Matakohe-Limestone Island, in the heart of Whangarei Harbour, is a special place with a unique history and an exciting future.
Once the site of a strategic Mãori pa, extensive kumara gardens, and a thriving late-1800s cement works, today the scenic reserve is the focus of ecological and cultural restoration by the local Northland community, in partnership with Whangarei District Council.
Initiated by Forest & Bird members, the community-led restoration programme began in 1989. Since 1991, it has been coordinated by the Friends of Matakohe–Limestone Island Society (FOMLI) and today is managed by FOMLI on behalf of the Whangarei District Council. The vision is to return the island to a functioning coastal forest ecosystem, and to protect and enhance its unique Mãori and European cultural heritage. The scenic reserve is open to the public.
Matakohe-Limestone Island was nearly stripped of its trees during its industrial and agricultural phases but that is changing. Volunteers have planted more than 160,000 trees, and this revegetation continues, with intensive weed control to help to protect the regenerating forest.
Following the eradication of mammalian predators in the late 1990s, the Island has remained predator free and is once again home to threatened animals, including New Zealand dotterel, fernbird, banded rail, four species of skinks and three species of geckos. The Island also operates as a kiwi crèche for the greater Whangarei area, with juvenile birds repatriated to the mainland when they are large enough to better defend themselves against stoats.
Size of area under protection
The island is 37 hectares and, because it is predator free, the whole area operates as a safe environment for young kiwi and other threatened native animals. Biggest challenge
The biggest challenge for FOMLI is to maintain the Island’s predator-free status. While its open public access, and its closeness to the mainland allows people to visit and experience kiwi conservation first hand, it is not so great when predatory pest animals want to do the same. They can swim to the island, or hitch a ride on boats with visitors.
To meet the challenge, Matakohe-Limestone Island is criss-crossed by an intensive network of traps and bait stations. As an extra safety measure, the Island’s ranger maintains a buffer zone through intensive predator control over 12 hectares on the adjacent mainland and surrounding islands, and this helps reduce the rate of re-invasion.
Island ranger, Jo Barr, says maintaining a project like the restoration of Matakohe-Limestone Island takes a huge effort from hundreds of volunteers and supporters. In 2011, FOMLI reached the milestone of 20 years of island restoration and is still going strong—an achievement to be very proud of.
FOMLI’s major sponsor is Golden Bay Cement, and its sponsorship continues the company’s long association with the island. Golden Bay Cement’s predecessor ran a cement manufacturing plant on Matakohe-Limestone Island from the late 1800s to 1918.
The company’s support has been pivotal in restoring the island, Jo says. In 1998, Golden Bay Cement committed to a 5-year funding programme that enabled FOMLI to ‘really get stuck in’ to the business of restoration, allowing it to develop the necessary infrastructure and undertake planting on a large scale. This support and sponsorship continues today.
The Whangarei District Council also provides a great deal of financial and practical support to the Island, she says. It is committed to ensuring Matakohe-Limestone Island remains as an open access scenic reserve and continues to develop as a destination for both locals and visitors.
Rentokil, Pub Charity, WWF-New Zealand, the Northland Regional Council and the Lottery Grants Board also regularly support projects on the Island, and FOMLI also receives support from numerous local businesses and individuals. The society has also been a regular recipient of funding from Kiwis for kiwi, which helps pay for the predator control programme that maintains the Island’s pest-free status and allows the kiwi crèche to continue.
The one most important thing
Jo says the Island’s restoration is driven by the community, for the community. “The goal is to bring New Zealand’s special native animals closer to every day people. By creating a place where people are free to visit and experience our unique wildlife, we can hopefully foster a passion to protect and restore it. After all, it’s hard to treasure something you have never seen.”
If you would like to join FOMLI, a membership form is available here. Membership is open to the public, with an annual subscription of $25 per person or family.
If you would like to volunteer to help the Friends of Matakoke-Limestone Island Society, or would like further information, please contact the Island’s rangers, Jo and Ben Barr:
Phone: 09 436 0923
Postal address: Friends of Matakohe/Limestone Island Society, PO Box 1781, Whangarei, New Zealand
Other contact information is available from FOMLI’s website.