Facing up to the Future of Conservation with Forest & Bird.

This weekend I went to Wellington for the Forest and Bird Conference (called Face up to the Future) where I was on a youth panel called the Nature of Tomorrow.

I started off by making it known just how much I love the Sub-Antarctic Islands. That’s a lot, in case you happen to be the most oblivious person known to man.

Our host, Te Radar asked the audience if they knew where the Sub-Antarctic Islands and a surprisingly small number of people raised their hands (I assumed that I would be preaching to the converted). When asked if they had worked on, been to, or knew about any of the issues going on in the region, there were even fewer.

What made the weekend especially interesting was chatting to a few of the people who are currently involved with (or running) the Our Far South campaign. When he’s not hosting youth discussion panels, making award-winning documentaries, or being an all-round funny guy, Te Radar is a spokesperson for the Our Far South campaign. He’s currently working on a documentary set for release on the 3rd of July, which I cannot wait to see!

Sarah Wilcox & Te Radar on Campbell Island during the Our Far South expedition.

The Sub-Antarctic islands were just a fragment of the thought-provoking discussion we had. The diversity of the panel meant that we were able to touch on a range of subjects such as environmental politics, shark-finning, predator control, water quality, societies dependence on coal, and even the ever-so-controversial theme of intergenerational justice.

And the fun didn’t stop there. The next day we were able to sit in on the rest of the conference where everything from the (always controversial) politics of conservation to Nicola Toki’s talk about Sir Paul Callaghan’s vision for a predator-free New Zealand was covered.

All in all it was an awe-inspiring experience that has set me up for months of energy to ‘get-up-and-go-save-New-Zealand’s-wild-places-and-creatures’. The one thing I find myself questioning is complacency and its relationship to social media. I can’t help but wonder if our generation think that by sharing a post they are saving the world and have found myself questioning myself on how we can get actual involvement from youth rather than clicks.

In saying that, I highly recommend having a look at the twitter feed from the conference, it’s got great quotes, summaries, and general responses to some of the thought-provoking speakers and the conference in general. If you couldn’t make it, you can at least feel like you were there. And if you could, you can refresh your memory of some of the key issues that were raised!

There’s also this article by the lovely Isosbel Ewing that gives a nice summary of what went on at the youth panel discussion.

Look out for this article on the conference in the latest Forest and Bird members magazine.

Thanks a bunch, Forest and Bird! It was great. Just try and stop me from coming along next time!



Incredible Endemic Species of the Southern Ocean.

If you thought that New Zealand’s mainland has some pretty special animals, wait until you meet the incredible endemics that you’ll find living on the Sub-Antarctic Islands.

What does endemic mean, I hear you wonder. It means that an animal is found nowhere else in the world. The perfect example is the kiwi on New Zealand’s mainland. The pukeko, on the other hand is a native because it’s also found across the ditch in Australia, where they call it the purple swamp hen.

So what endemic species call the Sub-Antarctic Islands home? Let’s meet three of the regions incredible endemics…

1. The Snares Penguin

The Snares Penguin (Photo: Wikimedia)

How do you fit 50,000 penguins on an area of just 3.5 square kilometres? Head down to The Snares Islands and find out. The Snares penguin are found nowhere else in the world, and have very little space to work with.

If they look familiar, it’s because they’re related to the crested penguins that we know and love like the Fiordland crested penguin and the rockhopper penguin.

While the Snares penguin is not considered as threatened, it is vulnerable to extinction because of its limited range. If a threat to its survival were to arise, it would quickly wipe out a large proportion of the population and because they are found nowhere else on the planet, recovery would be slowed down significantly.

2. The Antipodes Island Parakeet

The Antipodes Island Parakeet (Photo: ExplorNZ)

The Antipodes Island Parakeet is the largest in it’s genus and is closely related to the yellow, orange, and red-fronted parakeet (you may know them as kakariki) that are found throughout New Zealand.

As it name would suggest, it’s only found on the Antipodes Islands, a small rock in the middle of the Southern Ocean. Its main island is a mere 20 square kilometres in size, and is surrounded by a number of rocky islands and outcrops no more than 2 square kilometres in size.

The greatest threat to these birds is the introduced mouse population on the Antipodes Islands, which I mentioned in a previous blog post. They predate on the eggs and adults of these birds, and can only be stopped through eradication. Take a look at the Our Far South Million Dollar Mouse Project.

