Rakitu/Arid Island Rat Eradication
by June Brooks
The GBIET Environmental News last visited
the subject of Rakitu/ Arid Island in the 2012 summer edition. Since
then there has been a significant Dept. of Conservation Ministerial
announcement concerning the ecological enhancement of Rakitu the
proposed Rakitu Rat Eradication Programme.
The former Minister of Conservation Nick
Smith announced a pest eradication programme initiative for Rakitu/Arid
Island in a press statement dated 8 September 2013. Rakitu was
recognized as a tremendous opportunity for island restoration which even
the Government seemed to support. The announcement was welcomed by many
people. It was anticipated at that stage that there would be 2-3 years
planning for the initiative. The Minister also stated he would be
.making a commitment with $190,000 from the Nature Heritage Fund to
rid Rakitu of rats.
The pest eradication programme planned for
Rakitu was confirmed by the Department of Conservation in 2014 in public
forums and planning seemed to be well under way.
It now appears that the planned DOC pest
eradication programme for Rakitu has been significantly delayed. The
causes we have managed to confirm are:
The 2013 Restructure and June 2014 Storm and Floods
The 2013 DOC restructure and the June 2014 storm and floods which caused
severe damage to the DOC infrastructure on Great Barrier made planning
for the rat eradication program challenging. It is understandable that
there would be some delays after an event of this magnitude, which has
necessitated a major effort to repair and replace DOCs assets on the
The Department has lost some outstandingly enthusiastic biodiversity
staff over the last few years:Halema Jamieson, Joanna Sim, Amelia Geary,
Adam Willetts and George Wilson spring to mind. One of the three DOC
biodiversity protection positions on Great Barrier has been vacant since
March 2014. The reason given for this is the shortage of staff housing
and damage to the DOC office complex in the storm. A consequence appears
to be that the remaining biodiversity staff are not available to further
a pest eradication programme on Rakitu.
Consultation With Affected Parties
The Government purchased Rakitu/Arid Island from the Rope and Foster
families in 19931994 for $1.8 million. As part of the sale agreement,
nominated family members retained residual temporary occupation rights
to the houses on the island and accordingly must be consulted by DOC
about the proposed rat eradication programme. One of the family members
with occupation rights has raised objections to the methodology proposed
for the programme and the Department is having to work through this
The Department has also been carrying out
consultations with Ngati Rehua about the rat eradication program. These
consultations have been carried out verbally, and there is no public
record of the details. The Dept. of Conservation has not carried out any
consultation with the Great Barrier community or the wider public to
date and has given no indication when they will do so.
main issue which appears to be delaying the implementation of the Rakitu
rat eradication programme is the difficult issue of the removal of the
North Island weka population present on the island. North Island weka
were translocated to Rakitu/Arid Island in 1951 when they were under
threat on the mainland. There is now a sizeable population of these
birds on the island. Weka predate the eggs and young of seabirds and
other birds, as well as lizards, skinks, land snails and invertebrates.
Their presence is incompatible with the proposed restoration of the
island for seabird breeding habitat. They will definitely be put at risk
from any aerial rat eradication programme.
DOC Whangarei have been unable to provide
any information (as of July 2015) as to when a decision will be made
about this issue. Agreement has been reached with the Weka Recovery
Group to remove 50 of the birds to an alternative site but no suitable
site has been found. It now also appears that the considerable cost of
the weka removal is a salient factor in the delay in decision making,
and/or that the resources may be employed in other ways.
* Weka, Maori hen or woodhen (Gallirallus
australis) N.Island subspecies
Scientific and Technical Issues
DOC advised in June 2015 that it was seeking further scientific and
technical advice regarding the proposed rat eradication, particularly
with regard to methodology and likely success of the programme. Any
planned programme implementation will be on hold until this
(unspecified) advice is received.
I have been assured by the Director of
Conservation Services (Acting), DOC Northern North Island, Andrew Baucke,
that the promised funding of $190,000 for the Rakitu Rat Eradication
Programme has been kept aside by the Nature Heritage Fund specifically
for this project. This is reassuring to hear.
Planning and implementation phases for the
programme were originally to have been completed by the 2014/15
financial year. Planning (and implementation?) has now been deferred
until the 2016/17 financial year. However the Department noted that this
date is dependent on:
The relocation of weka
The assurance that all relevant
consultation had been undertaken
The new DOC office at Okiwi being
completed (June 2016)
The recruitment of a full staffing
structure (approval obtained for Supervisor role including biodiversity
The priority given by DOC to the rebuild
of the Aotea Track (planned completion June 2016).
If planning for the removal of weka is
halted now, and not recommenced until 2016/17 we are likely looking at
further delays. The weka question can surely be addressed now, and a new
biodiversity ranger appointed with responsibility for planning the
eradication, even if he/she is not immediately based on Great Barrier.
The eradication of rats from Rakitu, associated with improved access
will have enormous spin-off for conservation on Great Barrier and should
not be put on the back-burner.
Issue 35 Summer 2016