May 15, 2018
As a consequence of the massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 2010, the Juan Fernández Archipelago in the Pacific Ocean suffered extensive damage and depended on emergency aid from international organizations. In order to restore the livelihoods of the artisanal fishermen and thus the whole population, boats, equipment and nets were imported by sea. Due to this, there was a significant increase in the number of commensal rodents disembarking from the ships, which caused a biological imbalance in the island’s flora and fauna.
The Juan Fernández firecrown hummingbird is endemic to one of the three islands in the archipelago (Robinson Crusoe Island) and therefore counts as critically endangered. The invasive alien rodent species threatened the bird’s habitat leading to severe consequences for the hummingbird population. According to the Chilean forestry authority the number of hummingbirds fell to only 750 and their habitat was limited to 20% of the original area.
Furthermore, the increasing rodent population had a negative impact on the quality of life of the island inhabitants. This is why they introduced cats into their homes with the objective of keeping the rodent population under control. However, this caused an overpopulation of domestic and wild cats. The felines could not really help with the problem but instead became another threat for the hummingbirds.
In partnership with the Chilean environmental consulting firm Bioraptor Ingeniería Limitada, BASF engaged in the development of a complex and interdisciplinary program for the protection of critically endangered endemic species on Robinson Crusoe Island, which has been implemented between 2013 and 2016. The program focused on rodent prevention and control as well as the promotion of responsible pet ownership. Local working groups facilitated the ongoing exchange of knowledge about the environment and pest control between BASF and Bioraptor and the locally operating NGOs Oikonos and Island Conservation. Besides knowledge and skills, BASF and Bioraptor provided the equipment for the program’s workshops on environmental protection and urban pest control. They also trained the participants in the appropriate handling of the pest control products used in the program. Eventually, all participants have been authorized by the local government and officially empowered to implement pest control measures.
Rodrigo Sepúlvedra (Technical Manager Bioraptor) and Marcelo Hoyos (Technical Manager of Environmental Hygiene BASF Argentina) joined the program as coordinators and played an active role in the project, analyzing and solving the various problems of the geographical area. On the one hand, challenges were presented by the rodenticides (chemical products for rodent prevention), which, if used incorrectly, could have posed a potential danger to humans and animals. On the other hand, problems arose from communication difficulties caused by the poor infrastructure on Robinson Crusoe Island due to its distance to the continent. In order to keep up the transfer of knowledge and technical competence, the island’s inhabitants and locally operating NGOs have been included in the project from the beginning.
Following the preparation phase, on-site teams placed over 420 bait boxes with BASF’s rodenticide on the island in 2014. The amount of the boxes remained more or less constant over time, however, there was a peak in 2015 with 42% of the baiting being consumed. Despite the difficulties in communication, the teams carried out a progress monitoring every 15 days and kept in contact with BASF and Bioraptor through follow-up phone calls and weekly e-mail exchanges. In addition to that, a domestic radio station ensured the community’s internal and external communication.
The active and effective participation of local NGOs and the community significantly contributed to the program’s success and the survival of the Juan-Fernández firecrown hummingbird. The profound partnership of corporations, organizations, institutions and the island’s inhabitants managed to reduce the rodent population by 60%. In order to ensure the program’s positive effects in the long term, the 700 inhabitants have been provided with information to build up an education process for environmental protection.
Due to the diligent planning and organization, the team achieved important sustainability goals: the environmental impact was kept to a minimum while maximum safety for the participants was assured at all times.