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Hunt for elusive intruder uncovers surprising activity on pest free island

Published: 5 May 2020

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Pest presence unwelcome on island

Cameras on Motukorea/Browns Island in the Hauraki Gulf have captured footage of Aucklanders accessing the island during both lockdown Alert Levels 4 and 3.

This comes after stoats were detected on the pest-free island during routine maintenance in mid-March.

Environment and Community Chair Councillor Richard Hills is incredibly disappointed by the development.

“There is an amazing group of volunteers who care for our Gulf Islands, in addition to our own programmes. They’ve all spent the last six weeks anxiously waiting to get back to the work to protect the native wildlife on the island. To hear that people have been spotted ignoring the restrictions and using Motukorea as their own private island will be gutting.”

The monitors were placed to track pest activity following the detection of stoats. They have also spotted kayakers, day visitors, and even one visitor at 01.30 in the morning.

Video: Caught on camera on Motukorea at 1.30am

“It’s so disappointing to see a small number of people acting without thinking. 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.”

Sergeant John Saunders of the New Zealand Maritime Police Unit says “It’s concerning to see these types of behaviours persist. Not only are these kayakers putting themselves at risk, but they also compromise the safety of our 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 have been running a stoat incursion response on the island after signs of a stoat/s was detected during routine surveillance.

Three stoat dogs and handlers visited the island before Level 4 restrictions were imposed and the response programme has been ongoing under strict Covid-19 safety protocols since. Responding to biosecurity incursions in predator-free areas is considered an essential service during the COVID-19 response where there is potential for loss of species.

“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,” said Phil Brown, Auckland Council's Head of Natural Environment Delivery.

“The most recent check (last Thursday) confirmed it is definitely still at large on the island. 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.

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