From conservation to vessel performance, commercial boat operators are increasingly finding biosecurity is good business practice.
The introduction of Auckland Council’s Regional Pest Management Plan 2020-2030 has seen the introduction of mandatory pest free warrants for all commercial operators in the Hauraki Gulf whether they fly or use the water.
Originally developed in partnership with the Department of Conservation, operators have been voluntarily signing up to pest free warrants for some years.
“Many of the islands in the Hauraki Gulf are pest-free and home to some of New Zealand’s most endangered species and we must keep up the hard work to preserve our native taonga,” says Councillor Richard Hills, Chair of Planning, Environment and Parks Committee.
“While it’s been great to have operators willingly support the initiative over recent years, now it’s a requirement, we need the commitment of all operators to warrant their operations to preserve the integrity of the programme and the islands pest free status.”
The warrants are exclusive to the gulf in recognition of the outstanding natural values on Hauraki Gulf islands.
Operators such as Coastguard’s Kawau unit are not only working to help save lives at sea, but also doing a great job of protecting biodiversity.
Working around some of the pest free islands of the Hauraki Gulf, the unit was one of the first operators to opt into the Pest Free Warrant programme, even though Coastguard is exempt from requirements to do so.
Ahead of it becoming compulsory in 2024, several commercial vessel operators, from charter boats carrying visitors around the Gulf to commercial barges and fishing vessels, have shown support for the Pest Free Warrant by opting into the programme voluntarily.
The Coastguard’s Kawau unit is located at Sandspit, where the boat is kept on a trailer by the marina. It would be easy for rats, skinks, mice and Argentine ants to sneak onboard so its biosecurity regime includes keeping the boat clean (as litter and food waste can attract pests), trapping for rats and mice in the area where the vessel is stored, and keeping foot cleaning equipment. Volunteers keep all their boating gear in their vehicles in sealed drybags so pests cannot slip onboard.
It’s particularly important for this unit as it serves the water space around Hauturu Little Barrier Island, a protected nature and conservation reserve where boats cannot land without a permit and any pest incursion on the island could be devastating.
Facilitator Limited owns specialised barges and craft that move equipment and vehicles around the Hauraki Gulf and was one of the early adopters of Auckland Council’s Pest Free Warrant program.
“It’s such a great thing to have all these islands pest-free,” says owner Tim Hofmeister.
Auckland Council and Department of Conservation teams provided excellent advice and support to help the company learn what is required and biosecurity practices were easily integrated into the business processes. Hofmeister says the procedures are now embedded in his business and checking and cleaning – whether equipment, vessels, footwear, or food, now comes naturally – he and the crew don’t need to think about it.
“What DOC and Auckland Council are doing is excellent – it’s not a them-or-us situation, they are working alongside us to help us ensure we are not accidentally carrying pests to the islands,” says Hofmesiter.
“If I was to find something, there is no reason I would hide it.”
Ultimate Charters, one of the region’s premier charter operators, was one of the first commercial operators to obtain a Pest Free Warrant three years ago.
“The first thing we do is make people aware of the risk. It starts with a conversation about why the islands are pest free and the impact they as visitors, can have,” says business owner Simon Brady.
“It is a no-brainer to be involved with the Pest-Free Warrant. Costs are nominal and the biosecurity team at Auckland Council make it easy. It’s not daunting or time consuming at all, it’s very efficient.”
Both operators say keeping their boats clean of biofouling and generally well maintained also means they get better performance and fuel efficiency.
Despite all these measures, there can be some close calls – and that is why Auckland Council, Department of Conservation and community groups also conduct surveillance for pest species.
If an invasive pest is found on a pest-free island, a response will usually be put in place quickly.
The requirement to hold a pest free warrant is being phased in over time, according to the level of risk posed by different types of operators.
All operators that run charters or regular services for the public already hold pest free warrants.
By January 2023, warrants must also be held by operators that move more than 30 people or have vessels over 20m in length.
All other operators must have a pest free warrant by January 2024.
For advice or support, please contact Auckland Council’s Biosecurity team at email@example.com - they are here to help.