Twenty Five Years Reconstructing an Island Ecosystem

Islands are delicate ecosystems. Although less than 5% of the world’s land area, they are home to over 20% of the planet’s terrestrial biodiversity. In the last 500 years 80% of vertebrate extinctions have been on islands. Restoring an island ecosystem to its original state requires first unpacking the ecosystem of invasive species such as rodents, and then re-building the ecosystem from the ground-up. This is neither a simple nor rapid task, but is precisely what scientists, government and the public all achieved by working together for over 25 years restoring Tiritiri Matangi.

Tiritiri Matangi before restoration
Tiritiri Matangi before restoration

Tiritiri Matangi is the ‘must-see’ island for visitors to New Zealand, freely open to the public and only a one hour ferry from down-town Auckland city. Twenty five years ago it was just a farm over-run with rats, but after eradicating rats, members of the public visited every weekend to plant native trees across the island. The original light house keepers Ray and Barbara Walter became the new conservation rangers on the island. With the forest restored, rare native birds at risk of extinction could be reintroduced to the island. Scientists and bird-watchers from all over the world came to observe and study these birds as they flourished in this ecosystem free of introduced predators and covered in lush native forest. The island had become a sort of Noah’s Ark for conservation.

Tiritiri Matangi after 25 years of restoration

It’s impossible to cover the entire history of Tiritiri Matangi without writing a book, so in celebration of its 25th anniversary the New Zealand Journal of Ecology has published a special issue dedicated to the island. Each paper of the special issue, written by authoritative experts who have all worked on the island, considers a different important aspect of the history of the island, from the role of people to the different species now found there. Best of all access to every article is free.

Changing Planet

Meet the Author
Conservation biologist Dr. James Russell works throughout the world on remote islands and other sites to provide conservation solutions by applying a combination of scientific methods. Follow James on National Geographic voices for regular updates on his own work or other exciting developments in island conservation.