by Bridget Railton, Communications Advisor
In an effort spanning more than four years, countless people and multiple organisations, mice have officially been eradicated from Antipodes Island.
Announced by the Conservation Minister last week, ‘Million Dollar Mouse’, a joint initiative between DOC and funding partners the Morgan Foundation, WWF-New Zealand, Island Conservation and public supporters, has successfully delivered one of the most complex island eradication projects ever undertaken.
Thanks to the efforts of all those involved, the special species, including 21 species of breeding seabirds, scores of unique insects and four unique land birds that call Antipodes Island home now have a fighting chance.
Project manager Steve Horn said the project’s success was down to every individual involved – and with planning and fundraising beginning way back in 2012, that’s a cast of thousands.
In particular, the New Zealand public needed to be acknowledged for getting behind the idea and supporting the vision.
It’s great to be able to share this success with all the partners involved.
Morgan Foundation founder Gareth Morgan says The Morgan Foundation is thrilled that the Million Dollar Mouse project has resulted in the successful eradication of mice from the Antipodes.
“We were overwhelmed with support from the public and it showed the possibility of what these conservation partnerships between DOC and the public can achieve. It has demonstrated the importance of directly engaging the public who are able to have a greater sense of ownership when their efforts are directly linked to the conservation work.”
WWF New Zealand CEO Livia Esterhazy says to have eradicated mice from the Antipodes Islands is the most incredible win for our environment.
“This means that the wildlife of this unique part of the world will have a chance to recover and thrive, and we are looking forward to seeing the islands flourish. WWF New Zealand would like to congratulate everyone involved: from Stephen Horn and the team on the islands through to the individuals who helped fund the project.”
Island Conservation Project Director Richard Griffiths says they are thrilled at having been able to collaborate on this monumental achievement to protect Antipode’s threatened species and look forward to partnering with the Department of Conservation on its next steps toward Predator-Free New Zealand.
“The removal of invasive species from island ecosystems is a proven way to protect biodiversity and prevent extinctions”
The eradication attempt itself was carried out over three months in 2016. The logistics of this are mind-boggling; the Antipodes Island group is located about 760 km south east of New Zealand – too far to fly. All equipment, including the helicopters necessary for dispersing the bait, had to be shipped down.
The 2,100 hectare islands are protected as a Nature Reserve and are recognised internationally as a World Heritage site for their outstanding natural values. They’re also a fairly imposing land mass, rising out of the southern ocean with a landscape not conducive to an easy stroll.
Nevertheless, the teams operated effectively, efficiently and to international best practice to get the operation done. Eighteen months and two mice breeding seasons later, the 10-strong monitoring team were ready to pick up the task and ask the question: was it a success?
The monitoring team, led by Finlay Cox, returned into Dunedin last Tuesday aboard the Evohe following what sounded like a couple of rough days at sea.
They spent just under a month on the island, searching high and low for signs of mice – ably assisted by three pest detector dogs from the Conservation Dogs Programme, supported by Kiwibank and the Auckland City Council.
More than 7000 tracking tunnel nights spread across the island in the best mouse habitat showed no sign of mice, and after collating all the available evidence, DOC’s Island Eradication Advisory Group (IEAG) have declared the island officially mouse free.
Antipodes Island now joins a growing list of successful island eradications.
In the Subantarctic DOC has previously eradicated rats from 11,800 ha Campbell Island in 2001. In the Auckland Island group rabbits and mice were eradicated from Enderby and Rose Islands in 1993 and a small population of goats were eradicated from the main Auckland Island by 1992.
With the Antipodes now officially pest-free, the focus shifts to the next big challenge – Auckland Island.
The Auckland Islands are now the only one of New Zealand’s five Subantarctic island groups with a population of mammalian predators – cats, mice and pigs.
It’s early days yet, but the success on Antipodes does provide some key lessons that we may be able to apply in other island eradication work.
Internationally, the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is planning to eradicate mice from Gough Island in the South Atlantic in winter 2019 so they will have been watching this outcome closely.
For now though, the team will take a moment to sit back and enjoy this time – they’ve earned it!