Three weeks in the sub-Antarctic: Brent Barrett reports

Three weeks in the sub-Antarctic: Brent Barrett reports Three weeks in the sub-Antarctic: Brent Barrett reports Three weeks in the sub-Antarctic: Brent Barrett reports Three weeks in the sub-Antarctic: Brent Barrett reports

The idea of taking a 35-hour bus trip in New Zealand seems very strange; as does the thought of a boat journey of this duration. However, there's no other way to get to Sub-Antarctic Auckland Island which would be my home for three weeks.

My memories of doing this journey in 1998 are of being bed bound and seasick. Luckily I was fine this time, and well enough to go out on deck and watch the southern ocean’s majestic sea birds twist and soar above the huge waves.

The Auckland Island has changed drastically in the 200 years since it was occupied by wild pigs and cats. Nearby Enderby Island, which I have visited, remains relatively intact ecologically, having only been grazed by wild cows and rabbits. But Auckland Island is  a devastated landscape despite being one of our crown jewels in the southern sea. All the flora and fauna were only present in isolated patches down cliffs and across rivers which pigs could not access. Some bird life had managed to hang on, but the island is slowly dying if we cannot intervene.

Our three-week mission was simple – investigate the limitations of working in winter in the Sub-Antarctic; and a feasibility trial to determine the likelihood that an attempted eradication of pigs, mice and cats (in that order) might be successful. If it could be, then all five Sub-Antarctic Islands in New Zealand’s waters would be completely pest animal free.

Much of the work consisted of walking long distances in thick non-tracked forest, often in freezing conditions.  The main physical challenges were almost-impenetrable vegetation and deep swamps; along with grumpy sea lions, inclined to chase just to break their winter boredom.

But, in reality our key challenge was time. With the shorter winter days we found it difficult to complete our tasks before night fall, certainly on days that we walked 25km. In total I walked 250km in 17 days and along that journey I was privileged to see Albatross chicks, trees of Tui, Sealions, historic structures, breath-taking landscapes and huge numbers of nursing Southern Right Whales. Together we deployed 50 trail cameras with four types of meat lures for cats and set nine lines of 25 snap traps for mice (run over three nights this represented 675 trap sets). We also collected any cat scats we found for DNA testing which helps profile how many cats live around our research site.

I am extremely grateful to the full team of DOC and their various roles as expedition member, logistics, supplies, and project management and to Boffa Miskell for supporting the professional growth that this trip represented. I am looking forward to working with the rest of the team to help develop technology that may one-day assist DOC in this huge and very important effort.

For further information please contact Brent Barrett

19 September 2019