Ian has set up the first Bush Regeneration activities for volunteers in 1987, leading to the first, full week-long Bush regeneration tour in 1995; and he helped establish The Friends of Lord Howe Island in 2001 and now with the Friends runs three bush regeneration tours each year, with 85 week long tours to 2018. For some research projects on the flora, see the pdfs here.
Ian has been keeping records of bird sightings on Lord Howe Island since the 1980s and has been involved in a number of seabird studies – on Masked boobies, Black-winged petrels and Little Shearwaters. Ian was the first to record Black Noddies and Little shearwaters breeding on Lord Howe Island for the first time in 1990; this followed removal of feral and domestic cats from the island in the early 1980s.
Current Conservation issues
Impact of Plastic on Seabirds of Lord Howe Island
In 2000 Ian began to notice that something was not right in the Flesh footed shearwater (Muttonbird) colonies on Lord Howe Island. He was finding skeletons of these iconic birds with ribcages full of plastic. Raising awareness through public lectures and magazine stories since then has been a passion. In 2005, with other researchers from the then NSW Department of Environment, he carried out the first science research to establish how widespread the issue was for Flesh-footed shearwaters. In that year 79 percent of FFS chicks contained some plastic. Ian is continuing this research each year with Dr. Jennifer Lavers to monitor the issue.
Our research has attracted media attention from around the world. We are willing to share the story so as to raise more general awareness about the ultimate fate of plastic in the environment- the death of seabirds. The research has screened on Plastic Oceans, Blue and Drowning in Plastic. We are working with Zoos Victoria, and other organisations to have helium balloon releases banned, for the impact they have on seabirds and turtles when they end up in the ocean.
Rodent Eradication for Lord Howe Island
Mice arrived on Lord Howe Island in the 1850s, and rats got ashore from a shipwreck in 1918. These introduced animals are the biggest threat to biodiversity on islands worldwide and have wreaked havoc on Lord Howe Island with the loss of five land bird species, two plant species and a number of invertebrate animals. The predation by rodents on our flora and fauna continues each and every night.
In 2009 a draft Rodent Eradication plan was drawn up for Lord Howe Island, based on sound science and experience of over 300 island eradications to that date. Funding from the State and Federal government has now been provided and the LHI Board is working towards an eradication in winter 2018. The draft plan details the steps needed to successfully carry out this project, while protecting the people, wildlife and animals on the island.
When completed this will be the most significant conservation project ever carried out on the Island, and will take the threat off all off our species of flora and fauna. Without the eradication there will be continuing predation on plants, insects, lizards birds and biodiversity will be depleted. Keep following this page for updates.
Finally in winter 2019 the Rodent Eradication Plan was carried out. After seventeen years in planning, and seeking funding from the Commonwealth and State governments the Project Officer Andrew Walsh assembled a team of fifteen international experts and thirty or more locals. In April, 19,800 baits stations were put out in the settlement area; 230 Woodhens and 120 Currawongs were caught, to be cared for by Michael Shiels and his staff from Taronga Zoo. Then baits stations were filled and topped up weekly until the end of October. Another 3,000 bait stations were in houses to deal with mice. In June and July two helicopters distributed bait pellets in the mountains to deliver a bait to all rats and mice living there. From September, sniffer dogs have been out each day checking leases in the settlement areas. It is believed that all rats and mice have been killed and now the island wildlife can thrive without the constant predation by the feral rodents. Introduced Masked owls were also removed as part of the project plan.
Mice eating an Albatross chick, on Gough Island
Rats eating palm seeds
Benefits are already being seen after rodents were removed from the Island in 2019
In 2020, with no rats on the island for 12 months, many people are reporting how many more landbirds they have around their houses – particularly the White eyes and Emerald doves.
There appears to be more abundant insects – the cicadas were noisier and continued longer into March this year; and many people report seeing a lot more of the endemic green stag beetles and more butterflies.
For the first time probably for 100 years, the native Iceplant is covered in fruits – whereas previously they were never seen, as rodents devoured them when small.
On Mount Gower summit there is a proliferation of mature seed of both species of Mountain palms, and carpets of seedling of many plants coming up on the forest floor – particularly Island apple. Also the endemic semi slug Parmelops is flourishing.
The Lord Howe Island Board Environmental Unit is committed to a weed eradication program, which means total eradication of some alien plant species, not just control.
The State and Federal governments assist with funding for staff and contractors to carry out this vital work. Commencing in a systematic way in 2004, staff from the LHI Board have carried out weed mapping, development of weed strategies, and plant importation policies to protect the Island’s unique flora. In recent years, the worst of the weeds have been treated, funding is now provided for contract abseilers to search remote high cliffs, and helicopters to winch workers into very remote areas that may take four hours walking each way- the only way to effectively deal with the weeds in these areas.
The LHI Board and The Friends of Lord Howe Island have volunteer programs where members of the public can assist with flora conservation on the island.
Climate Change Research
Having lived on the island for 40 years, and worked as a weather observer for 20 years of that time, I have observed the impacts, and the causes, of the change in climate on Lord Howe Island.
Lord Howe Island rainfall is decreasing, temperatures are increasing, and the Island has experienced three dry summers in a row. The summer of 2018/19 was the hottest and driest on record. This has had a big impact on our forest all across the Island. Forty species of plants were recorded as dying in this last drought.
Of particular concern is the forest on the summit of Mount Gower. This forest, termed the Gnarled Mossy Cloud Forest, is listed as critically endangered ecological community. The threats have been identified as seeds eaten by rodents, and climate change. We have seen the removal of rodents, but the climate change impacts that were predicted in a paper in 2011 are now being seen on the summit. The summer of 2018/19 not only was dry and hot, but the number of days of cloud cover on the mountain tops were fewer. This has resulted in death of many trees on the summit, and also many of the epiphytes such as mosses and ferns that grow on the tree trunks and rely on cloud droplets for their moisture to survive.
As a means to keep track of the changes on the summit forest, technology can assist, and I have been using a drone to aerial map the summit forest, in February 2019 and again in September. The results show that many canopy trees were stressed and brown in February, and by September many have died.
March 2019 saw significant coral bleaching in the Lagoon; and there has been a decline of 44 percent in numbers of the endemic Clown fish between surveys in 2012 and 2019.
The Tasman Sea is warming at twice the rate of warming of the world’s oceans. As the surrounding ocean gets warmer, we also feel the effect on air temperatures on the island. I noticed a lot of 28°C days recorded last summer, and checked the BoM data – the graph below shows the number of days in summer over 28°C from 1988.
If the climate keeps getting hotter and drier, these impacts on our island will only be worsened.
Communities, towns, cities, countries around the world are calling for action on the climate emergency from governments. Renewable energy, stopping deforestation, planting more trees, limiting carbon emissions are all needed. See the website climatecouncil.org.au to see what you can do.