Almost a dozen islands off Australia's Queensland coast have been shut down to the public after being taken over by rats.
Officials with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) plan to launch an aerial pest control program meant to bait the rats on the Frankland and Northen Barnard islands, as well as the area south of the city of Cairns, which is considered the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, the Australian Associated Press (AAP) reports.
The tiny intruders are part of the Rattus rattus species, commonly known as black rats. Conservationists are concerned the rodents pose a threat to nesting seabirds.
"They cause major extinctions and a decline in island biodiversity around the world, and we certainly know on our Australian islands they have a huge impact on nesting seabirds," QPWS ranger-in-charge Warrick Armstrong told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
"They are damaging seabird eggs, eating hatchlings.
We also have a lot of visitors to campgrounds, so there's a risk of disease that's carried by these pest rats."
He added that the pests are also eating the islands' native cabbage to hydrate themselves.
Officials believe the rats made it to the islands as stowaways on boats or on logs that floated over during flood events, according to ABC.
"The control of black rats on these islands is a high priority (and) will play a significant role in restoring valuable seabird nesting habitat in the area," a spokesperson for the Department of Environment and Science said in a statement obtained by AAP.
A helicopter will be used to drop the bait over the island, ABC reports. Conservationists used a similar approach in 2000 on the South Barnard Islands, which led to a successful rebound of the seabirds.
"We've seen a huge return of seabirds to that area since that eradication program," said Armstrong.
It's not the first time Australia has been infested by rats, last November Melbourne was hit by a 'rat plague' after major underground rail works disturbed the rodents' habitat.
The construction efforts sent thousands of rodents to the streets, prompting the City of Melbourne council to hire pest control contractors to deal with the "rat plague", full story here.