence as first sealing industries exhausted the fur and elephant seal populations, and second the early settlers introduced non-native species that preyed upon island fauna and/or destroyed vegetation and habitats. In the present day, a number of these non-native species continue to wreck havoc on the islands, and they are widely recognised as the single largest threat to the biological integrity of the Southern Ocean islands. Other notable threats are human visitation, wildlife disease, and climate change. Of course, all these factors are inextricably linked, and impossible to consider in isolation. The potential for pest and disease incursion increases in a warming world, and increased tourism pressures in the Antarctic region mean there is also an increased interest in visiting the sub-Antarctic islands. Intensity of management efforts in the past thirty years has varied across the island groups, with different governing bodies taking different approaches to making and initiating management decisions. The global significance of many of the islands has been recognised through designation as World Heritage sites. Statutory management plans have increasingly been seen as crucial to guiding island management outcomes, and now nearly every island group has a guiding document of some sort. The most tangible management efforts have focussed on ecosystem restoration through the eradication of non-native species, mostly mammals. New Zealand has been a world leader in this area, particularly regarding the removal of rodents from relatively large islands using aerial poison drops. In the past five years there have been calls to reconcile management of Southern Ocean islands at an international level. Currently all the islands are managed independently by the respective territorial governing body. For the long term success of conservation management it is integral that island managers are encouraged to work together and openly communicate about management successes (and failures). Recent collaborations where New Zealand staff have assisted on eradication projects elsewhere provide hope for this, and since 2006 there have been two International Forums on the sub-Antarctic held in Hobart, Tasmania, with a third to be held this year. The Southern Ocean region is gaining recognition both in its own right and as an important place to study and manage as an indicator of climate change and global systems health. While examples are drawn from a number of island groups, the case studies focus on the Australian islands of Macquarie and Heard/ McDonald; the United Kingdom administered South Georgia, and the five New Zealand island groups: Antipodes, Auckland, Bounty, Campbell, and Snares.