Island's owners front cash to be pest-free

SHABNAM DASTGHEIB
Last updated 05:00 25/05/2014

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The bank merchant owners of Great Mercury Island will be bankrolling a new Department of Conservation initiative to eradicate all pests from their luxury retreat within two years.

The $1.5 million plan, which will begin next month, aims to eradicate rats and feral cats and turn the island into a sanctuary for native species.

Two of the country's richest men, Michael Fay and David Richwhite, own the island but it is open for public use and is a popular boaty destination.

The men market the island as one of the world's most luxurious and remote retreats - just a short helicopter ride from Auckland.

Great Mercury Island, off the coast of the Coromandel, is home to 50 species of native land snails, threatened native plants and the giant tusked weta. Pycrofts petrels, grey-faced petrels, native geckos, tuatara, kaka and kakariki will also benefit from the project.

Project manager Peter Corson said it was based around the main objectives of reducing threats to the neighbouring pest free Mercury Islands and improving species and ecosystems.

He said the island could act as a sanctuary in the future for native species. "DOC's been really keen to do this for 20 years or more . . . The relationship is basically that DOC will provide staffing and expertise and the island owners will provide a lot of the cash to get the job done."

The rat eradication project is scheduled from June 15 and includes two aerial operations about three weeks apart.

About one-third of the island is managed in a sheep and beef farming regime, one third as forestry and the remaining third as native forests, wetlands and dunes.

The project involves completely destocking the 1872-hectare island by barge so every single rat and feral cat could be targeted.

Corson said the entire operation including staff hours, planning and follow-up was estimated to cost about $1.47 million, with half of that coming from the island's owners.

"DOC and staff on the island will be checking traps regularly as is the case with most pest-free islands to make sure pests are not coming ashore."

Fay said the island welcomed the chance to work with DOC but the public also needed to play a part by checking their boats for pests and reporting pests on islands.

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- Sunday Star Times

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