Great white erad­i­ca­tion ‘a good les­son in per­se­ver­ance’

The project leader of the suc­cess­ful erad­i­ca­tion of the great white but­ter­fly says it was a good les­son in per­se­ver­ance and that the Ge­o­graphic In­for­ma­tion Sys­tem (GIS) was piv­otal to its suc­cess.

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That suc­cess has in turn won the De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion (DOC) the Supreme New Zealand Biose­cu­rity Award for its work dur­ing the three-and-a-half year multi-agency pro­gramme to erad­i­cate the pest from the Nel­son-Tas­man re­gion where it was first found in 2010.

Project leader Mike Shep­herd says erad­i­ca­tion was an uncertainty for quite a while and it was per­se­ver­ance that got there in the end.

"What we had to do is be clear in our aim and that was never very dif­fi­cult. It was to erad­i­cate this pest that had come in, then find­ing the tools and find­ing out how to make that hap­pen. And DOC is a world leader in de­sign­ing ways to do that."

Though it had past ex­pe­ri­ences of erad­i­cat­ing pests from is­lands, there was lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence even around the world of suc­cess­fully erad­i­cat­ing an in­tro­duced pest on a main­land, he says.

DOC took up the fight two years af­ter the first but­ter­fly was dis­cov­ered when it re­alised the se­ri­ous threat it posed to 79 na­tive cress species, es­pe­cially 57 at risk of ex­tinc­tion. In­dus­tries came on board as well due to the ef­fect the but­ter­fly would likely have on com­mer­cial veg­etable crops and farm for­age crops. An in­de­pen­dent as­sess­ment es­ti­mated the but­ter­fly could po­ten­tially cost the coun­try up to $133 mil­lion a year in spray­ing crops and pro­tect­ing na­tive cresses.


The erad­i­ca­tion team went in with guns blaz­ing in a joint pro­gramme with re­search or­gan­i­sa­tions, the lo­cal coun­cil and Veg­eta­bles New Zealand, >

along­side the Min­istry for Pri­mary In­dus­tries (MPI); stir­ring up public sup­port and search­ing 31,000 prop­er­ties, of­ten re­peat­edly, to lo­cate and de­stroy the pest.

Af­ter more than 263,000 prop­erty searches, the emerg­ing but­ter­fly pop­u­la­tion was sup­pressed and Shep­herd says that the GIS map­ping ca­pa­bil­ity played a vi­tal part in that search.

"If I was go­ing to rec­om­mend any­thing for a sim­i­lar project, it is hav­ing sup­port in place like GIS. You could look at prop­er­ties and see whether we had been there, how many times had we been there, what was found there and so forth. So you start to look at a data­base and see a pat­tern emerg­ing and can fo­cus your per­son­nel into those ar­eas to cre­ate the most ef­fect."

Speed was also vi­tal and get­ting boots on the ground to find the pest, which meant not just the teams of 25 to 30 DOC staff and vol­un­teers door knock­ing at any one time, but also get­ting the public on board to search their gar­dens.

"The speed in which you get a re­sponse in place is quite cru­cial and the longer you sit on your hands, the more it

can ex­ac­er­bate. You can't do this with­out ded­i­cated peo­ple though. Vol­un­teers are great to have around, but you need peo­ple who un­der­stand their jobs and what they need to do. So most of our fund­ing was spent on things like wages.

Speed was also vi­tal and get­ting boots on the ground to find the pest, which meant not just the teams of 25 to 30 DOC staff and vol­un­teers door knock­ing at any one time, but also get­ting the public on board to search their gar­dens.

"We keep say­ing how much we ap­pre­ci­ated public sup­port and it re­ally was quite cru­cial. We didn't have a lot of dif­fi­cult peo­ple and the vast ma­jor­ity were in­cred­i­bly sup­port­ive."

Ini­tially, there was an es­ti­mated 30% chance of suc­cess­ful erad­i­ca­tion and in the mid­dle of the pro­gramme, there were 1,490 in­fested sites in Nel­son city. Nearly $5 mil­lion later, the but­ter­fly is gone and Shep­herd says the cost/ben­e­fit analysis showed it was go­ing to be far more costly if the but­ter­fly was not erad­i­cated. Hav­ing bosses who con­tin­u­ally went in to bat for fur­ther fund­ing for the project was an­other vi­tal com­po­nent in the project's suc­cess, he says.

The great white but­ter­fly is thought to have en­tered the coun­try in empty con­tain­ers that are reg­u­larly brought into Port Nel­son to fill with pro­duce later in the sea­son. The first but­ter­fly was de­tected 1.5km from the port in 2010 and the last but­ter­fly was found in De­cem­ber 2014.

▴ Fe­male great white but­ter­fly: The ex­ter­mi­nated pest. (credit S Sepp)

▴ Teams searched 31,000 prop­er­ties to de­stroy the pest.

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