Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

The Hon. Robyn Parker

NSW Minister for Environment and Heritage

Funds Secured for Assault on Killer Rats

Joint Media Release
15 July 2012

Rats that have for decades plagued Lord Howe Island and killed off native animals will be wiped out under a $9 million plan announced jointly today by Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke and NSW Environment Minister Robyn Parker.

A bold initiative of the Lord Howe Island Board, the plan is to rid the Island of more than 130,000 rodents using poison baits, some dropped by air, in conservation areas. Special "arks" will be constructed to protect endangered species until the rats are eradicated

"The NSW Government and the Commonwealth are each putting up $4.5m to save the animal and plant species clinging to life on this magnificent island," Minister Burke said.

"Following a feasibility study in 2001, the Lord Howe Island Board commenced the eradication plan as part of its responsibility to protect the islands' ecosystems, the Kentia Palm, its tourism industries and the health and wellbeing of residents and visitors," Ms Parker said.

Part of New South Wales, the Island describes itself as the "the Last Paradise", yet more than 30 species have been driven to extinction by the Black Rats, which came ashore when the SS Makembo ran aground on the island in 1918.

Gone are five bird species, including the Grey Fantail, at least 13 invertebrate species, including two snails and 11 beetles, and the localised extinction of the Lord Howe Island Phasmid, White-Bellied Storm-Petrel and Kermadec Petrel.

The CSIRO has backed the plan, which is part-funded by the Australian Government's Caring for our Country program.

Ms Parker said the success of the operation is dependent on the participation and commitment of the local community and a shared responsibility to protect the islands' ecosystems.

The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage intends to hold further meetings with the 350 residents on Lord Howe Island about how the project has been designed and how residents' safety will be assured. The CSIRO has endorsed the plan.

The rats pose an ongoing threat to at least 13 bird species that breed on the island, including the endangered Lord Howe woodhen and Lord Howe pied currawong, and to endemic reptiles including the Lord Howe Island gecko and invertebrates such as the Whitelegge's land snail and Lord Howe Placostylus. They also destroy vegetation and are threatening the Little Mountain palm and the Kentia Palm, which is of enormous economic value to the island.

Non-toxic trials have been carried out to ensure minimal risk to wildlife while project managers will work with landholders and the community to protect stock and domestic animals during the baiting program.

The Lord Howe Island Group is located 700 kilometres north-east of Sydney and was included on the World Heritage List in 1982.

"Lord Howe Island is a national treasure; it is a World Heritage listed haven for a diverse range of flora, fauna and marine life," Minister Parker said.

The Ministers said under the plan, it is hoped the rodents would be eradicated in a prolonged 100-day baiting operation. The safety and protection of residents, the environment, non-target species, livestock and pets will be paramount.

"Lord Howe Island is a jewel of the Pacific that is of exceptional natural importance and biological diversity," Mr Burke said.

Lord Howe has spectacular landscapes, including volcanic mountains and diverse low-lying rainforests as well as palm forests and grasslands. There is a large number of species of native plants, many of which are endemic to the island and over 160 species of birdlife. Outstanding underwater vistas include reefs considered to be among the most beautiful in the world while more than 500 species of fish are found in local waters.