Auckland Islands looking north over Carnley Harbour

Image: Finlay Cox | DOC

Introduction

Following the successful eradication of mice from Antipodes Island, DOC is investigating the feasibility of eradicating pigs, cats and mice from Auckland Island (Maukahuka) in the New Zealand subantarctic island region.

Project updates

View the Maukahuka project updates as web pages and downloadable factsheets.

Watch the Maukahuka project teaser 

This video shows a short summary of the work completed up to May 2019 and plans for the project.

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The vision

A thriving New Zealand subantarctic islands area free of mammalian pests.

The place

The Auckland Islands lie 465 km south of New Zealand’s South Island within the New Zealand subantarctic islands area, a World Heritage Site (1998) that contains some of the world’s most extraordinary natural heritage and includes some of the world’s least modified islands.

Auckland Island (46,000 ha) is the main island of the Auckland Island group (57,000 ha). The Auckland Island archipelago is the largest and biologically richest of the five island groups that make up the New Zealand subantarctic islands area (76,500 ha). Auckland Island is the only site within this area where mammalian pests remain.

Auckland Island is approximately 43 km long at its longest point, 27 km wide and has a coastal perimeter of 374 km. The terrain is typically mountainous with peaks up to 650 m high. Its western side is dominated by formidable cliffs up to 400 m high carved by the pounding seas. The eastern side is a series of deeply incised cirques and glacial fiords, which are considerably more sheltered than the west. Two large harbours, Port Ross at the northern end, and Carnley Harbour in the south, and some of the narrow inlets on the eastern side, usually offer sheltered anchorage.

Infrastructure is limited to a Smith Harbour base camp which can accommodate seven people, an old six bunk hut at Deas Head and several derelict historic structures. The climate is persistently wet, cold and windy.

View a map of the Auckland Islands.

Auckland Island
Flora thrives on neighbouring pig-free Adams Island
Image: Paul Sagar ©

The problem

Feral pigs, cats and mice are present and have inflicted severe ecological damage over the past 150–200 years.

Comparison with pest-free Adams Island shows the severity of the detrimental impacts of pigs, cats and mice on Auckland Island.

  • Pigs have devastated floral communities, restricting understorey regeneration, seabird survival and recruitment; grossly lowered vegetation biomass and damaged soils.
  • Of the 44-bird species that breed in the archipelago only 12 native species persist on Auckland Island, none of which are endemic.
  • Pigs and cats have caused the local extinction of the rest of the bird species including the burrowing seabirds, majorly disrupting nutrient cycling.
  • Mice have altered the abundance and composition of invertebrate fauna, compete for food with native birds and pose a risk of future attacks on seabird chicks.

The project

The name Maukahuka captures the mountainous white-capped seas that surround the islands.

  • Mauka (southern dialect of maunga) means mountain 
  • Huka means ice, snow, white-capped

The objectives of the proposed project are to eradicate pigs, cats and mice from Auckland Island. The long-term outcomes of the project are the recovery and preservation of native flora and fauna.

The objectives are aligned with the Predator Free 2050 initiative.

Benefits of eradicating pests

  • Completion of the removal of all introduced mammalian pest species from the New Zealand subantarctic islands World Heritage site, expanding the pest-free habitat in the area from 30,500 ha to 76,500 ha.
  • Auckland Island is New Zealand’s 5th largest island and would be the largest pest-free island; requiring zero future investment on pest management beyond biosecurity.
  • Protection at their breeding sites of 38 species of bird including nine endemic species.
  • Rapid recovery of 280+ species of native insects, including 95+ endemic species, which will provide pollination and nutrient cycling that will promote the recovery of 196+ species of native flora.
  • Greatly improved biosecurity protection for other island sanctuaries in the region.
  • Recovery of species on Auckland Island is expected to occur through natural processes and dispersal from neighbouring islands, without management input.
  • Improved public engagement with the New Zealand subantarctic region.

The project is a huge challenge. Mice and pigs have never been eradicated on an island anywhere near this large, and eradication of cats has only been attempted on one larger island, in arid Western Australia.

Feasibility trials

Fitting a transmitter to a pig
Fitting a transmitter to an Auckland Island pig during 2007 trials
Image: Nyla Strachan | DOC 

The success of such a large complex project requires initial trials in order to test the feasibility of eradication before committing to a project.

2018/19 summer trials

Summer trials investigated two questions: Is it possible and what will it take?

  • Site investigations for necessary infrastructure were undertaken.
  • A base camp was installed to support two of the research programmes.
  • The proposed methods for mouse and pig eradications were successfully trialled at Falla Peninsula
  • Research was carried out into the behaviour of the cat population.
  • Sites and species for monitoring the biodiversity impacts of the programme were selected and set up.

Where to next?

Analysis of the data gathered during the 2018/19 summer will help inform the design of the programme. A research trip proposed for winter of 2019 will add to this and help the team work out how to operate in these challenging conditions.

Funding and support also need to be sourced both from the government and from partner organisations. A decision whether to transition from the feasibility stage into detailed operational planning will happen around October 2019. 

To find out more or to get involved in the project, contact maukahuka@doc.govt.nz.

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