Residents back predator-free Stewart Island

HALFMOON BAY: Oban township with the South Sea Hotel at right.
HALFMOON BAY: Oban township with the South Sea Hotel at right.

A plan to make Stewart Island New Zealand's first predator-free human-inhabited island will enter the next phase after a positive response from island residents.

At a public meeting in October, environmental campaigner Gareth Morgan asked the Stewart Island community whether it wanted to further investigate the plan to eradicate feral cats, rats and possums.

Of the 163 survey responses, 137 were in favour of investigating the plan further.

Mr Morgan says in his blog the numbers were good enough to proceed with the quest to make Stewart Island predator-free.

"That's enough encouragement for me to proceed to the next stage," he said.

"That is, to get a technical road map of how to achieve the predator eradication, how to maintain the predator-free status and what the economic impact of such an initiative is expected to be on the island, Southland, and New Zealand."

Morgan Foundation researcher Geoff Simmons said the foundation was working to get the Department of Conservation on board to help with a feasibility study.

Further details would, hopefully, be available in the new year, with any reports circulated for scrutiny and discussion, he said.

DOC Stewart Island biodiversity programme manager Brent Beaven said the positive response was a good result.

If the people on Stewart Island disagreed, there would have been a much greater desire to comment, he said.

The Morgan Foundation was in discussions with DOC's national office to decide on the next phase of the project, Mr Beaven said.

DOC Murihiku and Southern Islands area manager Andy Roberts said the department was happy to let Mr Morgan pursue the concept of a predator-free island.

There was still a long way to go before any measures were undertaken for the proposal, Mr Roberts said.

"A feasibility study, mapping out what is involved, and the position of the people on Stewart Island are all matters that need to be discussed further."

"For any project on this kind of a scale and the issues it will raise in the community requires a lot of resources. To have an individual like Gareth Morgan driving it is a good thing," he said.

The Southland Times