Invading Rats Were Finally Eradicated on 2 Galapagos Islands Thanks to Drone Partnership

Two years after a rodent eradication program began on two Galapagos Islands, conservations are excited to finally declare the lands rat-free—and drones, for the first time, contributed to the big success.

The actions carried out over the last two years on Seymour Norte and Mosquera islands will now ensure that native biodiversity on the island ecosystems can return to normal.

Seymour Norte, for instance, hosts one of the largest populations of magnificent frigatebirds (pictured), whose eggs and babies became constant prey to the two rat species that had run amok since arriving with ships in the 1800s and early 1900s.

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How they did it

The drone was equipped with a dispersal bucket and followed GPS-guided transects to distribute a “conservation bait” manufactured by Bell Laboratories all across the island. Following initial implementation, bait was placed in stations along the coastline, ensuring no rodents re-invaded the island.

“After two years of waiting, this project has given the expected results, according to the planning and according to the highest protocols for these cases,” said Danny Rueda, director of the Galapagos National Park this week. “Galapagos, once again, is a benchmark in terms of the protection of this globally important ecosystem.”

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As a long-term preventive measure, a biosecurity barrier consisting of 289 bait stations will remain installed to prevent a re-invasion of rodents from Santa Cruz or Baltra, but still keep it safe for tourists to walk the trails.

Advanced drone technology

Seymour Norte and Mosquera Islands were the first instances of a drone being used to eradicate invasive vertebrates from an island, serving as a proof-of-concept, according to a Island Conservation.

In 2021, similar projects on three island groups across the Pacific will be implemented using drones—particularly on small islets, where it is not feasible to conduct a hand-based project, as was done on three islets in the Tetiaroa Atoll where bait was dispersed by humans.

Invasive vertebrate species are a leading cause of extinction on islands, contributing to 86% of recorded extinctions, but efforts to combat them—with over 1,200 invasive mammal eradications attempted on islands worldwide—have shown an 85% success rate.

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Free of the rodents, endemic and native plants and animals on these Galapagos islands will be able to fulfill their ecological roles, guaranteeing the hatching of nests and survival of birds and reptiles, including Galapagos Land Iguanas, Blue-footed Boobies, Swallowed-tailed Gulls (the only nocturnal gull on the planet, and the vulnerable Lava Gull, one of the rarest gull species on Earth.

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