Cameras on Auckland pest-free island catch lockdown-breakers

Author
Michael Neilson, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 5 May 2020, 8:28PM

Cameras on Auckland pest-free island catch lockdown-breakers

Author
Michael Neilson, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 5 May 2020, 8:28PM

A couple have been caught having a glass of wine on one of Auckland's pest-free islands during the lockdown by cameras set up to monitor the wildlife.

Ahead of the lockdown on March 26, cameras were placed on Motukorea/Browns Island in the Hauraki Gulf after stoats were detected.

But unexpectedly, they've since captured six people roaming the deserted island, including kayakers, day visitors, and even one person wandering around at 1.30 in the morning.

New Zealand Maritime Police Unit Sergeant John Saunders said these people were not only putting themselves at risk, but compromising the safety of emergency services.

"We'll certainly be taking a closer interest in what's happening around the island and those breaching the rules can expect action. Stay home and stay safe."

Since mid-March, the Auckland Council biosecurity and regional park teams has been running a stoat incursion response on the island after signs of a stoat - or stoats - was detected during routine surveillance.

Auckland Council Environment and Climate Change committee chairman Richard Hills said finding people had been breaking the lockdown to travel to the island and hamper conservation efforts was "disappointing".

"I've been so proud of our community and how we have risen to the challenge posed by Covid-19 and led the world in our effort to eradicate it.

"I ask that people stay clear of these islands as no one should be travelling this far from their shores, in line with lockdown restrictions. Aucklanders are working together to swiftly move to level 2 and see a return to some normality."

Auckland Council's Head of Natural Environment Delivery Phil Brown said they still had not caught the stoat.

"We're continuing to monitor and review the situation, but its capture is proving difficult.

"To date the stoat that likely swam to the island has proved elusive."

Three stoat dogs and handlers visited the island before level 4 restrictions were imposed and the response programme was ongoing under "strict Covid-19 safety protocols since".

Responding to biosecurity incursions in predator-free areas was considered an essential service where there is potential for loss of species.

"The most recent check [last Thursday] confirmed it is definitely still at large on the island," Brown said.

"The presence of people on the island is not only breaching the Covid-19 rules, it hinders our conservation efforts greatly."

Motukorea/Browns Island has a network of surveillance traps and monitoring devices in place to detect the arrival of animal pests on the island.

The trap network has recently been strengthened and expanded with additional traps and cameras. Rebaiting and weekly checks will continue, Brown said.