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Hauraki Gulf islands celebrate being pest-free

Media release
29 November 2012

Hauraki Gulf islands celebrate being pest-free

Brian Shields with Ant Detector Rhys Jones

The world’s first detection dog for Argentine ants will feature at an event to celebrate the first anniversary of a biosecurity accreditation system for ferries and other commercial vessels visiting pest-free islands in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.

Tonight (Thursday 29 November), Auckland Council and the Department of Conservation (DOC) will celebrate the first year of their Pest-free Warrant scheme.

The scheme involves DOC and the council working with ferry and tourism operators, and other companies running vessels or carrying out contracts, on pest-free islands in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park such as Rangitoto, Motutapu and Rakino. It’s designed to ensure they don’t carry pests such as rats, mice and Argentine ants to the islands.

DOC has removed rats, stoats, possums and other pests from Rangitoto and Motutapu, making them safe havens for endangered wildlife such as kiwi, takahe, tieke (saddleback) and tuatara. Rakino Island, which is managed by Auckland Council, has been pest-free since 2002, and is home to native bird species such as the bellbird and kakariki.

“Pest-free islands such as Motutapu, Rangitoto and Rakino are great for conservation and they’re great for tourism,” says DOC Auckland area manager, Jonathan Miles.

“They enable us to grow the populations of threatened wildlife like Coromandel brown kiwi and takahe. And they’re close to downtown Auckland so Aucklanders and tourists can visit these islands and enjoy this unique wildlife.”

“The Pest-free Warrant scheme is a key part of the Treasure Islands biosecurity programme run by Auckland Council and DOC that enables us to keep the Hauraki islands free of pests,” says Jonathan.

The inspection process looks at how well biosecurity measures are applied by the commercial vessel operators and contractors visiting the pest-free islands.

“We’re pleased with their response. We’ve had ferry companies such as Fullers, Sealink and 360 qualify for a Pest-free Warrant. That’s as well as operators with smaller vessels and contractors working on the pest-free islands,” says Auckland Council biosecurity manager, Jack Craw.

“This is a great system to have in place as it ensures the industry has good practices in place. The accreditation process doubles as an education for their staff, which they pass on to others.

“It works alongside other measures, such as our pest-detection dogs, which will be at the celebration event,” says Jack.

One of the new canine recruits is Rhys Jones, a Welsh springer spaniel who was certified this year to detect Argentine ants. These are very aggressive ants that pose a major threat to other insects and endangered native birds.

Rhys and his handler Brian Shields, who works for Auckland Council, has been working on a number of pest-free islands, mainland wharves and plant nurses

“Along with detection dogs for other pests like rats and mice, Rhys is a great weapon in the fight against pests. He’s our only dog trained to track Argentine ants,” says Jack.

Rhys is trained to find ant trails rather than nests and to find ants when they are in low numbers and are hard for humans to spot. He can sniff out Argentine ants in nurseries and pot plants or building materials that are being transported to pest-free islands.

Argentine ants are one of the world's most invasive ant species and are very aggressive. They beat out native ants and other invertebrates for food and can even kill small native birds.

The Pest-free Warrant anniversary event takes place tonight. There will be a celebration of the good work done over the past year, a presentation of warrants to those who have recently earned them, recognition of previous warrant recipients and the canine pest detection team will be introduced to those attending.

Date: Thursday 29 November
Time: 4pm – 5.30pm
Place: Seminar Room, New Zealand Marine, 85 Westhaven Drive


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