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Fire risk triggers part closure of Matiu/Somes Is.

Fire risk triggers partial closure of Matiu/Somes Island

Heightened fire risk resulting from a dry, hot start to summer has triggered the restriction of public access to Matiu/Somes Island in Wellington harbour from Christmas Eve.

DOC Wellington Conservancy fire officer Rachael Thorp said the fire risk was rising daily as high temperatures dried out the grass and the regenerating forest on the island. Occasional showers were having little effect.

To protect public safety and conservation values the island will be closed to the public daily from 1pm to 8am the following day from 24 December 2007 until further notice.

“By 1pm the vegetation becomes so dry that it wouldn’t take much to ignite,” Ms Thorp said.

“A fire would spread rapidly in the current weather conditions posing a risk to public safety and having a devastating impact on historic and ecological conservation values. Twenty-five years of restoration effort could be lost in as little as 30 minutes in these conditions.”

Ms Thorp said the isolation of the island would also make evacuation extremely difficult and create problems for fire fighters. A continuation of the dry weather could see the island completely closed to visitors.

“We are aware of the inconvenience that closures may cause but we must put the safety of people and protection of the plants and animals first. The situation will be monitored daily and the partial closure will be reassessed if conditions change. ”

The warm days and calm seas have also led to an increase in the number of kayaks and boats landing on the island, prompting a reminder that landings are only permitted on the northwestern jetty.

“We have these rules in place so we can protect the special biodiversity values of the island, says island ranger Jo Greenman.

“A fire or other biosecurity risk, such as a rat, could cause huge devastation on the island,”
Matiu/Somes Island is home to tuatara, kakariki, North Island robin, giant weta and species of seabird such as oyster catchers, which are currently nesting. The island also provides habitat for geckos and skinks and is an important historic site.

While access has been restricted to Matiu/Somes Island, there are many other conservation areas to visit in the Wellington region. Information about places to visit in Wellington can be found on the Department of Conservation website :www.doc.govt.nz/parks and recreation/places to visit/wellington or from the Wellington Visitor Centre in Manners Street, Wellington. Phone: 04 384 7770

ENDS

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