New Zealand's Sub-Antarctic Islands - 2008

Subantarctic Islands. There were general rules covering such information as the fact that there are no toilet facilities on any of these islands, that you cannot collect any specimens of any kind, and that you cannot leave anything behind when you leave. Then there were the regulations covering animal viewing: all animals have the right of way, no approaches to animals closer than 5 meters, no following a retreating animal, staying quiet, and crouching when animals are near. We were then reminded that we had two really big personal responsibilities as privileged visitors: following all DOC rules and obeying our DOC representative. Such precautions are logical and necessary given that the primary emphasis in DOC’s restoration program lies in the program for eradicating all exotic (alien) species from reserve areas. Some islands are so different from their neighbors that the same plants and animals may not have been endemic to them. Therefore, since the major thrust of the program is restoration, the scientists do not want species which were not originally on a particular island to get there again even if the species is native to New Zealand itself and could thrive on that little piece of land. For instance, one island we visited hosted no tree ferns despite the fact that tree ferns are native to New Zealand in many other places. Care is taken that none take root there today. Most of the preserves we visited were on islands, but some are being created on the main two islands as well as Stewart Island. These are “islands” within islands in the present environment. Hectares are purchased either privately or by DOC in order to create a city reserve in order to bring native songbirds and kiwis back into the municipal areas. Usually these reserves are also cleared of non-native plants as well so that the birds and insects can live in pristine conditions. It can be easily imagined how expensive and difficult these efforts at restoring paradise can be. With introduced species all around including mammalian predators, it is very hard to keep the preserves rat and cat free; but it is even more tricky to keep the introduced Australian brushtail possum from penetrating the boundaries of the reserves. Unlike our Virginia opossums that are reputed to be pretty stupid, these Aussie emigres are the intellectual equal of dogs. Thus they are the most difficult of the exotics to control and/or exterminate.

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