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Just what could be the benefits......
by Liz Westbrooke

Last year, about this time, I visited a small town in New South Wales to attend my first Australian Recorder Festival. It was a blast, with players and tutors from all over Australasia, UK, Europe and the USA.

What caught my attention about this small country town of 23,000 people was that they had created a major education centre for that vast area of inland farms between Sydney and Brisbane. And they thus have a thriving economy and a thriving small country township. Not only are there 18 schools in Armidale providing the full range of public, private, Steiner, Catholic, Aboriginal and Presbyterian education, there is a Teacher Training College, a Conservatorium of Music and a University. Although this University has an enrollment of over 20,000 students, only 2,000 are ever present at the same time, the rest are doing distance learning in 50 countries around the world. It really made me realize that a place could create its own economy, choose how they want that to be, and not be left to the whims of ‘the market’.

So if the Barrier took the brave step of pursuing the predator free idea what would the benefits be?

The rat damage to houses and gardens would cease. The year by year build up in soils of rat poison laid around Barrier homes would be arrested. The continued hassle of laying traps or bait would stop for households and the money used for these could be spent on something else (over thirty years this is estimated to save about $600,000 across the island). DOC too would be able to allocate its annual expenditure here to more productive items and projects. The costs of the smaller pest projects will largely disappear and the substantial investment needed to build protective fences will be avoided1 . Kaikoura Island would automatically be protected (otherwise they have a constant battle as rats can easily swim a kilometre). And of course we could all stop ‘killing’ things.

Work and employment would be created with new opportunities for a variety of skilled people. First there is the task of eradicating the pests. This would be a major exercise and require a large team for a considerable period of time. Not just for eradication activities, but beforehand for planning and afterwards for constant monitoring and ‘mop up’. Getting that last rat will become an obsession! Getting that last feral cat will require diligence and determination. Barrier people could be trained to do a lot of this work themselves. Once complete they can move to ongoing monitoring and restoration activities.

Then there are the eco-tourism opportunities that will result from being the largest rat free island in the world. New small businesses will be invented using the existing infrastructure — but using it for the whole year round, spreading the load, not just living through the stresses of the three or four week period that Auckland people want to come here. Visitors could be attracted from other countries that have different holiday periods. Age groups could be targeted whose lives no longer revolve around school holidays.

Our precious rare and threatened species (chevron skink, brown teal ducks, black petrel, kaka, kereru, mistletoe etc) will have a much better chance. If the island is rat and feral cat free, fewer measures will be needed to protect these highly endangered beings. Examples of costs that have been incurred protecting endangered species in other parts of New Zealand are:  

• to get one Takahe established on Tiri cost $20,0002 
• effective Kokako management costs $43,000 – 63,000 per pair.

This sort of cost will be minimised if a rat and feral cat free environment is established on the island and domestic pets are well managed. More seeds of all sorts and sizes will be left on the ground to grow into trees enhancing the natural regeneration of forest across the island. The ecology of the island will be free to find its own natural balance.

We could create a haven for other New Zealand threatened species e.g. with no stoats, rats, feral cats and well-behaved dogs, endangered species such as Kiwi4  and Kokako5  could be re-introduced. The existing tiny population of Kakariki could be built up as these birds respond well to aviary breeding. As new species are introduced and become more prolific, the island’s attractiveness to visitors will increase – they can see a wide variety of NZ wildlife in a single place – they will be able to visit a ‘Tiri’ that they can live in for a while and really experience – it’s not just a day trip.

All this improves Gt Barrier Island’s economy in a ripple effect that rapidly spreads out into the community. Auckland city’s research shows the percent of visitor spend in this table6:

An improved economy ensures improvements in infrastructure (roads, schools etc) and competitive transport, food and freight prices for the locals. As this builds up, the island’s continued and enhanced uniqueness may even provide the opportunity for World Heritage status to protect the special-ness of this place for all generations to come. Let’s do it!

1. 4km of fencing would cost about $1m to construct and then incur between $3m to$7m maintenance cost over 30 years

 2. John Craig, University of Auckland, 21/07/05

 3.  NZ Journal of Ecology 2204, 28(1): 83-91

 4. There is no direct evidence of Kiwi apart from the name Okiwi, however the habitat is suitable for our national icon.

 5. The last Kokako were taken off Gt Barrier in the mid 90’s and transferred to Little Barrier.

6. Tourism Auckland August 2005