Port Lincoln local takes part in rat purge

A Port Lincoln woman has taken part in an operation that has cleared an island near Antarctica of rats for the first time in more than two centuries.

Dani Spreitzer was on South Georgia Island, a small island near Antarctica, from November to February four the fourth stage of the South Georgia Habitat Restoration Project.

Through this project the South Georgia Heritage Trust has worked to eradicate rats which were first brought to the island by whalers in the 19th century and prey on native seabirds.

On May 8 the trust announced the island was rodent free.

Miss Spreitzer said she became aware of the trust after working on the MS National Geographic Explorer in 2016 and wanted to be involved.

“The (South Georgia and South Sandwich) islands are incredibly special, not only very beautiful but are also one of the most important sea bird breeding locations in the world,” she said.

Miss Spreitzer said the trust began field work in 2011 with two more phases in 2013 and 2015 as sections of the island were baited and checked for numbers.

Taking part in the fourth phase Miss Spreitzer volunteered for three months going onto cruise ships and spreading information about the island and the trust’s work.

Miss Spreitzer said while on the island she lived at the British Antarctic Survey Base at King Edward Point.

She also spent five weeks with ‘Team Rat’ helping to put out more than 1000 passive rat monitoring devices, which involve peanut butter wax tags and peanut butter filled stakes to tempt rats to leave bite marks.

Miss Spreitzer said she would hike up to 20 kilometres a day but it was worth it to protect birds such as the South Georgia Pippett, which was recovering thanks to the eradication program.

“It’s an incredible privilege to visit the island, to live there...and be a part of an amazing, world leading conservation project that is saving the lives of millions of birds,” she said.

Miss Spreitzer said she would be returning to the island in October to help with fundraising as there were still threats to birds on South Georgia Island, namely the increasing presence of plastic and long lines in our oceans.