Māori-led trapping effort aiming to wipe out ship rats, feral cats on Great Barrier Island

A conservation project on Aotea Great Barrier Island is on track to wipe out feral cats and free the nearby Broken Islands from ship rats.

Tu Mai Taonga is led by local Māori, and is providing employment for young people, many of whom have never worked in conservation before.

A work day for trappers on the Tu Mai Taonga project starts with a boat trip to Rangiahua, one of the smaller islands off Aotea Great Barrier Island to check rat trap lines.

The field trappers on the boat while Newshub visits have no background in conservation, the only prerequisite for this gig is a good attitude.

Tu Mai Taonga field worker Dane Kemp can't imagine going back to his previous building job now.

"It helps everyone out, it's just good for your wellbeing," he told Newshub.

It's also Lindsey Davies' first job in conservation, and he's now the team lead of the rat eradication project.

"My family didn't think of me as much of a bush person," Davies said.

"And when they heard I was doing conservation and living in huts up on the hills they thought, no, there's no way." 

Davies' crew was bringing supplies ashore to stay for the week because they are down to the very last couple of rats on the whole island.

"Being able to do our work to the point where I can have my daughter come here, and have her hearing the same birds that our grandparents heard would be awesome."

Rangiahua is the biggest island off Aotea. It's previously had rats eradicated, but the biosecurity measures weren't sufficient to keep them away.

Tu Mai Taonga project lead Makere Jenner is determined that this time the efforts of trappers won't go to waste, not only getting rid of rats, but wiping out feral cats in the island's remote mountainous northern forests.

"We're not looking to control, our goal is to eradicate," Jenner said.

"Bringing long-term, lasting, holistic benefits to the land, the sea and the people." 

And for her, creating meaningful jobs on the island to bring mana whenua home is just as important as the conservation work.

"We have seasoned conservationists - people who are qualified to be in there managing a feral cat eradication, managing a rat eradication, but also we have people who are keen to get stuck in and just help with the work."

Tu Mai Taonga has been funded by the Jobs For Nature programme and Auckland Council, but that funding will run out next year. 

They're hoping local and central government will come to the table so their work can continue.

"To just have the opportunity to look after our home like we once did, is the most important," Davies said.

To reclaim their role as kaitiaki of Aotea Great Barrier Island, hoping to restore to the flourishing feral cat and rat-free paradise it once was.