22 Jul 2017

Auckland Islands target of pest removal plan

11:56 am on 22 July 2017

Feral pigs that have run rampant on the Auckland Islands will be targeted in a large scale pest removal plan for the main island in the group of subantarctic islands, Conservation Minister Maggie Barry says.

Penguins at the Auckland Islands

Penguins at the Auckland Islands Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Ms Barry said pigs, cats, rats and mice were introduced in the early 19th century, and have wreaked havoc on many birds species.

She visited the Auckland Islands in February, and saw the damage done by pigs to the foliage and habitat for sea lions as well as bird species like penguins and albatross.

"The feral pigs, the cats and rats were introduced in a less enlightened age when people needed them to survive. The pigs though, have wiped out numbers of the flightless teal, the snipe and the rail, as well as all the burrowing seabirds."

Conservation Minister Maggie Barry on the Auckland Islands

Conservation Minister Maggie Barry on the Auckland Islands Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Ms Barry said at the last count there were about 5000 pigs on the island almost 500km south of Bluff in the Southern Ocean.

She said as well as contributing to the decline in bird life they have destroyed the 50,000 hectare island's vegetation, including fields of very large flowering plants - or magaherbs, and insect life.

"They are a complete menace - they need to go but it's a complicated area and an extreme environment for people to start an eradication project."

Ms Barry said a specialist team is now working on a plan beginning with a feasibility study that will provide a clear set of future options. She said the targeted project will need careful and thorough planning, and is expected to take more than a year to plan and execute.

"The logistical difficulties of operating in the subantarctic cannot be underestimated. It is an extreme environment, at the utmost edge of New Zealand's territory."

She said Stephen Horn, who project managed the Million Dollar Mouse eradication on Antipodes Island, will lead the Auckland Island project. Ms Barry said the Antipodes Island project, also in the subantarctic, has gone well but it has proven to be "very complicated and a long way from anywhere".

"We need to approach this next project with careful planning which is now underway."

The windswept Auckland Islands are the New Zealand sea lions' main breeding grounds.

The windswept Auckland Islands are the New Zealand sea lions' main breeding grounds. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Ms Barry said the aim is to ensure the Unesco World Heritage Site on Auckland Island is going to be preserved for future generations.

"The albatross, the sealions, the yellow-eyed penguins - they cannot survive while they're being predated on by these pests, and we need to get rid of them.

"A successful eradication would be a significant contribution to meeting our Predator Free 2050 target of wiping out predators on our offshore island nature reserves by 2025," Ms Barry said.

The Department of Conservation intends to publish the feasibility study in February next year.

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