Caribbean Island Redonda Sees Life Return After Years of Conservation Efforts

It takes four hours to sail to the small, uninhabited Caribbean island known as Redonda. The island stands strong today, with greenery stretching to the sky, seabirds darting overhead, and flora blooming throughout. But Redonda wasn’t always so picturesque. In fact, only a few short years ago, many thought the old, crumbling piece of volcano was a lost cause — completely barren and quickly dying.

Photo: Adobe Stock/IndustryAndTravel

The History of Redonda

In the 1860s, several mining operations were established on the island. At its peak production, more than 100 men were employed, mining for guano, which was used as a natural fertilizer. When World War I broke out, the mines were shut down. However, the ships of men that brought labor and equipment also brought goats and rats, and that’s all that was left after the closure of the mines.

Photo: Facebook/Redonda Restoration Programme

These two unlikely species worked together to demolish every living inhabitant on the island. The goats consumed every inch of flora and fauna over the years, and recently reached the point where they were facing starvation. Meanwhile, the rats attacked the wildlife that naturally lived on the island, preying on reptiles and bird eggs.

So, in 2016, environmentalists began work on reversing the decay of Redonda — and that meant starting with the removal of the thousands of black rats and feral goats that had overrun the island. Removing these species offered its own set of challenges. The goats, many of whom had little to no experience with human contact, were corralled and airlifted off of the island to farmers on the mainland, who were eager to breed their drought-resistant genes. The rats, however, needed to be lured into hand-laid traps, with bait ranging from peanut butter to chocolate “to make sure we got the picky ones,” explained Environmental Awareness Group’s (EAG) Shanna Challenger.

Photo: Facebook/Redonda Restoration Programme

“We also dropped bait by helicopter and had climbers abseiling the cliffs to ensure no part of the island was missing,” Challenger continued. By July of 2018, nearly two years after the start of this project, Redonda was declared free of all invasive species.

Natural Inhabitants Return

Now, in 2021, Redonda’s once-barren terrain is overcome by flourishing vegetation. Due to the coronavirus pandemic making trips to the island even more difficult than it already was, the conservationists that had worked so hard to eradicate the rats and goats had not been able to check on the island in over 18 months.

Challenger was part of the group that was recently able to check on the island’s success and says it was an “emotional moment” for her. “It was such a stark contrast from the first time I saw Redonda in 2016 when it was literally crumbing in the sea,” she recalled.

“As the helicopter got closer, I could see all these little circles of green and I realised they were brand new trees and shrubs. Not only has the vegetation recovered, it’s thriving.” And with new vegetation brings a new food source, which in turn attracts the wildlife that was once so prevalent on the island. Brown boobies, red-billed tropicbirds, peregrine falcons, and frigates had all returned to Redonda and were waiting for the conservationists’ return.

Photo: Facebook/Redonda Restoration Programme

“And don’t even get me started on the lizards,” Challenger cointuned. “The vegetation means they have more insects to eat and their numbers have expanded so much, they’re literally crawling over you.” According to Fauna & Flora International (FFI), who worked with EAG on this conservation project, Redonda’s tree lizard population has increased eightfold. Additionally, the island’s 17 plant species has increased to 88, and more than a dozen species of land birds have returned.

“Redonda has transformed, right before our eyes and quicker than we’d believed possible, from bare rock into a green jewel of an island,” said FFI’s Dr. Jenny Daltry. “At a time when so much of the news about the state of our planet is understandably downbeat, the rebirth of this island shows that if we give nature a chance, it can and will bounce back.”

Photo: Facebook/Redonda Restoration Programme

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