Beavan (at left) recently spoke to a public meeting co-ordinated by the
GBICT at Whangaparapara Lodge. The subject was the developments on
Rakiura (Stewart Island) subsequent to a Technical Feasibility Study on
the eradication of introduced predators. In this article David Speir
quotes extensively from Brent’s dialogue and fills in some of the
Stewart Island is New Zealand’s largest
offshore island and at 169,000 Ha is six times larger than Great
Barrier. It has a resident population of some 400 persons, albeit more
tightly clustered in one area than GBI, but similarly it has a host of
introduced predators relentlessly impacting on native species.
In 2009 the Stewart Island/Rakiura
Community and Environment Trust (SIRCET) initiated a feasibility study
to see if (technically) rats could be eradicated from the island. Since
that study the questions that the study has raised are continuing to be
debated within the Community. Brent Beavan co-ordinated the Technical
Feasibility Study and has played a pivotal role in the ongoing community
The Stewart Island/Rakiura Community and
Environmental Trust had set up the Halfmoon Bay Habitat Restoration
Project in 2003 (See Issue 11). Mostly driven by volunteer labour, the
project aimed to protect sooty shearwater (titi) and Little Blue Penguin
nesting habitat on Ackers Peninsular from predators by trapping and
improve the habitat through revegetation. This project has been
dramatically successful in improving nesting outcomes for both species
and increasing the overall populations and then holding these numbers.
On a community level this has galvanised a community environmental ethos
which has led onto bigger things.
In recent history the local economy has
transitioned from fishing to tourism as a primary earner, with
significant permanent population loss and all the attendant seasonality
and transient issues around catering for visitors.
“The genesis of (our) thinking was to
sustain and grow the community, creating wealth through protecting our
key assets – our environment. By enhancing the environment we enrich the
community. Our vision was about keeping our community strong and making
it a great place to raise kids.
“The Tindall foundation provided funding
to look at the feasibility (of island-wide pest eradication) and after
one year of work it was apparent that after putting the social barriers
and everyone's’ reservations aside, technically the eradication of rats,
cats and possums was possible. There were very few barriers to stop that
“So what were the other issues? What
therefore is stopping the community from doing it? Since that point the
community has become engaged.
“The feasibility study was there to raise
the difficult questions – not to answer them. The community need to find
their own answers. So we started to look at the principles around
involving the community:
“The primary principle was ownership. This
was a community-led development and the community needs to keep
ownership of the decisions rather than have a government department
taking ownership and thrusting the process upon us. For example, deer
and deer hunting were obviously a key issue – the local community value
the opportunity around deer. So (within the debate) give the ownership
of the problem to the deer hunters – they don’t want rats either. We can
agree to get rid of the rats but at what costs. And are those costs
acceptable to them? They should have the ownership of finding a solution
acceptable to them. That is the general process of the moment.
“We are setting up an independent driving
committee – independent of any organisation or government department or
Iwi. This group needs to capture a bit of all the diverse elements,
making sure that any people who will be affected have a voice in
plotting a course forward.
“The vision needs to be articulated in a
form that everyone recognises a common interest and benefit – if not
maybe the model of how we operate needs to change so that the benefit is
more widespread. The answers will lie within the community rather than
outside of it. Even with off-island landowners the aim is to have these
conversations when they are there – everyone needs to have an
opportunity to have their say.”
A recent local initiative in wildlife
tourism has graphically demonstrated what looking after environmental
assets is worth to a community. The Ulva Island Trust was able to get
Sirocco the kakapo (who was hand-reared and very comfortable with
humans) from Codfish Island (Fiordland) onto Ulva Island (in Patterson
Inlet) for a couple of weeks visit.
“The public response for six weeks was
huge – the New Zealand community as a whole has hardly any chance to
actually see kakapo.
“A costing study estimated that the added
value to the community was between $400 and $700 thousand dollars. This
was in additional tourist activity, accommodation, flights and other
tourist spin-offs. The Ulva Island Trust made a small profit but the
community benefit was much greater. It was clear from that exercise that
in our community – Conservation can pay. As far as we are concerned the
environment is well worth looking after.”
The shift in community opinion was also
clearly demonstrated when recently the small predator-free Ulva Island
was re-invaded and populated with ship rats.
“Ulva has been rat-free for 16 years.
Stewart Island gets about 40,000 visitors per year – not huge but enough
to make the industry viable, but of that number 30,000 go to Ulva
Island. It’s the significant tourism drawcard. That has been going
really well until this year when we found a rat population on Ulva.
“We have just finished the appeal period
on the resource consent and in the next fine weather window we will do
another aerial bait drop to get rid of them.. Twelve years ago the
community was very uncomfortable about any aerial toxin drop but this
time round at our resource consent application to Environment Southland
we had almost full community support for the aerial bait drop.— people
even travelled to Invercargill to speak in support of this operation.
The three people who objected and took us to a consent hearing, didn’t
even live on Stewart Island.”
Ulva’s reinvasion is a testament to rat
fecundity and their instincts for survival.
“Ulva has had on average over the last 16
years one rat invading per year; one rat which was caught. The genetics
showed that the entire population recently found came from one female
–the rate of invasion hadn’t increased, we just missed trapping this one
pregnant female invader.
“We had done quite a bit of work releasing
radio-collared rats on Ulva to try and understand their behaviour and
movement as they invade new sites. We found that generally when they
arrive they stay for two or three days in the arrival locale and then
about 50% will disperse – one rat travelled up to a kilometre in one
night and back again before being caught in his arrival area. So a two
kilometre movement in one night is not uncommon for these invaders. Ulva
Island has a ring of traps at 200m spacing round the coast but somehow
this one got through. What was amazing was how long we took to detect
them. We think we caught half of her first clutch (in traps) whereupon
we scaled up monitoring tunnels and trapping but got no more indication
of rat presence for 6 months and then we started to catch them again as
the population increased.
“The original eradication was an 18 month long ground baiting operation
– this time round the key difference is the availability of food – now
after 16 years pest-free there is so much food we can’t guarantee the
rats will travel 50m to a bait station. We need to get the bait to the
animals so the aerial application was the appropriate technique, and had
wholehearted community support.
“We know rats come off boats and there is
one spot within swimming range. Looking overall at biosecurity we are
learning constantly – Ulva Island has many visitors and many boats but
they all access the same wharfs, same points of departure and entry etc,
it’s manageable if we have the buyin from the individual users.
“Worldwide there are some 600 eradicated
islands and Ulva is only the second to be reinvaded – it’s not such a
The debate goes on but as Brent says: “It
would be a great outcome if we find that the benefits (of eradication)
outweigh the costs; but working through it we may find that this is not
the right time. Nor might we achieve the intended outcomes. After all
it’s only a debate (so far), a yak over a beer.”