The New Zealand Department of Conservation has partnered with the owners of Great Mercury Island (1872 ha) to eradicate pests from the island this winter. The successful eradication of these pests from the island will further protect the neighbouring smaller Mercury Islands. Two of these have always been free of introduced predators and the remaining four were pioneering islands restorations in the 1980s. These are now home to many threatened species, but have always been at ongoing risk of reinvasion. Great Mercury Island itself is also home to many rare species, and in an independent survey in November 2012 we re-confirmed for the first time in 100 years grey-faced petrel still breeding on the island. Great Mercury Island is also interesting culturally, identified as one of the first landing sites for Maori in New Zealand, and the University of Auckland has been able to undertake research to help understand some of the archaeology.
The Great Mercury Island eradication is an example of a public-private partnership where private investment in conservation is matched with public contributions to achieve a common goal – in this case a high return on investment island pest eradication. This particular relationship has stirred some controversy, but is also taking place on other islands around New Zealand, such as Antipodes Island, and is helping accelerate the rate of pest eradications and island restoration. The private owners of Great Mercury Island have always allowed public landing on the island. The introduced predators and threatened species themselves do not distinguish between public or private land. Conservation of species does not end at public boundaries and is not only a government responsibility. If we truly wish to conserve biodiversity around the world then private landowners will have to step-up and adopt responsibility for conservation on their own land – precisely what is happening on Great Mercury Island. Eradication of the pests on Great Mercury Island is too big a job for the either the island owners or the Department of Conservation to do on their own, but together they can achieve this goal. The government’s involvement in this relationship can be seen as protecting their prior investment in the other Mercury Islands, and in helping apply a conservation intervention with one of the highest returns on investment.