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.
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.
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?
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.
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.