Pest-free Stewart Island comes one step closer to becoming reality
New Zealand leads the world in clearing pests, however until now DOC has talked gingerly about the obvious next hurdle: clearing pests from inhabited islands. Until now….
For fifteen years people have talked about getting pests off Stewart island (popn = 380), and five years ago a feasibility study was done to determine whether this is possible.
It wasn’t until businessman and philanthropist Gareth Morgan took the reins one year ago that this whole project has been swung into fifth gear. Since he took on this uber project, he has conducted an anonymous poll to determine firstly whether Stewart islanders wanted to rid the island of their rats, feral cats and possums.
The poll came back emphatically in favour of the idea: 84% of the respondents said ‘yes’. Re-envisioning this island (NZ’s third largest) as a bird-filled paradise with kiwi walking down Oban’s main street and kakapo sitting in the trees appealed not just to conservationists, but also tourism operators in an island where there are few economic opportunities.
Indeed, an appetite for biodiversity restoration already exists in some parts of the community – after all, the community ‘demanded’ that the invading rat population on Ulva Island was re-eradicated in 2011.
After the poll, DOC began work on a feasibility study that was released last Thursday, which will soon be followed by an economic assessment conducted by Gareth. The feasibility study deals with many of the sensitive issues – such as pet cats, toxicity in deer populations and general restrictions placed on residents to prevent any rat invasions.
The report then maps out how to fund the project. The bill for such an eradication – one of the world’s first – comes in at $30 – 50 million, however DOC’s Southern Islands Area Manager Andy Roberts says it will put NZ on the map as a leader in pest control and species conservation. It also may set a precedent for smaller inhabited islands such as Great Barrier island.
A long-term plan for such as operation would take a staged approach, whereby the area around the most sensitive area – the township of Oban – will be protected by a predator proof fence.
Cats might be either be kept indoors, or shipped off the island and DOC will start a ground baiting and trapping operation to ensure this heavily trafficked area is pest-free. The second part of the operation will be to rid the rest of the 170,000 hectare island using aerial baiting.
There are a multitude of unknowns – and at key steps the community will be engaged to give feedback on the operation. For now though DOC is focused on setting up a governance board of community members, iwi, businesspeople, councils and private funders.
The technical hurdles, the mammoth fundraising effort and the delicate nature of this operation makes it a challenging one, but there’s no doubt that the biodiversity gains would be incredible. Kakapo in your backyard, kiwi poking around your lawn? It’s a no brainer really.
To see the feasibility study and a breakdown of the outline see here – http://garethsworld.com/blog/enviroment/predator-free-stewart-island-update/
To see Gareth Morgan’s Antipodes Island operation see here – http://www.ourfarsouth.org/milliondollarmouse/