Rotoroa is one such island, tucked off the side of Waiheke in the Hauraki Gulf. It used to belong to the Salvation Army and was a secure environment used for helping addicts recover from alcohol and drugs. So why did we go there?
Well, the island has been handed over to be repopulated with native and endangered NZ species which might include tuatara, kiwi, takahe amongst others. Auckland Zoo are running this programme, and have been taking groups of students over to learn about the regeneration of the island.
As the students were older, we arranged to meet them at the local train station. This is always a moment of stress for me as we get to the stage where students leave it to the very last minute to turn up, or buy their tickets!
Somehow we managed to get onto the ferry on time, once biosecurity checks were completed (checking for mice in bags etc!). Rotoroa has been cleared of pest animals (bait drop of brodifacoum in November) such as rats and mice. New Zealand has a real issue with introduced pest species and fat, flightless (and presumably tasty) native birds, most of which are critically endangered. We are overrun with pests that make life difficult for these birds, such as rats, mice, stoats and possums. The idea of the island is to make a sanctuary where native species can translocated to in safety.
The students were shown around by Tali and Rich from the zoo. Part of the day involved checking tracking
tunnels (real and set up for us to see). The purpose of these tunnels is to record in ink the footprints of species wandering in to have some of the banana or peanut butter used as baits. We encountered no 'live' prints, so it was probably good we had some set up ones to give the students an idea what animals could be present.
We also were given the chance to use telemetry equipment, admittedly we were tracking native animal toys as there is little other than weka (a type of rail) on the island already.
The final checks we did were on tree wraps and pitfalls looking for native or invasive fauna. Rich was demonstrating one wrap when a large weta that was hidden inside dived down his shirt (in case you have never seen one, have a look at this!) He managed to keep a straight face and not look bothered in front of the students! Well played, that man!
Rotoroa is going to be beautiful once the native plants have grown up and native animals are released. It is a privilege to see this kind of offshore island at this early stage of its restoration, and is somewhere I will return, as hopefully will the students, to watch it grow and develop. It will be another place where human activity is being rolled back to allow for a return to what New Zealand would have looked like before humans brought rats, stoats and possums (amongst others). Looking forward to more island sanctuaries and invites to come and see releases onto Rotoroa in time!