3. The Royal Penguin

Royal Penguin on Macquarie Island (Photo: Kimberley Collins)

The royal penguin is found on an island that I haven’t yet covered on this blog, despite it being an interesting and important island habitat for species in the Southern Ocean. Macquarie Island is an Australian Territory found about halfway between the Australian mainland and Antarctic.

The royal penguin is endemic to the island, and a number of colonies are scattered throughout the island, the largest consisting of around 30,000 breeding pairs. Like the Snares penguin, it’s a member of the crested penguins genus (Eudyptes).

The Tasmanian government issued a hunting license for the royal penguin between 1870 and 1919 and an average of 150,000 penguins were killed each year for their oil, with each penguins providing around half a litre. Despite this dark period in their history, the royal penguin are not considered threatened and remain in large numbers on the island.

The Million Dollar Mouse…

The Antipodes Islands have a million dollar mouse problem. The house mouse (Mus musculus) was first introduced to the islands in the middle of the 20th century. They were first discovered in cast-away depots and recent genetic studies have revealed that their ancestry is in Spain. It’s thought that they escaped from a Spanish ship that was wrecked nearby.

The Antipodes Island (Photo: The Department of Conservation)

While mice are widespread on the main Antipodes Island, two of the northern islands (Bollons and Archway Islands) have not been colonized. This is great news for scientists doing studies on mouse behaviour as it allows them to compare the flora and fauna of the northern, mouse-free islands with the infested southern islands. These kinds of studies have revealed alarming rates of decline in certain species and allow scientists to fully understand the impact that mice are having on the wildlife and plant life on the islands.

The House Mouse (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

When mice are the only mammalian inhabitants of an island they are known to behave like rats. They are more aggressive and will take larger prey than their mainland counterparts and that is the biggest problem – mice will eat anything. A large number of seabirds visit the Antipodes Islands to nest and feed. Mice will prey on small birds, their eggs, and chicks and seabirds are more vulnerable because they make their nests on the ground in large colonies – a scene that must seem like a buffet to the house mouse. This is especially dangerous in the Antipodes, as it is home to a number of birds that are found nowhere else in the world such as the Antipodean albatross, Antipodes Island parakeet, and Antipodes Island snipe. It’s also home to half the worlds population of erect-crested penguins.

Erect-Crested Penguin (Photo: Terra Nature)

Mice are also a serious threat to the invertebrate community in the Antipodes Islands. The islands entomology is not well understood, mostly due to the islands remote location. The first recorded insect collections were made by Professor F. Hutton when he visited the island in 1901. A few brave researchers have studied insect populations on the islands and what they do know is that populations are larger and more diverse on northern, mouse free islands. Scientists also discovered an un-described species of weta (known as Orthoptera) on the northern islands, which could be a reflection on either the absence of mice or a difference in habitat. It has also been shown that mice will eat larger numbers of invertebrates at higher altitudes, meaning the higher you go, the less insects you will find.

Large numbers of juvenile mice were found in areas with a large number of plants, especially in coastal areas. This is because breeding is fueled by seeds of species such as Carex (sp.) and Poa (sp.), which are eaten by the juveniles. These plant species have not evolved any natural defense to mammalian browsers and so their reproduction and ability to re-colonize the island is impaired.

So there you have it – I have introduced a problem – a serious threat that are able to do incredible harm to our biodiversity. But what’s the solution? We know it’s possible to eradicate all mammalian predators from vulnerable Sub-Antarctic Islands. In fact we’ve done it – both Campbell and Enderby Islands are now free of pests thanks to carefully designed eradication programmes. The question is what will it cost and who is going to pay?

Cue the Antipodes’ knight in shining armour – Gareth Morgan, a New Zealand businessman who recently led the Our Far South expedition to raise awareness for the Southern Ocean. He launched the million dollar mouse campaign earlier this week and wants to remove mice from the islands for good.

His goal is to raise 1 million dollars and so Gareth is matching all public donations dollar for dollar. The Department of Conservation will use the money to employ a four day aerial poisoning tactic and will use helicopters to distribute it all over the island – ideally targeting the home range of every mouse on the island. If it’s successful, the wildlife, plants, and birdlife on the island will be safe from predation on their island sanctuary in the Southern Ocean.

In light of this fantastic initiative, I decided to get out on the streets & shake the bucket around to try and rouse some support from my friends & family. I’ll keep you posted on how much I can raise – and it’s even more encouraging to know that whatever number I come up with, Gareth will double it. Wish me luck!