Going Back 50 Years to Slipper Island

Last summer after visiting Great Mercury Island I had the brief opportunity to visit nearby Slipper Island off the coast of the Coromandel. With only a weekend on the island, I set out to perform a ‘bioblitz’ terrestrial fauna survey. I was particularly intrigued about reports of Polynesian rats on the island, as this rat species is now quite uncommon in New Zealand. Thus, armed with my trusty arsenal of rat traps we set out to traverse the island’s 242 hectares laying lines of traps, at the same time counting land birds by day along the picturesque western beaches, and sea birds by night from the dramatic eastern cliffs.

Aerial photo of Slipper Island from the north west (Photo: Farhad Vladi)

The last full survey of animals on Slipper Island was undertaken by the University of Auckland Field Club in 1973 during one of their annual summer camps. The records of the Field Club were regularly published in Tane – which to this day remains a gem for natural history of the north eastern islands of New Zealand. The island’s pastoral landscape has changed very little over the last fifty years, and so too have the bird species present on the island. In fact what few changes have occurred reflect wider changes in the regional landscape of the Coromandel, with recent additions of a few recovering native species such as shining cuckoos.

Slipper Island houses a resort and as a holiday destination was a peculiar mix of rural farming, bird watching and nostalgia for New Zealand past with its idyllic beaches and easy living. Red-billed gulls, once common throughout New Zealand, aggregated on the rocks in front of our chalet. We took kayaks and paddled around the smaller forested islands to the south counting birds. The new owners of Slipper Island have put in some effort in to rejuvenating the accommodation options around Home Bay, or at South Bay camping is available.

The view over Home Bay, Slipper Island
The view over Home Bay, Slipper Island (Photo: Secret Agent Productions)

Our report of the trip and history of Slipper Island is published in the New Zealand Journal of Zoology (e-mail for a re-print)

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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.