Hawadax Island (formerly Rat Island)

Hawadax Web Enlarged Profile

Rat Island is Officially Rat Free and now known as Hawadax Island


Biologists confirmed that Rat Island, a remote island in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, is now rat-free. The invasive predator had decimated native bird populations by preying on eggs and chicks and altered the native ecosystem in numerous ways.

Restoring habitat on Rat Island to benefit native wildlife is the largest rat eradication ever undertaken in the Northern Hemisphere and the first in Alaska. The eradication of the non-native rats took place in September of 2008 after four years of planning. The restoration of the 10-square-mile island was accomplished by Island Conservation, The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The team spread grain-based bait pellets across the island from helicopters flying a GPS-guided flight path. Two years of monitoring following international standards revealed no sign of rats. Although initial non-target mortality was higher than expected, no sign of any additional bird mortality was observed in subsequent visits.

“Rat Island is the most ambitious restoration effort we’ve undertaken on a refuge island, and we couldn’t have done it without our partners,” said Geoff Haskett, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Nearly 7,000 acres of wildlife refuge habitat has been reclaimed for native wildlife and that is an exciting result.

Biologists have confirmed increased numbers of at least one native bird after just two rat-free nesting seasons on the island. The giant song sparrow, found only in the central and western Aleutian Islands, is now commonly occurring on Rat Island. Song sparrows were only rarely seen on the island prior to the restoration. Other species confirmed nesting on the island and expected to benefit from rat removal include black oystercatchers, glaucous-winged gulls, pigeon guillemots, rock sandpipers, common eiders, red faced cormorants and gray-crowned rosy finches. Over the long term, burrow nesting seabirds, driven from the island by rats, are expected to return and re-colonize the island.

Though Rat Island is a remote island in the Aleutian chain about 1,300 miles west of Anchorage, invasive Norway rats arrived via a 1780's shipwreck preying on native birds and altering the native vegetation during the ensuing 220 years. The Rat Island restoration is the most recent project in a long campaign to restore otherwise healthy seabird habitat in the Aleutians.

The history of Rat Island shows we need to prevent future disasters caused by invasive species. Alaska is almost entirely rat-free, and it’s absolutely vital we work together to keep it this way. Birds that build nests on the ground – such as ducks, seabirds and songbirds – simply can’t defend their eggs and chicks from non-native predators such as rats. Island habitat restorations are occurring across the globe. Worldwide, there have been more than 300 successful eradications involving invasive rodents. Rats are responsible for about half of all bird and reptile extinctions on island habitats.

With the rats gone, restoration partners and the Aleutian Pribilof Island Association agree that an Aleut (Unangan), name was a fitting tribute to the restored island. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names, at its May 10, 2012 meeting, approved the proposal to change the name of Rat Island to Hawadax Island in the Aleutians. Hawadax (pronounced “how AH thaa”) is a return to the original Aleut name, in acknowledgement of the absence of rats—a return the island’s previous ecological state prior to European/Japanese contact. The word ‘Hawadax’ roughly translates to “those two over there” as in “the island over there with two knolls”, referring to two modest hills on the island.

In 2019, refuge staff will revisit Hawadax Island as well as several islands that still have rats as part of a feasibility study on islands that are candidates for possible rat control in the future.

Rat Island Photo Gallery