The uninhabited Caribbean island thrives again after decades of being destroyed by goats and rats
The uninhabited Caribbean island of Redonda has a thriving ‘miraculous’ ecology, but it wasn’t always like that – for decades it was destroyed by goats and rats.
The island was a hive of human activity in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when miners worked to extract guano and phosphates for use in fertilizer.
It was abandoned after the outbreak of the First World War and left dozens of goats and thousands of rats – originally brought to the island by the miners.
In 2016, a team of conservationists from around the world embarked on the island’s ‘wildlife’ – their first task was to remove the ‘hungry goats’ to nearby Antigua.
To remove the goats, volunteers wrapped them in a plastic bag up to the neck and put “pole lumps on their horns” – they were then placed in a helicopter.
Since then, the island has been “miraculously restored,” from 17 different types of vegetation growing in 2012 to nearly 90 in 2019, environmentalists say.
Since the start of the restoration program in 2016, the island has undergone a ‘miraculous recovery’. On the left you see a cliff side in 2016 and on the right an image from 2019
Abandoned after the outbreak of the First World War, Redonda left goats and rats to destroy the ‘delicate and unique ecosystem’ by eating everything they could see
In just three years, the island has seen the return of several species, including various species of nesting birds such as boobies and frigate birds.
They have also seen an increase in the number of geckos and tree lizards, experts from the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG) based in Antigua say.
“This was the chance of a lifetime – witness the rebirth of an island,” said Shanna Challenger, a project coordinator.
“The changes that are expected to take place within five years have occurred within months.
“Our conservation efforts really show the benefits of invasive species removal on Caribbean island ecosystems.”
Teams from all over the world worked with the Antigua government to restore Redonda to its natural state, including groups from the UK, the US and New Zealand.
To remove the goats, volunteers wrapped them in a plastic bag up to the neck and put “pole lumps on their horns” – they were then placed on a plane on their way to Antigua
This rare black lizard is native to Redonda and saw a huge increase in population size after the rats and goats were removed from the island
Redonda is located about 30 miles from parent island Antigua, it is a rugged volcanic island with globally important seabird colonies and unique flora and fauna.
The island still has species to be named, making it of ‘vital natural value’, according to environmentalists from Flora and Fauna International.
Flora and Fauna International were one of a number of global teams that worked on the island, including the British Mountaineering Council, Island Conservation from the US and Wildlife Management International from New Zealand.
“Since the ambitious restoration program has been rolled out, the Rock of Redonda has been transformed from an inhospitable lunar landscape to a greener harbor,” said a spokesperson for Flora and Fauna.
The island was a hive of human activity in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when miners worked to extract guano and phosphates for use in fertilizer
This image of a Redonda Ground Lizard was created after nature protectors wilted again, saying they are now flourishing
The most important human intervention in the Redonda project was the removal of the goats and rats from the island.
This meant they were brought upstairs, ‘pool noodles’ were put on their horns and they were flown to Antigua for 20 minutes, says the EAG.
Although the team of volunteers had a plan to catch the goats, they only managed to collect one animal after a month. “They were so smart,” Mrs. Challenger said.
“They would look at our snares and jump over them.”
Experts say the island has ‘changed color’ from brown to bright green as natural weeds, grasses and plants begin to return
Volunteers regularly return to the island to follow the re-wilting, which happened mainly without human intervention
Nothing seemed to work, they tried to omit food and fresh water, but the goats didn’t seem to want to leave.
Eventually, more workers had to head to the island to collect them by hand and transport them by helicopter.
To keep the goats calm, everyone was tied to his neck in a plastic bag, ‘old yoga pants’ over his head and his horns covered with polar noodles during the 20-minute flight.
“The goats died of hunger – especially during the dry season and ate all the vegetation that dared to make its head appear on the arid land,” said the nature conservation project.
“After months of thinking of ways to outwit them, they have now moved to Antigua and are happily living in their new home.”
The island of Redonda was once a deserted place almost destroyed by goats and rats, but volunteers have helped bring it back to a natural wonder with a unique ecology
The number of Redonda tree lizard (Anolis nubilus) has increased “remarkably” since the project began, according to EAG volunteers
The goats were found to be related to a species found in Cape Verde off the coast of Africa and others found in Cuba.
The more than 6,000 ‘large and voracious’ black rats were a bigger problem than the goats due to the inaccessible nature of parts of the island.
Here came the British Mountaineering Council.
They climbed the volcanic rock walls to check for rat populations and put down poison to remove the invasive species.
Experts say the rats are 100% exterminated, although they keep an eye on the island to make sure they don’t return.
There are proposals to turn Redonda and the surrounding waters into a protected natural area to keep the unique flora and fauna safe
The Redonda tree lizard (Anolis nubilus) is one of the reptiles that returned after invasive species were removed from the island
After the rats were finally removed, EAG and other groups decided to see how much the island could “repair” itself without having to step in.
This approach seemed to work because within a year “there had been a miraculous recovery,” Mrs. Challenger said.
The number of birds on the land was tenfold and rare species of lizards from the island had seen a “significant” peak in population levels.
“Even the color of the island changed,” said volunteers, who say it went from brown to green when the native grass returned to the steep cliffs.
A special success story was the Redonda tree lizard (Anolis nubilus), which returned after invasive species were removed from the island.
WHAT IS REDONDA?
Redonda is an uninhabited island in the Caribbean, just 35 miles from Antigua.
It was ‘discovered’ in 1493 by Christopher Columbus on his second trip to the New World.
He called it “Santa María la Redonda” (the Spanish language that means “Saint Mary the Round”).
The island then officially became part of Antigua and Barbuda in 1967.
The island is about four hours by boat from the island and nobody has lived there for more than a century.
However, this has not always been the case, because there were once about 100 people on the island of one mile long and 0.3 miles wide.
They moved to the rocky stretch of land in the Atlantic Ocean in the late 19th century and stayed there until the 20th century to harvest natural resources.
More than 100 men lived full time on the island and worked at the local mine.
Guano and phosphates – used as fertilizer – were dug up from the belly of the island and moved to the shoreline for export through a series of pulleys.
However, this niche industry was suddenly curtailed with the outbreak of the First World War.
The island emptied quickly and all signs of human habitation fell into disrepair, except for a few pieces of machinery and two animals that survived in droves – goats and rats.
A small handful of people remained on the island until 1929, but a hurricane decimated what remained from the time of the mine.
The goats and rats remained and in the course of the 20th and 21st centuries they started to eat all the vegetation on the island, bringing it to the point of ecological disaster.
A redevelopment program is underway to restore the island to its natural state before the invasive species destroyed the land.
The island’s birth fauna is now flourishing, where boobies and frigate birds nest.
Tree lizards and dwarf geckos are native to the island and thrive in the absence of goats and rats.
Undoubtedly the most iconic animal, however, is the Redonda ground dragon, a rare, six-inch, all-black lizard.