Above photo: A Grey-Headed Albatrosses chick stretches its wings on Marion Island, photo: Danielle Keys
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) entered into force on 29 December 1993. It has three main objectives:
- The conservation of biological diversity.
- The sustainable use of the components of biological diversity.
- The fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.
Since coming into force, the CBD has been ratified by 196 nations, including South Africa. The CBD Conference of Parties (COP) provides an important opportunity for stakeholders to discuss, review and develop policies and targets to address global threats to biodiversity across the planet
The Mouse-Free Marion (MFM) Project provides an example of the sort of bold, high-impact conservation initiatives needed to reverse ongoing damage to nature and to conserve biodiversity.
On 7 December 2022, hot on the heels of the United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference (COP27), COP 15 began in Montreal, Canada. With recent reports highlighting the continued decline in animal populations around the world, the scene has been set for one of the most crucial environmental summits yet. Politicians and scientists are in agreement that biodiversity loss needs to be tackled. In 2010 the delegates at the previous CBD COP pledged to halt biodiversity loss within a decade. Twelve years on, scientists, politicians and conservation bodies are meeting once again to discuss progress and how to urgently progress efforts to combat global species decline.
One of the more ambitious targets for COP15 is the 30 by 30 pledge, the aim of which is to conserve 30% of the earth’s land and water surfaces by 2030. Previous targets, agreed at COP10 in Aichi, Japan, have not been met, so there is renewed pressure to put in place the financial and political support needed and the stakes are high.
Areas rich in biodiversity also tend to be amongst the most threatened. This is especially true on islands, which are not only biodiversity hotspots but also represent places most at risk of species extinctions. Island Conservation, a conservation organisation working to prevent island extinctions, estimates that 75% of reptile, bird, amphibian and mammal extinctions combined have occurred on islands; 86% of these extinctions are due to the impacts of invasive species. It is imperative that islands are conserved and managed to prevent further losses in unique species.
Sub-Antarctic Marion Island is a perfect example of the challenges and opportunities associated with biodiversity conservation. Despite being afforded South Africa’s highest levels of protection as a Special Nature Reserve, Marine Protected Area as well as a Ramsar Site of International Importance, the island is experiencing losses in its globally important biodiversity. These losses are due in a large part to the impacts of invasive species.
Through predation, invasive House Mice continue to threaten the incredible biodiversity of Marion Island, including the vegetation, invertebrates and abundant seabirds that breed on the island. Seabirds have not evolved any defences against predation by the mice. As a result, 19 of the 28 seabird species breeding on Marion Island are considered to be at risk of local extinction if no action is taken to address this grave and growing threat.
South Africa has been a Party of the CBD for almost 30 years. As part of its commitment to conserve and protect biodiversity, South Africa has developed and revised its National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan. One of the strategic objectives of this document is to ensure the effective management of invasive species, including the eradication of House Mice on Marion Island.
The MFM Project, a partnership between the South African Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) and BirdLife South Africa (BLSA), is an ambitious and critical conservation endeavour aiming to eradicate invasive mice from Marion Island to reverse the biodiversity losses inflicted by mice. The eradication of invasive predators from islands is one of the most effective tools available for biodiversity conservation. An immense body of knowledge and experience has built up in decades of eradication operations on islands, and each has informed and refined methodology for the next. This has paved the way for the MFM Project.
There are many examples showing spectacular recovery of island biodiversity once introduced species have been removed. We have the opportunity to achieve this outcome for Marion Island. Although there are no silver bullets in conservation, for species and islands that are negatively impacted by invasive species, the removal of invasive species comes close to being a silver bullet.
The eradication of mice from South Africa’s Marion Island is a one-off intervention that, if successful, will provide an opportunity to turn back the clock, to undo the damage caused by mice since they were inadvertently introduced by sealers some 200 years ago, and restore the ecological integrity of this magnificent island. It is ambitious and high-impact conservation initiatives such as the MFM Project that provide a real opportunity to tackle the biodiversity crisis and put us on the path to reach the CBD’s vision of living in harmony with nature.
The Mouse-Free Marion Team, 19 December 2022
The Mouse-Free Marion Project is a registered non-profit company (No. 2020/922433/08) in South Africa, established to eradicate the invasive albatross-killing mice on Marion Island in the Southern Ocean. The project was initiated by BirdLife South Africa and the South African Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment. Upon successful completion, the project will restore the critical breeding habitat of over two million seabirds, many globally threatened, and improve the island’s resilience to a warming climate. For more information or to support the project please visit mousefreemarion.org.