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In 1773, when Captain James Cook anchored in Dusky Sound, one of New Zealand’s largest and most isolated fiords, it was the landscape and rich bird song that impressed him and his crew.
Today the landscape is unchanged, but when RealNZ multi-day Discovery Expeditions weigh anchor near Cooper Island, passengers are more likely to hear the ‘sound of silence’. Introduced predators have decimated the millions of birds that once made Dusky Sound their home.
In partnership with the Department of Conservation (DOC), RealNZ is helping bring back the birdsong by removing hundreds of stoats and rats. It is a considerable undertaking – the island is the third largest in Dusky Sound - a vast 1,779 hectares, 523 metres high, rugged and steep in parts.
Since work began in 2017, tracks have been cut to enable a network of over 360 stoat traps and almost 300 rat traps to be established across the island and along the closest shore of the mainland. These traps are individually checked and rebaited four times a year on trips that involve a helicopter and two boats and is organised with military precision because of the highly changeable Fiordland weather.
Situated in such an inaccessible area of New Zealand, this is the company’s most challenging environmental mission since our founder, Les Hutchins, was a leader in the Save Manapouri Campaign in the 1960s.
Today we hope our campaign against predators sees the return of some of our most vulnerable native birds like the kākāpō and kiwi and safeguards the future of the third largest island in Dusky Sound.
The initiative sees RealNZ join the Department of Conservation’s Tamatea/Dusky Sound Restoration Programme; sharing its vision to make Dusky Sound one of the most intact ecosystems in the world and a source or bio bank, for the regeneration of native species throughout the country. RealNZ is proud to play a part to help make this ambitious vision a reality.
A big thanks to Real Journeys (now RealNZ) for joining DOC and others in supporting a predator free New Zealand. Restoring Cooper Island back to as it pretty much was when Māori and Captain Cook used this magic harbour nearly 250 years ago, is such an inspirational gift to future generations of New Zealanders and international visitors.Lou Sanson, Director-General, Department of Conservation
Cooper Island is situated in Tamatea/Dusky Sound, a remote fiord on the southwest corner of New Zealand, accessible only by boat or helicopter. It sits within Fiordland National Park and Te Wāhipounamu - South West New Zealand World Heritage Area and is classified as an 'Open Sanctuary Island' in the Fiordland National Park Management Plan (DOC, 2007). This means its primary conservation function is the: Protection and interpretation to the public of indigenous species and habitats, including those threatened by extinction or destruction.
Stoat control has been carried out across the island since mid-2018 using a network of traps checked four times annually. The control of stoats to low levels on Cooper Island also performs an essential biosecurity role in helping to protect the nearby Shag Islands group to the west, which is an important seabird nesting site. Species currently present on Cooper Island that are likely to benefit from low numbers of stoats include South Island kākā Nestor meridionalis meridionalis, and tawaki/Fiordland crested penguin Eudyptes pachyrhynchus.
Rats have been targeted across a 170 ha grid at the eastern end of the island using self-resetting traps. Reinvasion by both pests to Cooper Island remains a challenge, as it is within the swimming range from the surrounding mainland. 56 stoat traps provide a line of defence on the mainland shore.
Three lines with twelve monitoring cameras were put in place in 2020 to provide an index of pest activity independent of trap catch results.
As far back as 1891, the government of the day was concerned about declining bird numbers creating the country’s first nature reserve on Resolution Island, the largest island in Dusky Sound.
New Zealand’s first conservation ranger, Richard Henry, transferred over 700 kākāpō and kiwi to the off shore island to protect them from the wave of introduced predators sweeping the country.
Sadly by 1900, stoats had been able to swim across to the reserve.
Removing predators from Cooper Island will require at least half a million dollars over the next five years and ongoing maintenance costs thereafter.
Wilderness Magazine - Driven towards species protection
Media Release - GM Paul Norris awarded New Zealand Order of Merit
Media Release - Over fifty predators removed from Cooper Island
Making a remote island of almost 2,000 hectares pest free isn’t easy or cheap and will take considerable time in fact it will take many years but we’re committed to this and are in it for the long haul.Richard Lauder, Wayfare
We will continue to bring back the birdsong to Ao-ata-te-pō / Cooper Island.
We would like to thank all those who have supported and contributed to the Cooper Island Restoration Project with special mention to:
RealNZ is involved in other conservation projects - learn more here
Cooper Island is the one island in Dusky Sound where Richard Henry (New Zealand’s first bird curator) found kākāpō breeding.
Other than by radio transmission there is no way to communicate on the island and there is no accommodation nor shelter.