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Ecological rebound on Phillip Island, South Pacific


  • Peter Coyne

  • Remarkable recovery of vegetation and fauna at Phillip Island has occurred after the decline of introduced pigs and goats and the deliberate eradication of rabbits in the 1970s. These successes set the scene for refined planning and ongoing management

Peter Coynewas the inaugural Conservator on Norfolk Island from 1978 to 1983 and continued working for the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service and its successor, Parks Australia, until 2006. He returned to Phillip Island in a private capacity to record the outcome of rabbit eradication. He has now retired (PO Box 3296 BMDC, Belconnen ACT 2617, Australia; Tel: +61 (0) 262517660; Email:


Summary  Pigs released on Phillip Island (half-way between Sydney, Australia and Fiji) in 1793 were followed by goats and rabbits by 1830, quickly destroying the sub-tropical vegetation and the soil. By 1856, the island was described as mostly bare red ground with little remnant vegetation. The pigs and goats had gone by about 1900 but rabbits prevented most plant establishment. An experimental programme begun in 1979 to investigate the effect of the rabbits and the island’s potential for regeneration quickly provided spectacular evidence. An eradication programme followed, initially using a highly virulent strain of myxoma virus which was very effective but resupply failed. Poisoning with 1080 supplemented by shooting, trapping and gassing finally achieved effective eradication in March 1986, with the removal of the last single rabbit in 1988. Regeneration by native and weed species has been spectacular with consequent faunal changes. Some changes present policy challenges.

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