Sir Paul Callaghan's
Final Word


A physicists last message takes us
back to the heart of our land.


Sir Paul Callaghan’s body was weak from cancer – at the start of his Zealandia lecture in Wellington he asked the audience for their patience as he may become weary and have to sit and rest, but he reassured them that if he could not continue another speaker would complete the lecture.

Surprisingly the content of this, his final lecture was not a discussion of his chosen field of nuclear magnetic resonance, nor was it of his vision for a NZ economy propelled by hi-tech entrepreneurs. No, it was a subject clearly heartfelt — an audacious vision, a “crazy vision” his last word to us all.

Sir Paul proposed that we take our existing and world-leading expertise in eradicating introduced predators and apply it to the big picture, our big picture, the New Zealand mainland, the supposedly impossible task.

He proposed creating a dozen 100,000ha restoration zones, about 15% of the current conservation estate. Taking advantage of the halo effect, each zone would have a fenced core of 1000ha, inside which all pests are eradicated. Outside, a further ring of up to 10,000ha could be managed with intensive trapping. An outer halo, taking each zone up to 100,000ha, could be managed with 1080 drops, without which “we don’t even have a chance of turning this thing around”. Callaghan said we could do this in 12 places – in forested areas like the Orongorongos near Wellington and the Whirinaki Forest in the Urewera – for $20 million a year, 20% of DoC’s existing biodiversity budget.

But then Callaghan suggested a “mad” idea, the New Zealand equivalent of the Apollo space programme, which he called the Zealandia programme. “Let’s get rid of the lot. Let’s get rid of all the damn mustelids, all the rats, all the possums, from the mainland islands of New Zealand. And we start with Rakiura (Stewart Island). And we work our way up.”

As Callaghan said at the end of his February lecture, “It’s crazy and ambitious but I think it might be worth a shot.”

Visionary thinkers lead the way, and in this case leave us with a future pathway – an intellectual inheritance for others to carry forward and a template for those who dare to make things happen. Can we do it?