Reclaiming Rat Island: Packard’s Ongoing Support of Native Island Species

Islands are rich with life and face disproportionately high rates of extinction. Seabirds are particularly threatened, and have become an area of interest to the Packard Foundation. The funder has given millions to one conservation group’s work on the issue, including some serious pest control.

Comprising only about 5 percent of the earth’s land, islands are a huge piece of the planet’s biodiversity, serving as capsules of unique life, and as crucial migratory and breeding stations for bird species. But their delicate ecosystems are especially vulnerable to invasive species, meaning native species face a high threat of extinction.  

Fortunately, islands have a friend in the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, especially when it comes to protecting seabirds. Since 2007, Packard has given more than $10 million to the nonprofit Island Conservation for its work to prevent extinctions, with an emphasis on restoring seabird breeding islands by removing invasive vertebrate species. The funder recently renewed support with a $1 million grant, but has given up to $1.8 million in one year.

Island Conservation began its efforts in 1994, and has deployed teams to 52 islands to protect 389 species. The group works all over the world, focussing particularly on seabirds is California and Mexico. The region has nearly 300 islands, with breeding grounds for 37 seabird species. 

So what are these invasive vertebrate species that threaten bird populations, exactly? Well, sometimes it’s rats. 

Introduced by visiting ships, invasive rat species run amok islands. They eat seabird eggs and chicks, crabs, native plants, and hog food supplies from other animals. They ruin everything.

One example is on Palmyra Atoll, 25 tropical islands in the Central Pacific that serve as an important habitat for 10 seabird species, as well as sea turtles. Island Conservation partnered with U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Nature Conservancy to remove a rat population that took hold during World War II-era U.S. military occupation. And yes, if you were wondering, removal means death by rodenticide. As of 2013, the Atoll has been rat-free. 

And then there’s Rat Island. No seriously, in the 18th century, a shipwreck left the island off the coast of Alaska infested with Norway rats, which plagued the bird populations for 200 years, earning it that name. Island Conservation worked with other groups to eradicate the rat population, and since then, the island’s name was officially changed to Hawadax Island. Several native bird species have bounced back and are nesting on the island again.

Protection of seabirds is a big concern for the Packard Foundation, especially for Conservation and Science Program Director Walt Reid. Packard is a leader in marine bird conservation. And Reid’s research background is in part on the conservation of seabirds in the Pacific. They give to a ton of marine and seabird conservation projects with an emphasis on the West Coast, making a round just recently that included support to the Resources Legacy Fund for a dam removal and habitat restoration project in California, and to the World Wildlife Fund to improve fisheries. 

Read more about Packard’s marine bird conservation giving here, and check out our profiles on the funder below.  

David and Lucile Packard Foundation: Grants for Marine and River Conservation

Walt Reid, David and Lucile Packard Foundation