Redonda, an uninhabited Caribbean island, was a critical source of fertilizer in the 19th century.
When miners stepped foot on the island, they introduced invasive species that destroyed the habitat.
Environmental groups began restoration efforts in 2016 and have seen remarkable progress.
Redonda, a small, uninhabited Caribbean island that is part of the commonwealth of Antigua and Barbuda, is on the path to recovering its native ecosystem after being destroyed by invasive species nearly a century ago.
The tiny island of Redonda, about a mile long, was formerly a haven for several species of seabirds.
Its attraction, particularly to birds, such as Brown Boobies and Masked Boobies, made the island a rich source of guano — or seabird excrement — which could be turned into fertilizer and gunpowder.
In the 19th century, the British government deployed more than 100 miners to begin extracting several tons of guano per year, according to Earth Island Journal.
Humans deserted the island around the 1930s, but the mining operations left behind invasive species, mainly domestic goats and stowaway black rats, that wreaked havoc on the island's ecosystem.
Soon, the island became a barren landscape, earning the nickname "the rock" from adjacent locals, BBC reported.
"Much like they have done elsewhere in the world, the rats and goats contributed to the deforestation and desertification of Redonda and are blamed for the extinction of the endemic skink and iguana, as well as the extirpation of the Antiguan burrowing owl on the island," according to the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG), an Antigua and Barbuda NGO. "By 2012, the ecosystem was so severely degraded that even the feral goats were starving to death."
In 2016, environmental groups such as EAG launched restoration efforts to bring back the local plant life and animal species native to the island.
The plan included relocating Redonda's estimated 60 goats to Antigua and eradicating about 7,000 rats with the help of local and international volunteers.
"That's all we did. We just removed the species that were not supposed to be there and within months we saw the vegetation growing back — the island rebounding," Johnella Bradshaw, EAG's Redonda program coordinator told CNN.
In just two years, entire species began to return, according to the EAG.
"Within 24 months of invasive species removal, populations of at least two of the three lizard species have increased by more than threefold and species of land birds and invertebrates, not seen in decades, have returned," the NGO wrote.
Today, Redonda is home to dozens of threatened species and a new generation of seabirds that haven't been seen in centuries. Total plant biomass has increased by more than 2,000%, CNN reported.
"Up to this date, we haven't planted anything, we haven't reintroduced any species. We just removed the rats and the goats, and the island transformed right in front of our eyes," Bradshaw told CNN.
This month, the government of Antigua and Barbuda established the Redonda Ecosystem Reserve which will cover 30,000 hectares or 74,000 acres of land and sea, including the small island.
Bradshaw told the outlet that this designation should help the island continue its restoration, which remains fragile.
An EAG spokesperson did not return a request for comment.
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