SGS111 Habitats Restored FDC: FDC South Georgia
Over the last 250 years, human activities have had a profound impact on the flora and fauna of South Georgia. Sealing began in the late 1700’s and expeditions often lived ashore for months at a time. So brutally efficient was their operation, by the early 1800’s the seal populations were depleted beyond economic viability and the sealers departed. Next came the whaling industry. Between 1904 and the 1960’s tens of thousands of whales were killed, with over 1,000 people employed on the island to process the catch. The seasonal movement of visiting people and vessels, and the importing of supplies and equipment, led to numerous invasive species including rats, mice, reindeer and a wide variety of plants being either accidentally or deliberately introduced.
Left unchecked, these invasive species could have had a devastating and irreparable effect on the South Georgia ecosystem. Invasive rodents consumed the eggs and young of native bird species decimating populations and in some cases completely excluding them. Reindeer trampled and grazed the fragile sub-Antarctic vegetation and the burrows of seabirds below collapsed. Non-native plants competed with slow growing native species changing the character and functioning of vegetation communities.
Over the last 10 years, South Georgia has played host to some of the largest habitat restoration projects undertaken anywhere on earth. The Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands and the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate completed a reindeer eradication programme that used a combination of herding and ground shooting to remove almost 7,000 reindeer from the island. In 2018 South Georgia was declared rodent free after the South Georgia Heritage Trust undertook a programme to eradicate rats and mice, using aerial distribution of bait from helicopters. The benefits of these habitat restoration projects are now being reaped and native bird and plant populations are thriving as never before. With the removal of grazing pressure from reindeer, many of the non-native plants thrived and are now the subject of an on-going weed management plan which aims to reduce 33 of the 47 non-native plants to zero population density by 2020.
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