Dusky Sound, Fiordland National Park Cooper Island Photo courtesy of Craig Potton

Cooper Island Restoration Project

Update - May 2019: 

All 393 stoat traps on Cooper Island were checked and re-baited. There are also 22 x A24 Goodnature self-resetting traps along the mainland coast opposite Nine Fathoms Passage to help reduce stoat re-invasion to Cooper Island. 

To bolster these defences the plan is to add a double-set DOC-200 trap tunnel at each of the current mainland trap locations. A total of 14 tunnels were installed in May until strong winds prevented boating. The remaining trap tunnels will be installed during the next visit.

On this month’s two-day expedition, two stoats were found since the last check in February. There was also a large increase in the number of rats caught in May compared with previous checks, particularly in the coastal traps. This was not unexpected as beech trees and many other species, including rimu and miro in the area, produced a huge amount of seed and fruit this season which allowed mice and rats to breed and survive better through autumn and winter.

A weka was heard for the first time on the island during the May trip, about 2km from the eastern end of the south track. Weka are able to swim well, so were possibly already on the island in very low numbers, or have swum across from the mainland. The weather during the May trip was particularly wet and windy, so not ideal conditions for hearing many other birds. 

Since trapping began in June 2017, 35 stoats and 181 rats have been caught.  While it is impossible to tell how many birds the removal of those predators has saved, Project Manager Gerard Hill says his team definitely noticed they are hearing more kākā than in previous years.

Turning silence to the sound of birdsong 

In 1773, when Captain James Cook anchored in Dusky Sound, one of New Zealand’s largest and most isolated fiords, it was the landscape and rich bird song that impressed him and his crew. 

Click to run the video and learn more about our Cooper Island work

Today the landscape is unchanged, but when Real Journeys week-long Discovery Expeditions weigh anchor near Cooper Island, passengers are more likely to hear the ‘sound of silence’.  Introduced predators have decimated the millions of birds that once made Dusky Sound their home.   

Real Journeys has undertaken to eliminate the voracious stoats and rats from Cooper Island - a vast 1,779 hectares. Situated in such an inaccessible area of New Zealand, it is the most challenging environmental mission since our founder Les Hutchins led the Save Manapouri Campaign in the 1960s.  

Today we hope our campaign against predators sees the return of some of our most vulnerable native birds like the kākāpō and kiwi and safeguards the future of the third largest island in Dusky Sound.  

The initiative sees Real Journeys join the Department of Conservation’s Tamatea/Dusky Sound Restoration Programme; sharing its vision to make Dusky Sound one of the most intact ecosystems in the world and a source or bio bank, for the regeneration of native species throughout the country.   Real Journeys is proud to play a part to help make this ambitious vision a reality.

A big thanks to Real Journeys for joining DOC and others in supporting a predator free New Zealand. Restoring Cooper Island back to as it pretty much was when Māori and Captain Cook used this magic harbour nearly 250 years ago, is such an inspirational gift to future generations of New Zealanders and international visitors.

Lou Sanson, Director-General, Department of Conservation

Cooper Island Restoration Plan

Location of stoats (red dots) and rats (orange dots) caught in May 2019

Eliminating the stoats and rats from this 1,779 ha island is a considerable undertaking.  The island is 523m high, rugged and steep in parts.  Tracks must be cut and 380 stoat traps set inland and along the shoreline.  200 self-resetting Goodnature rat traps will also be laid across the whole island.

Red dots represent stoat traps placed on Cooper Island in 2017 and pink dots are rat traps placed in 2018.

Proposed intense rat control block on Cooper Island for 2019

The shaded planned rat control block is approx 170 ha and takes in the eastern end of Cooper Island.

All the coastal stoat traps were checked and re-baited in May 2019.  A total of 2 stoats, and 61 rats were caught at this visit and it brought the total number of predators caught to 216. 

Robins were confirmed as being present on the island after being seen for the first time during a trip in January 2018.  Most robin sightings were around the centre of the island near the lake on the middle track. 

Other birds heard or seen most days included tomtits, kakariki, kaka and weka.

We have produced a Cooper Island Restoration Project leaflet to summarise the timescales and plan of action.

New Zealand's first bird sanctuary

As far back as 1891, the government of the day was concerned about declining bird numbers creating the country’s first nature reserve on Resolution Island, the largest island in Dusky Sound. 

New Zealand’s first conservation ranger, Richard Henry, transferred over 700 kākāpō and kiwi to the off shore island to protect them from the wave of introduced predators sweeping the country. 

Sadly by 1900, stoats had been able to swim across to the reserve.  

Kakapo. Image courtesy Stephen Jaquiery

How we're raising funds

Removing predators from Cooper Island will require at least half a million dollars over the next five years and ongoing maintenance costs thereafter.

  • $100 per person is contributed by Real Journeys from every Discovery Expeditions ticket
  • $500 per person is contributed by Real Journeys from every Conservation Expeditions ticket
  • $100,000 donation from the Leslie Hutchins Conservation Foundation (The foundation was set up in 1994 by Real Journeys founder, Les Hutchins, raising funds from Real Journeys Doubtful Sound trips.)
  • Annual Birds of a Feather Conservation Ball raises funds for Cooper Island Restoration Project
  • $65,000 Real Journeys Birds of a Feather Conservation Ball 2016 (around half the proceeds were earmarked for Cooper Island, the rest for DOC’s Dusky Sound Restoration Project) 
  • A hundred guests raised over $85,000 for the Cooper Island Island Restoration Project at the Birds of a Feather Conservation Ball 2018 held at Walter Peak, Queenstown.

Cooper Island in the media

Media Release - 'Birds of a Feather' Conservation Ball 2018 raises over $85,000 for Cooper Island  (9 Aug 2018)
Media Release - Clay pipe discovery believed to be from legendary Fiordland Explorer William Docherty (1 Aug 2018). 
Media Release - Over fifty predators removed from Cooper Island (25 Jan 2018). 
Featured on TVOne News and TV3 Newshub.

Making a remote island of almost 2,000 hectares pest free isn’t easy or cheap and will take considerable time in fact it will take many years but we’re committed to this and are in it for the long haul.

Richard Lauder, Chief Executive, Wayfare

Thank you to those supporting us

We would like to thank all those who have supported and contributed to the Cooper Island Restoration Project with special mention to:

  • Leslie Hutchins Conservation Trust for its $100,000 donation
  • Bill Day for the numerous and ongoing helicopter flights to bring in traps and generous use of the Georgina houseboat for accommodation
  • Lindsay Wilson (DOC Biodiversity Principal Ranger) for his support, advice and use of the logistics boat for checking traps
  • Ross McFaul for his truck to help us transport traps from Te Anau to West Arm

The Cooper Island Restoration Project timeframe

  • 2015: Real Journeys funds feasibility study to assess status of plant and animal species and draw up a best practice animal predator control programme
  • 2016: Real Journeys signs agreement with Department of Conservation to fund programme
  • 2017: Set up network of stoat traps around periphery, plus a buffer zone on opposing shoreline of the mainland, to prevent predators from swimming across
  • 2018: A network of tracks marked and cut across inland sections of island.  More stoat traps added and existing shoreline traps maintained 
  • 2019-20: 1000 automatic re-setting Goodnature rat traps across every 100-200m across the island
  • 2021 and beyond:  Ongoing trap maintenance work to control predators and protect the native species present
Panoramic view of Cooper Island, Dusky Sound, Fiordland National Park

The Cooper Island Restoration Project is a partnership between Real Journeys and the Department of Conservation

Real Journeys is involved in other conservation projects - learn more here

Department of Conservation