"The Rat Spill"

"A tiny Alaskan island faces a threat as deadly as an oil spill — rats."

"On a late-summer morning in 2018, Paul Melovidov walked into the freezer section of the Trident Seafoods processing plant. The weather-beaten building stands where breakwater meets land in Saint Paul, Alaska, a community of around 500 residents on an island in the Bering Sea. Behind the plant, rows of colorful houses march toward green, treeless hills and the steeple of a Russian Orthodox church. Hundreds of kilometers of moody ocean stretch away on all sides. Melovidov’s flashlight beam swept the room, then paused in a far corner. At the circle of light’s center crouched a rat.

Melovidov, soft-spoken with snowy hair, is the ecosystems coordinator for the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island Tribal Government. He’d been trying to catch the rat for a week. That might sound inconsequential, but it had big implications for Saint Paul Island, the largest of the Pribilof Islands, a critical stronghold for marine life in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

Nearly 200,000 seabirds nest on Saint Paul Island’s cliffs and rocky beaches, among them murres, kittiwakes, puffins, fulmars, auklets, and cormorants. On neighboring Saint George Island, about 75 kilometers away, the number pushes past two million. Hundreds of thousands of northern fur seals gather each summer on the islands, also home to endemic species of Arctic fox, rock sandpiper, shrew, and lemming. Rats and mice don’t belong here. They can transmit diseases to other mammals, including people, damage buildings and vehicles, and foul crops wherever they make their homes. But invading omnivorous rodents wreak special havoc on islands, where native plants and animals, seabirds in particular, have no innate defenses against them."

Sarah Gilman reports for Hakai magazine August 13, 2019.

Source: Hakai, 08/14/2019