Full steam ahead for Auckland Island

Department of Conservation —  12/12/2018

By Rose Hanley-Nickolls, Project Assistant.

As I type, the yacht ‘Evohe’ is somewhere in the Southern Ocean, steaming for Auckland Island 465km south of Stewart Island. I’m following them on the Marine Traffic website, willing them on wards.

Remote, rugged and incredibly beautiful: the view over Carnley Harbour. Photo: Finlay Cox

Remote, rugged and incredibly beautiful: the view over Carnley Harbour. 📷: Finlay Cox

 

On board is the first deputation from the Maukahuka Auckland Island Pest Eradication project. Auckland Island is the last New Zealand Subantarctic Island World Heritage Area to have mammalian pests (pigs, cats and mice), and this summer will see the commencement of large-scale field trials on the Island. The trials are designed to inform a feasibility study for the ambitious eradication project.

Pigs, cats and mice have been causing untold damage to soils, plants, birds and animals over the last 200 years. Removing them would expand pest-free habitat in the New Zealand Subantarctic Islands World Heritage site from 30,500ha to 76,500ha and make Auckland Island a Nature Reserve.

Spot the pigs – not even this white capped mollymawk colony at South West Cape are safe from their depredations. Photo: Paul Sagar

Spot the pigs – not even this white capped mollymawk colony at South West Cape are safe from their depredations. 📷: Paul Sagar

 

With this big increase in ambition came many unknowns: How low can we sow to account for every last mouse on the island? How far do cats travel, where are they and can we find them? Can we detect pigs and cats with enough confidence to confirm an eradication? Can we split the island up into manageable chunks with pig-proof fences? How will this impact endemic species on the island? What will this take and is the whole thing even possible?

Auckland Island now, and what it should look like. Prey switching behaviour as seen in mice on other islands where they are the sole predator is also a real concern. 📷: S. Horn, F. Cox, P. Sagar, B. Dilley, J. Ross and J. Ware

Auckland Island now, and what it should look like. Prey switching behaviour as seen in mice on other islands where they are the sole predator is also a real concern. 📷: S. Horn, F. Cox, P. Sagar, B. Dilley, J. Ross and J. Ware

 

To help answer some of these questions and inform the future direction of the project, 40 staff will contribute to the work on Auckland Island over the summer to carry out field trials and install infrastructure necessary to support the research work.

Some of the work includes catching and fitting GPS collars to cats to understand their behavioural ecology, a mouse bait trial using a biomarker to investigate bait uptake at low sow rates, and the use of high-tech thermal imaging for aerial pig hunting.

Salty sea dogs! Paul Jacques and Martin Corbett happy to finally be on their way to trap some cats. 📷: James Ware

Salty sea dogs! Paul Jacques and Martin Corbett happy to finally be on their way to trap some cats. 📷: James Ware

 

The team is also establishing sites for baseline monitoring to enable measurement of future benefits and the impacts of our activities on the landscape, and to better understand species such as the falcons who make the island their home.

Read more about our work on Auckland Island

One response to Full steam ahead for Auckland Island

  1. 

    It may pay to first consider the effects of trying to remove certain species as highlighted by the Macquarie Island cat eradication program:
    http://www.antarctica.gov.au/news/2009/lessons-learned-from-devastating-effects-of-cat-eradication-on-macquarie-island