Maukahuka: Pest Free Auckland Island
IntroductionFollowing the successful eradication of mice from Antipodes Island, DOC and Ngāi Tahu have completed an investigation into the feasibility of eradicating pigs, cats and mice from Auckland Island in the New Zealand subantarctic region.
Feral pigs, cats and mice have inflicted severe ecological damage on Auckland Island.
The Maukahuka project hopes to make the island pest-free. This would enable 514+ species to thrive with over 46 000 ha additional protected habitat.
The report on the technical feasibility of the project has been published.
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), the islands contain some of the world’s most extraordinary natural heritage and include some of the world’s least modified islands.
We have a vision of New Zealand's subantarctic islands area thriving, free of mammalian pests.
Why aren't the islands thriving?
Feral pigs, cats and mice have inflicted severe ecological damage over the past 150–200 years.
- Pigs have devastated plant communities, greatly reduced seabird survival and recruitment, restricted understorey regeneration, and damaged soils.
- Of the native 44-bird species that breed in the archipelago, only 12 persist on Auckland Island, none of which are endemic to the island group.
- Pigs and cats have caused the local extinction of 32 native bird species, including the burrowing seabirds, which majorly disrupts 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.
What will the Maukahuka project do to help
This video explains the challenge and goals of the project (May 2019)
The Maukahuka project proposes to eradicate pigs, cats and mice from Auckland Island. This is to help native flora and fauna to recover and thrive so it can be preserved.
The project is a huge challenge. Mice and pigs have never been eradicated on an island anywhere near this large, and eradication of cats have only been attempted on one larger island, in Western Australia.
The objectives are aligned with the Predator Free 2050 initiative.
How removing pests supports the island
Removal of all introduced mammalian pests from the islands will:
- expand threatened habitats in the area from 30,500 ha to 76,500 ha and give native species more space to thrive
- offer protected breeding sites for 38 species of native bird, including nine species unique to Auckland Island
- aid in the rapid recovery of 280+ species of native insects, 95+ of which are found only on Auckland Island, increasing pollination of native plant species
- increase seabird populations, which in turn increases nutrient cycling, helping the recovery of 196+ species of native flora
- increase dispersal of native species from Auckland Island to neighbouring islands, bolstering populations there.
- make New Zealand’s 5th largest island the largest pest-free island, with zero future investment required for pest management, beyond biosecurity
- improve biosecurity protection for other island sanctuaries in the region.
Will the project work
Looking along the western cliffs of Auckland Island. The rugged terrain is just one of the many challenges facing the project
Image: Finlay Cox | DOC
To remove all pest from the island as the project proposes is a large and complex task. Before committing to the eradication, a feasibility study was required to answer three key questions:
- Why do it?
- Can it be done?
- What will it take?
After four years of work, the results from this feasibility phase have been published in the Maukahuka Pest Free Auckland Island Technical Feasibility Study Report (2021). This report has been reviewed by DOC’s internationally renowned Island Eradication Advisory Group.
This report builds on field trials carried out both on Auckland Island and mainland New Zealand. Key findings from the report are:
- The eradication of pigs, cats and mice from Auckland Island is technically feasible.
- Further development of eradication tools is needed to maximise the chance of success.
View the Maukahuka project factsheets from May 2019 as web pages and downloadable factsheets.
What next for Maukahuka
The Maukahuka project was paused in April 2020 due to the financial impacts of Covid-19. The project team have completed operational planning to allow the project to restart quickly when conditions allow.
About the 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.