By Lou Sanson, Director-General
Million Dollar Mouse crew departs for Antipodes
Today I want to acknowledge the Antipodes Island mice eradication crew, who have departed to begin their pest control operations on the remote island. The yacht Evohe departed on Tuesday night and the Norfolk Guardian on Wednesday. This is the culmination of years of planning and leadership from Stephen Horn and many others, internal and external.
The project is our most ambitious island eradication project since Campbell in 2002. It has suffered a few setbacks, such as delays to a supply mission when RNZ Navy ships were redeployed to the Cyclone Winston relief effort in Fiji. However, the team is now ready to head out into the Southern Ocean in mid-winter to begin this most significant island eradication project.
The project has involved three years of research and preparation, including our science team working through all the risks to unique wildlife on the Antipodes.
It has raised significant funding from the likes of The Morgan Foundation ($350 000), World Wildlife Foundation NZ ($100,000), Island Conservation ($100 000) and members of the public through Million Dollar Mouse campaigns ($250 000). What was a $1 million project ended up becoming a $4 million project as the reality of the challenge unfolded.
My first exposure to the project was meeting Gareth Morgan and Andy Roberts in 2012, on a ship coming back from Antarctica. They said they had this big idea for a ‘Million Dollar Mouse’ project… and the rest is now history.
Conservation Inc2 conference
Last week I spoke at the the ‘Conservation Inc 2’ conference in Dunedin organised by the Yellow Eyed Penguin Trust.
It was a remarkable event with 75 of our leading conservation trusts and community partners coming together to look at the opportunity and challenges of citizen-led conservation. The case studies were inspirational and showcased such dedicated people supporting community conservation.
Clearly the DOC Community Fund sits at the heart of a lot of this work and is so important to these groups going forward. We acknowledge each and every one of them for the work that they do.
A historic moment for takahe
I recently met Joan Watson, who was part of the group that rediscovered takahe in the Murchison Mountains in 1948. The last time a takahe had been seen was in 1898 and it was thought to be extinct.
Joan was just 21 at the time and was engaged to Rex Watson, who was on a hunting trip in Easter 1948 when they spotted tracks and heard strange bird calls.
Dr Orbell then organised the November 1948 expedition where the group eventually found the takahe. Joan was there when the first birds were rediscovered and helped to entice them into the net.
It was fantastic to meet Joan and talk about this amazing moment in conservation history that made headlines around the world at the time.
1500 kiwis hatched at Rainbow Springs Nature Park
Last week I visited our Marketing team at the TRENZ tradeshow in Rotorua, where they were marketing our Great Walks, Visitor Centres, and DOC’s campsites and tracks to around 300 international travel sellers.
During my time in Rotorua I was also able to participate with Ngai Tahu, the Prime Minister and our DOC staff in a visit to Rainbow Springs Nature Park, where the Prime Minister released ‘Mighty Dash’, the 1500th kiwi bred at the park.
Mighty Dash was bred from an egg brought in by our kiwi team at Whakapapa, Jenny Hayward and John Polstra. He hatched at 11pm on Christmas Day and has now been released into the wild.
Rainbow Springs first began hatching in 1995 and they now produce 100 chicks a year, all supported and funded by Ngai Tahu as their commitment to kiwi conservation.
Rotoroa Island – New Zealand’s biggest private conservation project
The 80 hectare island was leased from Salvation Army by the Rotoroa Island Trust with the generous support of Neal and Annette Plowman for 99 years in 2008. Their vision was to create a conservation park near Auckland city.
Remarkable progress has been made in the past nine years, with the removal of 20,000 pine trees and planting of 400,000 natives. The island has been predator free since 2013 and, in partnership with Auckland Zoo, seven new species (takahē, kiwi, whitehead, saddleback, pāteke, moko and shore skinks) have been introduced through translocations helped by our staff. Artificial colonies of gannets and white-fronted terns have also been established.
The island was opened to the public for the first time in over 100 years in 2011 and now hosts 9,000 visitors a year.
The real focus is on conservation and environmental education and Auckland Zoo staff outlined their vision to set up a world leading conservation training unit with the Durrell Conservation Academy in the UK to train the conservationists of the future both within NZ and internationally (Durrell now has over 41,000 conservation graduates from 41 countries).
The curriculum would focus on post-grad diplomas, graduate certificates and courses in biosecurity, native species, intensive wildlife management (like kākāpō) and covering techniques such as captive rearing, wildlife marking and radio telemetry. The aim is to create a much bigger conservation volunteer army for New Zealand and the Pacific region.
Currently the Zoo hosts 1200 students a year on Rotoroa Island with a particular focus on lower decile schools. (90% of schools implement their own conservation programmes inspired by their Rotoroa Island visit.)
Significantly the conservation work on Rotoroa was the genesis of Project Janszoon and NEXT Foundation for the Plowman family. It is our intention to work with NEXT and Auckland Zoo to plan how we achieve a sustainable business model.
Aoraki Mount Cook Search and Rescue team
On a visit to Aoraki Mount Cook a few weeks ago I got a first-hand look at how our staff are handling record tourist numbers with a high degree of professionalism. With tourism significantly on the rise, they’ve maintained their critical focus on infrastructure and visitor services, including toilets.
This year the Aoraki Mount Cook Search and Rescue team responded to 37 SAR missions including the tragic helicopter crash at Fox Glacier and 5 deaths around Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.
Climate change continues to have an impact on the Aoraki climbing season, a pattern also seen in Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks. We’re seeing major crevasses opening by early January – leading to the shortest climbing seasons we have ever seen.