Auckland's Motuihe Island to Become a Wildlife Sanctuary

AUCKLAND, New Zealand, February 22, 2005 (ENS) - An island just offshore of Auckland has been cleared of cats, rats and rabbits and is to be replanted and restored over the next 10 years as a sanctuary for native wildlife, New Zealand Conservation Minister Chris Carter announced today.

Motuihe's restoration is to be a community venture headed by the Motuihe Trust, which was established for this purpose in 2000. The trust will work in partnership with the Department of Conservation under a restoration plan signed by the parties on Motuihe today.

Motuihe Island is one of the 65 Hauraki Gulf Islands on the doorstep of downtown Auckland, lying just 15 kilometers (nine miles) offshore of New Zealand's largest city.

island

Visitors will be encouraged to walk around the island and learn about conservation of the Hauraki Gulf. (Photo courtesy Motuihe Trust)
"Ringed by sheltered sandy beaches and safe anchorages, it is ripe for restoration not just as a sanctuary for kiwi and other species but as a destination where New Zealanders can relax and experience their unique heritage," said Carter.

Motuihe Island was first home to a succession of tribal peoples, then was farmed by early colonists. In 1872, the island was set aside as a human quarantine station for new immigrants. In 1914 the quarantine station became an internment camp for prisoners of war during World War I. The New Zealand Navy took the island over as a training establishment in 1941 during World War II. More recently, the island has become one of Auckland's favorite picnic grounds.

The vision for the Motuihe Trust is that Motuihe Island will be a natural environment of indigenous plants and animals together with identified significant historic sites. Visitors to the island will be able to see native birds in their native habitat, close to the white sandy beaches and will be able to walk around the island and learn about conservation of the Hauraki Gulf.

Motuihe is free of mammalian pests with cats removed last year and a Department of Conservation rabbit eradication program nearing completion. About 20,000 rabbits have been removed since 2002 with the last rabbit thought to have been killed six weeks ago. Norway rats and mice were eradicated in 1997. Dogs are not permitted on the island.

"The hard work of removing pests from Motuihe Island will now pay off. Motuihe Island will join a chain of islands in the Hauraki Gulf that are becoming havens for endangered plants and animals," said David Pattemore, conservation officer with the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand.

Plans for Motuihe include replanting large parts of the 179 hectare (442 acre) island with native trees, the restoration of historic features, and the enhancement of existing wetland areas.

Native birds, lizards and insects are to be returned to the island. Initial bird introductions, planned for later this year, are likely to include New Zeland's national bird, the kiwi, and the saddleback, or tieke. The tieke belongs to New Zealand's unique wattlebird family, an ancient group which includes the endangered kokako and the extinct huia.

saddleback

Surviving on another island in the Hauraki Gulf, the saddleback, or tieke, will be reintroduced to Motuihe. (Photo courtesy DOC)
"We welcome proposals to bring native birds, lizards and insects back to the island," Pattemore said. "Weíre particularly excited by the prospect of introducing saddleback, kakariki and kiwi onto the island in the future."

Few native forest birds remain on the grassy island, but it is important for coastal birds including the nationally endangered New Zealand dotterel. A national dotterel census in October last year found the population on the island had doubled since 1996.

The Motuihe Trust has already started growing and planting native trees on the island. In the last two years over 28,000 trees have been planted and weed control work undertaken.

Motuihe Trust Chairman John Laurence said the venture offers people a tremendous opportunity to be involved with restoring a predator free island. "We are always keen to recruit new volunteers to assist with this fantastic project."

A network of walking tracks will also be built and picnic and camping areas improved. A visitor center, museum and volunteer accommodation are planned.

Pattemore says the restoration of Motuihe is a reminder that other offshore islands deserve the same treatment. "Forest and Bird encourages Aucklanders to consider ridding Rangitoto and Motutapu of stoats, rats and hedgehogs," he said. "These islands would complete the chain of wildlife havens on Aucklandís doorstep."

Forest and Bird has been involved in restoring islands offshore of Wellington, Pattemore said. "Wellington has a great asset in Matiu-Somes Island which is only twenty minutes from the Central Business District. Matiu-Somes Island is pest free and Forest and Birdís Lower Hutt branch have worked hard to restore the island. It now has tuatara and kakariki. It would be great to do the same with Rangitoto and Motutapu Islands."

Funding for Motuihe's restoration will come from public and private sources such as Mobil Oil, Carter said.