The goal of both The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is to return Palmyra to a mammal-free environment which is how all the native species on this atoll evolved. The black rat, Rattus rattus, has caused enormous ecological damage to the ground-nesting seabirds that lack the necessary defense skills to ward off predators. Brown boobies and masked boobies nest on the ground, making their eggs vulnerable. The sooty terns do fairly well because of the high density of their colonies, safety in numbers. But the storm petrals and shearwaters, for example, won't nest on Palmyra or the other islets until they are rat-free.
The black rats also impact the vegetation, ravenously eating coconuts and nesting in trees. The dark is their domain. On any given night, the runway crawls. The other morning, we found a dead rat with a mound of hermit crabs feasting on it. By afternoon, not a bone remained.
Next month, a rat eradication program is about to begin with 4300 pounds of poison being distributed on the island. The dogs and cats will be taken off Palmyra for about three months until the rats are cleared.
The two cats, Duchess and Tigger, have a good life. Duchess, a yellow tabby rules the kitchen and dares any rat to enter. By the end of the day, she is asleep on her back with her paws in the air. Tigger, another tabby, guards the laundry room and is more elusive, an orange streak behind drying sheets.
The day has cleared. Russell, Michael and Matt returned with the boat captain, John Speetjens, from deep-sea fishing; they bear three yellow fin tuna. Sustenance was found on two levels, given the grins on their faces.
The Nature Conservancy will be working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to establish rules of conduct for blue water sportfishing and bonefishing, primarily catch-and-release in the lagoons, with tag identification programs. Beyond the reef areas in the pelagic zone, fisherman are allowed to keep only what they can eat.
Dinner tomorrow night is ensured.