Hope for Globally Threatened Seabirds as BirdLife South Africa Joins Island-Ocean Connection Challenge with Marion Island

Conservation powerhouse BirdLife South Africa has joined the Island-Ocean Connection Challenge (IOCC) – a global initiative aiming to restore, rewild and protect islands, oceans and communities – to support its work to save internationally significant albatross populations at risk from invasive house mice.

Through BirdLife South Africa, Marion Island – a remote and windswept refuge halfway between Cape Town and Antarctica, and the largest of the two Prince Edward Islands – now joins this important conservation movement. The Mouse-Free Marion Project was established by BirdLife South Africa and the South African Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment to restore Marion Island’s natural ecosystem and biodiversity, and reclaim this globally significant island as a sanctuary for seabirds.

Marion Island is home to a quarter of the world’s Wandering Albatrosses which are currently threatened, along with 27 other seabird species. Marion Island was, and should be, a haven for wildlife, but invasive house mice accidentally introduced by sealers in the early-1800s have devastated the island’s invertebrates and plants, and the resultant food shortage has driven the mice to now prey on seabirds.

The Island-Ocean Connection Challenge (IOCC) aims to restore and rewild 40 globally significant islands worldwide by 2030, from sub-Antarctic islands like Marion Island to tropical islands bursting with colorful marine life and coral. Restoring islands by removing invasive species is repeatedly proven to be one of the most impactful ways to restore biodiversity and island ecosystems. There have been more than 1,000 successful island invasive species eradications worldwide resulting in long-term benefits, including increased seabirds, landbirds and native plants, recovery of natural ecosystem functions, protected and thriving reefs, and a more climate-resilient island.

Mark D. Anderson, Chief Executive Officer, BirdLife South Africa explains: “Islands are biodiversity hotspots and therefore provide a crucial focus of global conservation efforts. We have joined the IOCC to add impetus to international action restoring islands by tackling the important environmental issue of invasive alien species. Marion Island is home to two million seabirds, including four species of albatrosses and four species of penguins, several of which are threatened with extinction. It is vital that we remove the invasive mice, as otherwise Wandering Albatrosses – arguably the most iconic of the ocean-wandering seabirds – and the majority of Marion Island’s globally important seabirds, could become locally extinct.”

Dr Anton Wolfaardt, Mouse-Free Marion Project Manager, adds: “Put simply, if we can remove invasive mice from Marion Island we can address once and for all one of the significant threats that the island’s seabirds face, and thus facilitate a favorable conservation future for this globally important island and its magnificent seabirds. Rather than containing or mitigating the threat, we solve it. Although the seabird populations on Marion Island are being increasingly impacted by mice, we have an opportunity to intervene to remove that threat, and allow the seabird populations to recover naturally without the need for species reintroduction programs. The global importance of the seabird populations on Marion Island cannot be overstated, so we must do everything in our power to protect them. Becoming part of the IOCC will help us achieve this goal and contribute to global biodiversity objectives.”

Dr Penny Becker, Vice President Conservation at Island Conservation, a co-founder of the Island-Ocean Connection Challenge (IOCC) says: “Indigenous knowledge, combined with emerging science, shows us that everything is connected. Restoring and rewilding islands is not just an act of conservation; it is one of our most powerful defenses building resiliency against climate change. By nurturing these ecosystems, we build stronger environments and help biodiversity hotspots like Marion Island to recover.

Ben Goldsmith, Chair – Conservation Collective, “Eradicating invasive species from islands offers perhaps the greatest bang for your buck in nature restoration. Once freed of invasive rats, goats, or – in this case – invasive mice, the recovery of nature on these islands is just extraordinary to see. Moreover, restoring island ecosystems has a huge healing effect on the surrounding ocean too.”

The Mouse-Free Marion Project also now has global support from three new Patrons, who join His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh (who was announced as a project Patron in March) and renowned conservationist and ornithologist Peter Harrison MBE, in committing to save seabird populations on Marion Island. Japanese broadcaster Christel Takigawa, South African businesswoman and entrepreneur Gloria Serobe and Antarctic scientist and conservationist Professor Steven Chown will all be working to highlight the urgent need to protect Marion Island and its seabirds in their respective countries and sectors, helping the Mouse-Free Marion Project go from strength to strength.

At 30,000 hectares, the removal of invasive house mice from Marion Island will be the largest rodent eradication project in the world to be undertaken in a single operation. The Mouse-Free Marion Project is also supported by BirdLife International, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and other conservation organizations.

To watch a short film about this globally important initiative, and to find out more about the Mouse-Free Marion Project, visit https://mousefreemarion.org/about-the-project/

For further information, to arrange interviews or receive high-res images, please contact:

Culture Communications Collective:

Island-Ocean Connection Challenge: 

Available to interview:

  • Mark D. Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa
  • Dr Anton Wolfaardt, Mouse-Free Marion Project Manager
  • Dr Penny Becker, Island Conservation, Co-founder of Island-Ocean Connection Challenge

About the Mouse-Free Marion Non-Profit Company

The Mouse-Free Marion Non-Profit Company (MFM NPC) is a special purpose vehicle that has been set up by BirdLife South Africa to execute their responsibilities under the Memorandum of Understanding with the Republic of South Africa’s Department for Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, to facilitate the implementation of the project. It has a Board made up of individuals with considerable experience in the field of Non-Profits, environmental programmes and business.

About BirdLife South Africa

BirdLife South Africa is the country partner of BirdLife International, a global partnership of conservation organisations that strives to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, by working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources. BirdLife International partners operate in more than 115 countries and territories worldwide.

More information at www.birdlife.org.za

About the Prince Edward Islands

The islands are 2,100 kilometres from Cape Town and a South African territory. The island group was declared a Special Nature Reserve in 1995 in order to enhance protection of its flora and fauna. The Prince Edward Island group is designated as Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, and is surrounded by a large Marine Protected Area that includes all territorial waters and large parts of the Exclusive Economic Zone.

About the Island Ocean Connection Challenge (IOCC)

The Island-Ocean Connection Challenge is a global initiative dedicated to the holistic restoration of at least 40 globally significant island ecosystems, from ridge-to-reef. By partnering with communities, conservation organizations, funders, and researchers, the IOCC aims to scale island restoration and rewilding efforts. Through collaboration, we strive to benefit biodiversity, climate resilience, and the well-being of island communities. To learn more about the IOCC and our mission, please visit www.jointheiocc.org. 

Featured Image: King Penguins on Marion Island. Credit Otto Whitehead