Rats and Restoration

On islands of wind,
seabirds wheel –
carrying the ocean’s
brackish tongue
to lands thick
with the footprints
of rats.
Ravenous night walkers,
stealing eggs
like moonlight thieves –
tangling the threads
between wing and wave.
Every corpse
restores
a winged ritual
of feathered pilgrims –
cascades of life
as black gold
falls like rain
to sate the starving soil.
Rewoven webs
stretch once more
from sand to sea –
holding tight
the island’s heart.
Above,
the seabirds cry –
a fierce joy,
marked red
in tooth
and claw.

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has found that restored rat-free islands could support hundreds of thousands more breeding seabirds

Mobile organisms like seabirds are crucial in maintaining ecosystem health by transferring nutrients across various environments, from their feeding to breeding grounds. Unfortunately, the degradation of island habitats, primarily due to invasive species like rats and the loss of native vegetation, has disrupted this natural process. Rats, in particular, pose a significant threat as they prey on seabird eggs and chicks, drastically reducing seabird populations and thereby affecting the nutrient-rich guano deposits that support both terrestrial and marine ecosystems. This ecological imbalance underscores the need for island restoration, which involves the eradication of invasive species and the reintroduction of native plants to revive the natural habitats that seabirds and other native wildlife depend on.

A recent study around the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean has shown promising results from such restoration efforts. Researchers used predictive modelling to estimate that with invasive species control, primarily rat eradication, and vegetation restoration, seabird populations could increase to over 280,000 breeding pairs. This revival would replenish the nutrient flow essential for supporting robust coral reefs and diverse fish populations, including species critical for coral health like parrotfish. The increased seabird populations would not only restore the guano-driven nutrient cycles but also bolster the resilience of these ecosystems against climate change impacts such as sea-level rise and coral bleaching. These findings advocate for island restoration as a conservation priority, highlighting the interconnected benefits across terrestrial and marine environments and urging the integration of these broader ecological benefits into future conservation strategies.

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