Pest-free island 'will create jobs'

A predator-free Stewart Island will create jobs and increase the island's population as well as result in World Heritage status, the project's backers say.

This would help ensure the community became large enough to be provided with basic services and could help spread the costs of generating electricity.

The Department of Conservation was now working on a full feasibility study, that would consider "some tricky" issues, to make Stewart Island predator free.

Economist, philanthropist and anti-cat campaigner Gareth Morgan, who is spearheading the predator-free concept, said 88 new jobs would be created on the island, with $10 million pumped into the economy each year.

The project would also lure more tourists and their dollars to the island's shores, Morgan said.

"Making Rakiura and surrounding islands predator free would require a large eradication workforce, and would attract tourists to view the unique native wildlife. Both of these groups would spend money in the local economy," he said.

Tourism to the island has dropped by at least 25 per cent since the global financial crisis.

A report by the Morgan Foundation estimated the population of Oban would grow by 116 people, including at least 13 children which would boost the school roll by at least nine pupils if the project became a reality.

Report author Geoff Simmons said the study also found it could generate benefits for the whole region.

"We know that if people go to Stewart Island, they have to go through Southland," he said.

Piggy-backing on Stewart Island tourism, Invercargill gained about $2m from tourists passing through.

This could increase to $3.5m if the island became predator free, Simmons said.

After a public meeting about the proposal in April, island resident Vicki Coates surveyed residents about the predator free plan.

More than 400 people responded to the survey, and of the 172 fulltime island residents who did so, 115 were against the proposed fence, but 119 supported the idea of a predator-free island.

Interim governance group chairman and Southern South Island Department of Conservation director Allan Munn said no decisions on eradication methods had yet been made.

There were some "tricky issues", including the predator free fence, what biosecurity measures would be put in place, what eradication methods would be used and how deer populations would be managed, Munn said.

A full proposal to present to partner agencies and the Stewart Island community is expected late this year or early next year.

The Southland Times