On Ulithi Atoll the local community, the Ulithi Falalop Community Action Program (UFCAP), Island Conservation, and One People One Reef (OPOR) are coming together to remove invasive monitor lizard and rat populations. The Atoll is an important green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) nesting site, as well as home to nesting boobies, frigate birds, terns, a unique species of blind snake and a rich and diverse coral reef fauna.
In the early twentieth century, monitor lizards were introduced to Ulithi as a food source and as a means of controlling invasive rodent populations. Now, both invasive monitor lizards and rats have decimated native wildlife populations and reduced resource availability for the local community. Landowners have attempted to control and remove these populations in the past, but with little success.
In recent years, OPOR has led a revival of community-directed traditional resource management, informed by modern science, on the Atoll. This work has benefited the health of the reefs and the green sea turtle populations, but the remaining threat of invasive monitor lizards and rats undermines these efforts. A study in 2009 found that on Loosiep Island predation by invasive monitor lizards destroyed 82% of marked nests. Island Conservation is now bringing its expertise in island invasive species removal to address this challenge.
Although removal of invasive mammals from islands is a well-established practice and has been successful on more than 1200 islands around the world, the removal of invasive monitor lizards will be a first. UFCAP, Island Conservation, and OPOR are working closely with the community to ensure the success of the project and the continued implementation of biosecurity practices on the islands.
We expect that the long-term benefits of this work will include not only healthier turtle and bird rookeries, but a healthier reef environment also. Island Conservation will monitor the impact of the work on the terrestrial ecosystem including nesting birds, coconut crabs and native reptiles; a local team led by UFCAP will monitor the nesting sea turtle population; and OPOR will monitor the impacts on the overall marine environment. Another goal for the islanders is to reestablish traditional gardening on Loosiep, which will contribute to their food security and help reduce pressure on fisheries. Island Conservation and OPOR are excited to support UFCAP and to watch the restoration of the island unfold.
This project is supported by the Darwin Initiative and the US Department of the Interior Office of Insular Affairs.