Stewart Island, New Zealand
Conservation is at the heart of the Mamaku Point Trust. They are responsible for the management of the Mamaku Point Conservation Reserve, which is a 400-acre ecosanctuary on Stewart Island (Rakiura). The Trusts aim is to protect and increase the biodiversity within the sanctuary by not only protecting the land from invasive pests, but by introducing new, and endangered species.
What is the Mamaku Point Conservation Reserve?
Mamaku Point Conservation Reserve is a 400-acre eco-sanctuary on Stewart Island, where the plants and animals are protected by a 2.1 km (1.3mi) predator-proof fence. We are free of possums, rats, deer, and cats behind the fence, and fortunately, Stewart Island doesn’t have mustelids (stouts etc.), pigs, goats or mice either.
The Reserve is a peninsula at the end of the Island’s road network, close to the start of the Rakiura National Park walking track. The terrain is a mix of rolling and steep hills, with one of the oldest podocarp (Rimu, Miro, Totara, etc.) forests in the country. The Trust that manages the Reserve is focused on protecting and increasing the biodiversity and making the Reserve accessible for school camps and eco-tourism activities so that more people can experience and learn from this special part of New Zealand.
What efforts has the Conservation taken to eradicate pests from your land?
Our pest eradication journey started in 2000 when the former farm was purchased by a Californian foundation, who subsequently spent $1 million building the predator fence in 2005. Since then a huge amount of work has gone into chasing down and removing the last stock and deer, and then trapping and poisoning all the other vermin. Having done that, we have to keep up this work on a daily basis, to stop the critters reinvading around the fence ends at low tide.
How has this affected the wildlife in the area?
The Department of Conservation believes that Mamaku Point has one of the highest concentrations of kiwi anywhere in the country, and we’re privileged to be able to see them almost every day going about their business. The biodiversity within the Reserve is incredible, with more than 126 native species, including at least 20 native birds. The bush and forest are really the most special aspects though, with awesome regeneration of the undergrowth now that there are no foreign invaders nibbling every new shoot. Eco-tourists visiting the Reserve to spot kiwi or experience the edible and medicinal plant walk are continually amazed by the health and diversity of the plant and animal life.
“The biggest challenge for us is the ongoing nature of the battle – it never ends. So, day after day we’re checking traps and bait stations, testing new biosecurity methods, and more. We’re currently investing heavily in technology to help with this work.“
What’s Mamaku Point’s biggest challenge when it comes to pest control and conservation?
The biggest challenge for us is the ongoing nature of the battle – it never ends. So, day after day we’re checking traps and bait stations, testing new biosecurity methods, and more. We’re currently investing heavily in technology to help with this work, including the recent installation of the Celium remote monitoring system for our trap network, which allows us to focus more time and energy on the biodiversity we want in the Reserve, instead of having to spend all our time and energy on the biodiversity we want to keep out.
Can you talk us through an average day in the life of the team at Mamaku Point?
A day in the life at Mamaku Point can consist of many things. Baiting the 600 bait stations we have or checking and putting fresh lure in our 250 traps, track clearing, spraying, weed whacking, chainsaw work, track building, inspecting our predator-proof fence for any damage, checking trail cameras for pests and just general upgrades and maintenance work on the reserve.
What is the education center on the island, and how does it operate?
The education center was built by the Forestry Service (now DOC), in 1977, as a camp for school groups with the aim of helping them learn about New Zealand’s wilderness. It was used extensively by school groups from all over the lower half of the South Island until 2000 when the property was purchased by the Californian foundation. When the current owners brought the property in 2017 they set about renovating and reopening the education center to school groups, which are now starting to return to this fantastic facility.
What are the three essentials you take every time you head out to explore the land/check bait stations etc.?
The first essential item I have with me is a Leatherman multi-tool, the second item is my possum Whisperer aka hammer, and the third is a GPS.
What do your team do when they aren’t out checking bait stations or doing maintenance work?
We enjoy spending even more time outside hunting and fishing, diving and time with the family.
What is Mamaku Points ultimate goal?
The ultimate goals of the Mamaku Point Conservation Trust are to maintain and enhance the biodiversity within the Reserve and use this to educate the New Zealand public and visitors to our country of the importance of preserving our natural environment. Ultimate success for us would be the day we could tear down the predator-proof fence (or at least replace it with a deer fence) because the rest of Stewart Island was finally predator-free.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone getting into conservation and pest eradication?
Form your own conclusions. Animal pests and plant invaders are clever and often unpredictable, so you must always remain vigilant, and try new ways to detect and eliminate them from the environment you are protecting. Don’t accept “accepted wisdom” or dogma on face value but research it, question it and form your own conclusions based on actual outcomes.
What’s your favorite part about life on Stewart Island?
Life on the Island is very special. It’s great being part of a small community and having this amazing flora and fauna on the back-door step and surrounded by great people. It’s just an awesome part of the world to live.
Does Mamaku Point have any future plans to enhance their conservation efforts?
Yes! Mamaku Point Conservation Trust has many plans for the future, particularly around the translocation of native animals into the Reserve that are not currently found there. On our focus list are Yellowhead (Mōhua, Mohoua Ochrocephala) and South Island Saddleback (Tieke, Philesturnus Carunculatus), both of which are currently thriving on Ulva Island but not yet residents on Stewart Island proper. We are also focused on tuatara, which may not have previously lived on Stewart Island, but which are in need of new southern habitats to protect them against climate change which might potentially make their traditional habitat less suitable in the future.
What does conservation mean to you?
Conservation to us means protecting what we’ve got while we still can. Mamaku Point is a special place because much of it is in a state similar to what it was before people discovered Aotearoa. Protecting this, and enhancing it as much as we can, for the sake of the biodiversity already thriving there and for our future generations, is a fundamental responsibility.