Summer Program

close up of a bird perched on a branch

5 Weeks, 3 Islands, 8 Credits: an unforgettable Summer Program in Aotearoa New Zealand

Our five-week summer program provides an unequalled opportunity to gain academic credits while working toward sustainable solutions for the management of natural resources. All learning opportunities offered by EcoQuest are packaged into a curriculum framework which addresses ecology and environmental policy pertaining to the real-life case studies which span the full spectrum of restoration opportunities on offshore islands in the Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand's largest marine embayment. Since 1999, Tiritiri Matangi Island and Ponui Island have been core destinations for the Summer Program. Motuihe and Motutapu islands are relatively recent additions to ecological restoration of offshore islands in New Zealand, and their potential conservation value is extremely high. In 2006 EcoQuest was invited to contribute to ecological restoration efforts on Motuihe, and since 2010 we have extended out efforts to include Motutapu.

At a conceptual level, many of the issues facing New Zealand are not dissimilar to those in the United States. Our coursework is designed with this in mind and students will develop excellent field skills that can be applied back home (or elsewhere in the world). Learning activities centre around several core topics, including plant and animal pest management, native revegetation and habitat enhancement, endangered species translocations, ecological monitoring of native flora and fauna, and the role of the wider community in restoration initiatives. Political frameworks for resource management in New Zealand as well as current policy pathways are an integrated part of the curriculum.

Restoration and conservation on islands has traditionally been a huge part of New Zealand ecology and wildlife management. Islands have served as offshore “arks” where species that were vulnerable to predators could survive. Starting in the 1970s, techniques were developed to eradicate mammalian pests from offshore islands. This, together with translocation of rare and endangered species, has allowed many off-shore islands to become safe-havens for wildlife. They are now stocked with native and endemic plants and animals.

Most islands in the Hauraki Gulf have a long history of human occupation. The islands were among some of the first areas settled by Maori. Many of the Gulf islands were highly sought after by Europeans once they arrived in New Zealand. Both Maori and Europeans used the islands extensively for agriculture.

In the Hauraki Gulf, mammalian pests have been eradicated from a number of islands in recent years. EcoQuest contributes to ecological restoration efforts on several of these islands, including Motuihe and Motutapu. We have incorporated these two islands as exciting options in the summer program. Motuihe and Motutapu complement the island destinations that have been part of our summer programs since 1999: Tiritiri Matangi Island and Ponui Island.

Due to long-standing and successful involvement with a number of partners, including the Department of Conservation, the Auckland Council, private land owners and several island restoration trusts, EcoQuest is able to offer students the opportunity to experience and contribute to a significant part of the spectrum of restoration opportunities on offshore islands in the Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand's largest marine embayment.

Ponui Island is the eastern-most of the Inner Hauraki Gulf Islands and is privately owned. The island has been farmed for more than a century, but a large tract of broadleaf/kauri forest remains. Following successful establishment of North Island brown kiwi in the 1960's, Ponui now supports the most dense wild population of this species of kiwi in New Zealand. Students learn about the ecology of kiwi and carry out kiwi call surveys. They explore in-depth the role that private landowners can play in maintaining biodiversity, the provisions for supporting landowners to do this successfully, and the resource management issues that may help or hinder in this process. Research on several aspects of ecology of kiwi is carried out by Massey University graduate students, under supervision of Dr. Isabel Castro (lecturer in ecology at Massey), one of the EcoQuest research associates.

Tiritiri Matangi (Tiri) is considered one of the most successful ecological restoration projects in the world. There is evidence of extensive Maori settlement on Tiri. The two main tribes that occupied Tiri at different times were Kawerau and Ngati Paoa (our local iwi at Whakatiwai). Māori occupation of Tiri ended in the late 1850’s, and already at that time Europeans were farming sheep and pigs on the island. Tiri fell into Crown ownership in the early 1940’s. 120 years of farming saw this 220-hectare island stripped of all but about 5% of the remaining native coastal broadleaf forest.

An initiative by faculty from Auckland University in 1979 saw the development of a proposal to develop / use Tiri as habitat for endangered flora and fauna. The Department of Conservation, together with many volunteers from the wider Auckland community, have eradicated all introduced mammalian pests, planted the island with native species, and reintroduced native wildlife.

Following more than 25 years of restoration efforts, the island provides a safe haven for many threatened species and serves as one of the best examples of what parts of New Zealand were like before the introduction of mammalian predators and competitors. On Tiri, students experience first-hand a highly successful restoration project and we explore the role of this island in education for sustainability.

Motuihe Island is a relatively recent addition to ecological restoration of offshore islands, and its potential conservation value is extremely high. This is due, not in the least, to the fact that important remnants of native coastal forest are still present on the island. In addition, the island contains a variety of small streams and freshwater wetlands, sheltered sandy beaches, rich fertile soils, and several threatened species. The island is now considered free of mammalian predators. Already translocations of endemic species have taken place and more are expected. Motuihe is only 15 minutes from downtown Auckland with excellent visitor facilities, and fantastic views of the Hauraki Gulf. EcoQuest students have been involved in monitoring of vegetation, reptiles, invertebrates and birds.

Motutapu (“sacred island”) is joined to Rangitoto (see below) by a causeway constructed in the 20th Century, but the two islands are completely different. Geologically, Motutapu is a continental remnant that dates from when New Zealand was still part of Gondwana; it is in fact older than much of mainland New Zealand, although it has been overlaid by the ash of numerous volcanic eruptions (including that of Rangitoto – see below). Motutapu has been settled since people arrived in the area some 800 years ago, and has at various times been fortified, cleared, farmed and grazed. Motutapu Island is classed as a Recreation Reserve under the responsibility of the Department of Conservation. A highly organised and active community-driven restoration group is currently working to replant parts of Motutapu in native vegetation. EcoQuest students are involved in the revegetation efforts on this island.

Rangitoto Island is a basalt cone formed by the most recent eruption of Auckland’s volcanic field (600 year ago). This gives it not only its distinctive shape, but its status as “one of the newest bits of New Zealand”. The ecology and current forest type on Rangitoto reflects the fact that it was quite recently (and still is, in places) bare volcanic rock (both lava flows and scoria). The succession process on Rangitoto is extremely unusual, since one of the first colonising species was pohutukawa. Pohutukawa are unusual early-successional species that grow into large, long-lived trees, which form a closed forest canopy. Rangitoto Island is currently managed by the Department of Conservation as a Scenic Reserve. Students visit Rangitoto when they stay on Motutapu.

On these islands, students may participate in revegetation programs, or in long-term ecological monitoring programs designed to assess the response of native plants and animals to the restoration processes (which typically include eradication of mammalian pests, weed management, native revegetation, and translocation of endangered species).

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