After flying 50 degrees of latitude from the subantarctic to the equator, I am back on Fernando de Noronha, following in the footsteps of Hōkūleʻa who just departed. Here I find the icon of Fernando de Noronha, the tropic bird, emblazoned on tourism material, is gradually going extinct. The red-billed tropic bird (Phaethon aethereus) is nearly extinct at less than ten individuals. The white-tailed tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus) is relegated to a second class citizen on offshore rock stacks, as are other avian citizens such as masked boobies (Sula dactylatra). When a tropicbird attempts to nest on the main island of Noronha, it is quickly savagely mauled by a cat.
Our team visits one of the offshore rock stacks; Ilha do Chapéu lies off the popular Baía do Sueste and can be walked out to at low tide. Its overhanging champignon rock topography would provide even a challenge to rock climbers and certainly between the tides and rocks excludes cats. And so it’s no surprise that on top of the plateau we find tropicbirds and masked boobies breeding happily in abundance. Fat native mabuya lizards bask on the rocks, immune to cat predation. Our rat tracking tunnels come back negative, additionally confirming the absence of rats here, compared to the main island where they are currently reaching up to sixty per hectare. This small island is the true paradise of Noronha.
The tourists are more interested in beaches, while the residents are more interested in feeding the local introduced cat population, which numbers over 1,000. Subsidies to cat populations in this way have been shown elsewhere to have devastating consequences. Permanent removal of cats from the island is an urgent necessity, but lethal control is forbidden from the continental state of Pernambuco which Noronha is attached to, and community support is currently lacking.
A further complicating threat is the presence of introduced teju (Tupinambis merianae). A CITES listed native on continental Brazil, introduced to Noronha it is a ferocious predatory species from which nothing on the ground is safe, including birds, eggs, reptiles and turtle nestlings.