Saving Our Seabirds

The recent breaching of the Klein River Estuary was quite dramatic as the water level was high and there was a tremendous pressure of water that flowed out into the sea.

Sadly, a channel had been dug illegally causing the estuary to breach at the wrong time – at night when the waterfowl were roosting.

The result was that many estuary birds were caught unawares in the current and swept out to sea. More than sixty birds drowned and were washed out on the beach. However, many were rescued by volunteers who hurried to the scene at first light, intent on saving them. Around 235 coots, dabchicks and herons were rescued and returned to the estuary upstream. People who are attuned to nature can’t bear to see any animal dying, particularly when the death is as a direct result of our misguided actions.

We are immensely proud of all the good folk who care deeply about preserving wildlife and their habitats.

The African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary is another shining example of effort and funds that are being applied to saving endangered African Penguins and other seabirds like gannets and Cape cormorants.

Whale Coast Conservation is thus particularly pleased to host two amazing people at our public talk on 18 May – Janine and Stefan Schoombie.

Stefan and Janine Schoombie will share stories about their time spent on Marion Island, and what it’s like to live and work there.

They have first-hand experience of the devastating impact of invasive house mice (introduced by humans) on nesting seabirds on the island.

They will also talk about the planned mouse eradication project and how we can all help save Marion Island’s endangered seabirds.

The Mouse-free Marion Project

Dr Anton Wolfaardt is the Project Manager and he outlined the project as follows:

South Africa’s sub-Antarctic Marion Island is being devastated by introduced House Mice. The mice were introduced unintentionally by sealers in the early 19th century, and over the past 200 years have caused extensive damage to the terrestrial ecosystems of the island. They have led to dramatic declines in the native invertebrate populations and depleted the seed stock of some indigenous plant species. More recently, the mice have started attacking the island’s globally important burrowing and surface-breeding seabird populations.

The increasingly warm and dry climate on the island and the lack of natural control factors have led to a 430% increase in the densities of mice on the island over the last 30 years! This massive increase has in turn led to a shortage of invertebrates, which the mice were preying on in the winter months. The shortage of food has driven the mice to find alternative food sources. As on several other oceanic islands, the mice found that many of the seabirds on Marion have no defence against their attacks and are literally ‘sitting ducks’.

Photo: Nesting Albatross victim

The scale and frequency of mice attacks on seabirds have been increasing since they were first observed in the early 2000s and have escalated dramatically in the last five years. On Gough Island, mice are estimated to eat some two-thirds of eggs and chicks – some two million each year – and even attack adult birds! Left unchecked on Marion Island, the mice are likely to cause the local extinction of 18 of the 27 seabird species that breed on the island, including that charismatic icon of the open ocean, the Wandering Albatross.

In order to safeguard the island’s seabirds and facilitate its ecological restoration, there is an urgent need to eradicate the mice. A rigorous and systematic process has been followed to determine the feasibility of eradicating mice from Marion Island and based on the outcome of the feasibility study, draft operational and project plans have been prepared.

The Mouse-Free Marion Non-Profit Company has been established to initiate and implement the project, which will be undertaken as a partnership between the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries and BirdLife South Africa.