I read an article in the AP yesterday that has had me thinking about human impact on the environment. We often hear about the horrible things Evil Corporations do to the environment, but this was a case of good intentions gone wrong.
The story takes place on the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island nestled between Antarctica and Australia. It is the natural home to tundra-like vegetation, birds, seals and penguins. The island was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1933 and a World Heritage Site in 1997 but now it is largely known as an environmental disaster due to ill-executed ecological management.
Here’s the story in an organic nutshell:
In the early 1800’s, man brought cats to the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island and they quickly became feral. In 1878, the rabbits arrived, and as rabbits do they multiplied and took over the island wreaking havoc on the native vegetation. The rabbits provide an abundant food source for the cats but that did not balance out and both populations ballooned.
By the late 1960’s the Australian authorities introduced the Myxoma virus to thin out the rabbit population. It worked; the rabbit population dwindled from 130,000 to about 20,000 by the 1980s, and the vegetation recovered. The only problem was that now there weren’t enough rabbits to sustain the feral cat population, so they turned to indigenous birds.
By 1985 the Australian authorities feared the birds extinction and sprung into action again, and by 2000 eradicated the entire feral cat population. Now without the cats to control the rabbit population, despite the Myxamotosis, their population surged again causing even more damage than before.
Recognizing that past efforts to restore balance have not been comprehensive enough, experts estimate that to do it right will cost 24 million Australian dollars (17 million USD).
The question I have is are any animal eradication projects environmentally responsible?
Clearly we have an interest in preserving natural habitats, and the natural diversity of wildlife however I don’t think it’s clear how far we should go to intervene.
I think it is safe to say we should do everything we can to prevent the introduction, especially by human means, of invasive species, but once it’s done can we effectively reverse the damage?
Most people think of invasive species as human introduced threats, and most of the time they are, however, some invasive species happen naturally. For example, a natural disaster could wipe out one of two competing species allowing the latter to thrive unchecked, and impact the ecosystem as an invasive species. In this case it is natural but is it any less devastating?
These are not rhetorical questions. I pose the question because I really don’t know where the line is. On the one hand I want to preserve the rich ecological diversity this planet is blessed with and feel as a environmental stewards we are responsible for what happens in our environment. On the other hand, as an animal lover, I understand that death is part of the natural order, however I have a tough time accepting the idea of massive animal eradication programs.
Let me know what you think?