The following letter was sent to the Barrier Bulletin the local newspaper on Great Barrier Island and was published in April. I wrote it because a sort of moral panic, in part drummed-up by the newspaper, was building among the community against the proposed Department of Conservation project to eradicate rats from the island of Rakitu (328 ha) – and use of rodenticides in general. And as a result of this members of the Great Barrier Local Board were coming under intense pressure from local activists. Here is my letter:
I have been following the present controversy about eradicating rats from Rakitu with some concern. While I respect the feelings of those in the community who appear to be have genuine trepidation about the use of rat poison, I must respectfully disagree with them. Just to make it clear to the community, I have long been an advocate for removing rats from Rakitu and indeed all our offshore islands, including Great Barrier. Most of the neighbouring islands, Cuvier, Mokohinau, Hauturu are now free of rats thanks to the one-off use of the same rat poison which is routinely used on this island and has been long available from any general or hardware store. In 2011, I reminded DOC of the commitment it had made back in 1993 to remove rats from Rakitu when it was seeking funding to buy the island. In June 2013 I successful secured for funding for this operation as a member of the government Nature Heritage Fund which had helped purchase the island twenty years previously. In September 2013, five years ago, I travelled to Rakitu with then Conservation Minister Nick Smith and local MP Nikki Kaye to publicly announce plans to remove rats from the island in 2015.
Had DOC managers upheld that plan and got the job done in 2015, I daresay the leading stories in Barrier Bulletin would now probably be about how well the little spotted kiwi were doing on Rakitu and how native bird species long lost from Rakitu were being released with enthusiastic community participation. That indeed Rakitu had become a popular venue for Barrier islanders of every age including school kids who were actively involved in restoring the island, planting flax and pohutukawa etc. But the reality instead is that last week the pupils of Okiwi and Mairehau schools went on a two-day hike up to Mt Heale and saw and heard NO birds – not a single bird! A chilling reminder that the ‘rat-induced environmental catastrophe’ that drove numerous native bird species, bellbirds, saddlebacks, stitchbirds, parakeets, whiteheads, kokako (in our lifetime) and Lord knows what else, into extinction on the island in the 19th and 20th centuries, has never really ended. The process of extinction is ongoing. I would remind readers of a race of Bellbirds notable for their distinctive melodic song, which were recorded on Rakitu right up until the 1980s but were gone for ever by the end of the century – driven to extinction by rats.
So for those who don’t know me, or my views let me place on the record that I fully support the eradication of rats from Rakitu and indeed Great Barrier.
I look forward to the day very soon, when rat poison will no longer be needed on Rakitu and to a future day, hopefully not too long off, that rat poison will not longer be needed on Aotea. In the meantime I make a plea,
please let the Department of Conservation people get on with their job on Rakitu and let us give them our support.
Waitemata & Gulf.”