Covid-19 speeds up tourist company's efforts to rid Fiordland National Park of pests

Source: 1News

A tourism company's efforts to get rid of stoats and rats in Fiordland National Park is speeding up with thanks to Covid-19.

A surge in New Zealand tourism has seen many exploring the country's most remote locations, including Cooper Island, which is situated nearly 80 kilometres southwest of Te Anau.

Real Journeys nature guide Richard Heyward is on a mission in the dense and rugged bush.

He and his team are checking traps to tackle an ongoing problem.

“You're looking at around more than 400 traps on the island and that's around 1800 hectares.”

Cooper Island is the third largest in Dusky Sound in the national park.

It's picturesque, but it's quiet.

”That’s one thing that a lot of people say when they come here, they don't hear any birds. It's not as noisy as back home because stoats and rats have decimated our bird population,” Heyward said.

But, a surge in domestic tourists exploring the area is helping inject much-needed cash into tourism and conservation.

Those onboard the Milford Wanderer are helping to fund a pest control programme on the island.

“Each passengers fare [sees] $100 go towards the restoration project, which is fantastic.”

Real Journeys has seen a more than 60 per cent jump in bookings to Dusky Sound since the pandemic limited travel elsewhere.

The extra traffic has sped up conversation work by more than 18 months.

“When the vessel would normally have been doing single, day-single night overnight trips in either Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound, it's created us the opportunity to, I guess, take a number of New Zealanders down there that we wouldn't normally do between December and March,” general manager Paul Norris said.

The pest control project has been underway for nearly four years, with a team of people helicoptered in check the traps every three months. So far, the team has caught nearly 70 stoats and around 700 rats.

The extra money will fund 12 monitoring cameras and install more self-resetting traps.

Tony Preston from the Department of Conservation said: “One of the big things that's enabled us to do lately is the funding of a flora and fauna report which is going to identify the species that we'll potentially be able to transfer to the island in the future.”

Heyward said, hopefully, “one day we will get to that point that we can put kakapo and kiwi back on this island”.

It's a spectacle both tourists and conservationists want to see.