Bright Spots by Jilli Rose

A scientist talks about his work preventing extinctions on islands -- and the importance of protecting our planet.

Animator Jilli Rose tells the story of Nick Holmes, the science director of Island Conservation, an organization that removes invasive species on remote islands to prevent animals from going extinct.

As a child, Nick loved adventures. He’d play at the creek, the beach and the headlands. To him, nothing made more sense than being outside among the natural world.

When he grew older, he learned the early explorers, who traveled to remote places that had never had human contact. He wanted to experience this himself, so he traveled to remote islands that had never seen true predatory mammals.

Those isolated places were all about birds. Birds had arrived, lost flight and evolved into different niches — taking the place of browsing animals elsewhere in the world. Or they evolved into different types of songbirds, in concert with the various flowers, providing a remarkable breadth of diversity.

Nick loved it and felt like he was in another world.

But the arrival of human, who introduced cats, rats and mongoose, changed all that.

There’s nothing more persistent and voracious as a rat. When Nick sees what they’re capable of, he has nothing but respect for how efficient they are at killing and changing everything. They eat seeds, lizards, invertebrates, birds, eggs — there’s nothing a rat won’t try.

They’re also hyper-intelligent — they learn and breed quickly. So native birds, who evolved in a complete absence of these types of predators, don’t survive. And so when they come in contact, there’s no competition. They’re eaten — plain and simple.

Through Island Conservation, Nick is trying to do things to make the rest of the world take notice and feel optimistic. He’s giving threatened animals who are at risk of going extinct, an opportunity to survive. And that’s what gives him hope.

Nick Holmes earned his Ph.D from the University of Tasmania, Australia, working with the Australian Antarctic Division to develop best-practice guidelines for managing human impacts to seabirds in the subantarctic. He also managed the Kaua’i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project at the Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit, University of Hawai’i, developing and implementing recovery actions for Newell’s Shearwaters, Hawai’ian Petrels and Band-rumped Storm-petrels.




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