Mon. May 25th, 2020

Project to Protect Palau’s Iconic Species deemed successful

Native plants and animals on Ngeanges can now thrive following the successful removal of non-native, damaging (invasive) rats from the island in 2017.

The result of this conservation initiatives is credited to the multi-stakeholder partnership led  by   Koror   State     Department of Conservation and Law Enforcement (DCLE) and Island Conservation with support from Palau Conservation Society.

Confirmed free of invasive rodents in September 2018, Ngeanges is the first rodent eradication project successfully completed within the Rock Island Southern Lagoon.

“Invasive species are the single biggest threat to the biodiversity of the Rock Islands and Palau. Our success on Ngeanges sets the stage for future eradication efforts to protect this incredible area, one of the most biologically and culturally rich regions in the world,” said Island Conservation Project Manager, Tommy Hall.

The project began in 2017 after scientists  temporarily relocated some of the island’s Bekai (the Endangered Micronesian Megapode),  another  historic  first,  to  adifferent   island.

Under the late Alan Olsen of Belau National Museum, the partners developed and applied specialized methods to capture and house these sensitive birds; methods that can be replicated in the future. An added benefit of holding megapodes in captivity was the unprecedented opportunity to study their biology and behavior, learning more about this precious Palauan endemic.

“The megapode is one of Palau’s most iconic species and it is vulnerable to invasive rats.

Restoration was critical to protecting the megapode and other native species. With the success of the rat removal and the return of the captive birds to Ngeanges, we’ve seen the megapode population already beginning to rebound,” said Collin Joseph of DCLE. The ground-dwelling megapode, whose chicks are potential prey for invasive rats as they emerge from their nest mounds after hatching, are among several species that will benefit from the rat removal.

Ngeanges is also one of the most important marine turtle nesting sites in the Rock Islands. With the constant threat of turtle poaching, protecting these nesting grounds is crucial to the health of their populations. The Critically Endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle, for example, lays its eggs on the sandy beaches of Ngeanges; with invasive rats no longer a threat, the newly hatched sea turtles have a greater chance of survival as they make their way from their nests to the sea.

A variety of invertebrates, including burrowing land crabs, coconut crabs, and hermit crabs, now have a greater opportunity to thrive in their native environment without competition or predation from rats.

A recent post eradication survey of Ngeanges has led to the discovery of rare native Partulid snails, the first time this species has been documented on the island in modern times.

The absence of invasive rats will also play  a role in the rejuvenation of native  flora on the island. As fruit and nectar producing trees and plants rebound, the forest birds and other species, such as the Palau Flying Fox, that rely on them will, in turn, have a greater chance of survival.

With native species, populations recovering, the partners are now focused on ensuring rats and other pests do not return to the island. Visitors to the Rock Islands need to check their boats and equipment for insects, seeds and other invasive species before departing to the Rock Islands. The Ngeanges project serves as an opportunity to educate the local community, conservation agencies, tourism companies, and the wider public about the threats and impacts that invasive species pose for islands, the benefits of their removal, and the importance of preventing their invasion/reinvasion.

“The work done on Ngeanges can serve as a mPohdoteol yfoIsrl  nsduCcocnseesrvsaftuiol invasive-species eradication on other islands in the RISL and throughout Palau and Micronesia. KSG continues to welcome and embrace partnerships which was key to the successful outcome of this project and we look forward to implementing what we’ve learned here to broaden the protection of our islands,” said Jennifer Olegeriil, Director of KSG DCLE.

“Our goal is to improve the resiliency and sustainability of our natural and cultural resources such as the Rock Island Southern Lagoon that provides livelihood to our communities,” shared Franco B. Gibbons, Governor of Koror State Government.

This project received partnership support from Koror State Department of Conservation and Law enforcement, Palau Conservation Society, Belau National Museum, and on-the- ground support from Sonsorol State, Kayangel State, The    Nature    Conservancy (TNC), Environmental    Quality    Protection    Board (EQPB), Division of Environmental Health (DEH), and Palau Automated Land and Resource Information System (Palaris).

Island Conservation prevents extinctions by removing invasive species from islands. To date, we have successfully restored 63 islands worldwide, benefiting 1173 populations of 468 species and subspecies. Working together with local communities, government management agencies, and conservation organizations, we select islands that have the greatest potential for preventing the extinction of globally threatened species. (PR)