From the Oceanic Discoverer in New Zealand
Jan 20, 2013 - Oceanic Discoverer
Stewart Island, or Rakiura (land of the glowing sky) as the Maori call it after the amazing sunsets, which are often influenced by the Southern Lights (aurora australis), have 1000 miles of coastline, if you take into account all the inlets and bays. 90% of the land area is a national park, a place of few people. Home to the Maori people from the 13th century, it’s an island of rich resources such as native flora, fauna and seafood. In the early 18th century sealers and whalers arrived, and the population peaked in the 1920’s with “Rosshavet” the Norwegian whaling company having its southern ocean station in Paterson’s Inlet. Today the island has a small fishing industry but is building an international reputation as an eco-tourism destination with some of New Zealand’s best birding both on land and sea.
With much expectation this morning’s excursion had us ashore on Ulva Island, an open sanctuary managed by the Department of Conservation which has been cleared of introduced mammals. The practice of re-introducing endangered species to offshore islands such as Ulva, where rats were eradicated in 1996, not only serves as an important management tool, but allows the public to experience what New Zealand’s forest ecosystems must have been like before humans arrived. Unfortunately Norwegian rats found their way ashore again in late 2010 (they are able to swim at least a mile) but after an extensive program again by the Department of Conservation (New Zealand’s national park service) the island is again predator free.
The University of Otago, in collaboration with DOC and the Ulva Island Trust, is undergoing an extensive study of the role of inbreeding and loss of genetic diversity, in island re-introduction programs. The information gained through this on-going research is of immense importance to our whole island re-population programs.