Part four

Around the World

Fiordland - New Zealand

Pure Salt

Pure Salt is much more than a vehicle for people wanting to explore the beauty of Fiordland, New Zealand's largest national park - filled with snow capped mountain peaks, glacier carved fiords, glassy lakes and beech forest - not to mention the thousands of species that inhabit the area.

The life of Sean and Maria, proud owners of Pure Salt, revolves around the water. Together with their crew and majestic M.V. Flightless, they share an altruistic desire to give back to the place they call home.

Their extensive experience working and navigating around Fiordland as well as Foveaux Strait has given them a wealth of knowledge about the southern and northern Fiords as well as the wild coast. Add to this a passion for preserving this unique landscape. Using their business as a platform to deliver on their bold vision “... for Dusky Sound to be one of the most intact ecosystems on Earth, and New Zealand's largest ‘biobank’ – a source of endangered native species that can be sent to pest free locations throughout the country”.

As friends and businesses with similar values, we wanted to share their powerful story of passion, hard work and dedication to arguably one of the most spectacular places in the world. Co-owner Maria Kuster shares Pure Salt’s vision, ethos and how they are enabling people to connect with nature and preserve it for future generations.

Project summary

Number of traps


Area protected

23,200 ha

Introduced species

Rats and stoats

Portected species

yellowheads (mōhua). saddlebacks (tieke), New Zealand robins (toutouwai), New Zealand parakeets (kākāriki), fiordland crested penguins (tawaki), tomtits (miromiro), rock wrens (pīwauwau), blue ducks (whio), kea, kākā and more.

Number of traps


Area protected

23,200 ha

Target species

Rats and stoats

Protected species

Yellowheads (mōhua). saddlebacks (tieke), New Zealand robins (toutouwai), New Zealand parakeets (kākāriki), fiordland crested penguins (tawaki), tomtits (miromiro), rock wrens (pīwauwau), blue ducks (whio), kea, kākā and more.

Number of traps


Area protected

23,200 ha

Introduced species

Rats and stoats

Protected Species

Yellowheads (mōhua), saddlebacks (tieke), New Zealand robins (toutouwai), New Zealand parakeets (kākāriki), fiordland crested penguins (tawaki), tomtits (miromiro), rock wrens (pīwauwau), blue ducks (whio), kea, kākā and more.

8 minute read

Connecting people with nature

We want to see Dusky Sound (Tamatea) and its surrounding islands become the most diverse ecosystem on Earth. By empowering people and passing our passion on to the next generation, we’re helping build one of New Zealand’s largest biobanks – a habitat safe enough for native species in the region to thrive.

We know that we can’t reach this goal without support from others so we’ve built our charter business around people who call New Zealand home. Corporate travels, family holidays, girls’ getaways, boys’ trips, and research missions… people climb aboard for different reasons. Some make the most of fishing, diving and kayaking. Others marvel at the native wildlife, history, scenery or geology.

Being on one of our charters is like staying in a little house on water. We don't wait on people hand and foot though. The trip allows us to form honest connections with people and many grow into long-lasting friendships. Clients come back every year because they want to keep the connection with this place and give something back. One client books a charter once or twice a year. They bring their business partners to volunteer and spend a couple of days doing conservation work with us.

Whatever brings people here allows them to form a deep connection with the 'place', and this is what everyone has in common. In the remoteness of Fiordland, they undergo a digital detox and live in the moment. It acts like a reset, switching the connection back to nature. And people really respond to that. They take home stories and memories for life.

Giving back benefits all

Our charters support the Tamatea Restoration Project: the restoration plan has been developed by the New Zealand Department of Conservation with the ambitious goal of filling biodiversity gaps in the area while eradicating pests and re-introducing native species. The project covers Breaksea Sound, Acheron Passage, Wet Jacket Arm, and Dusky Sound itself, across nearly 700 islands, including New Zealand’s fifth largest one, Resolution Island.

The more successful our business is, the more work we can do on the ground. Be it traps or cameras to install, existing networks to service, funding logistics around access and gear, collaborating with other projects on tool development, training algorhythms in image recognition or running field trials. We started in 2018 on Indian Island (Mamaku), moved onto Long Island and are now also assisting on Resolution Island (Mauikatau). So far, we have installed a mix of over 700 DOC200, A24s as well as snap traps and are now servicing those as well as the existing 3500 traps on Resolution Island (Mauikatau). A total of over 4200 traps across 23,200ha of otherwise untouched native bush.

Pure Salt Charter, M.V. Flightless, navigating Fiordland. Image credit: Pure Salt.

"One step at a time even the seemingly impossible becomes reality."

Giving back to the place that gives us so much drives every decision we make. Anything we touch, we want to give back to.

None of this is pushed onto the clients of our everyday commercial charter operation however many sense the place as well as our passion about conservation and see that there are meaningful ways to protect our environment, and they want to play a part beyond being onboard - for their benefit and for future generations.

The birds are back

Over the past ten years, we’ve noticed a massive improvement in the number and diversity of native birds on the mainland and islands. We see and hear them everywhere!

15 years ago on Anchor Island (Pukenui), you would have been lucky to hear a couple of yellowheads (mōhua) or catch a glimpse of a saddleback (tieke). Today there could be three diving in the water, tieke feeding in the tidal zone and flocks of mōhua flying all around us, and flocks of kākā overhead which was unheard of. Sitting offshore from Breaksea Island (Te Puaitaha), the birdsong is amazing.

New Zealand robins (toutouwai) have started settling on Long Island, acting as a natural biobank for them already. New Zealand parakeets (kākāriki), fiordland crested penguins (tawaki) and other seabirds are nesting there too. Grey warblers (riroriro), tomtits (miromiro) and kākā often cruise past.

Indian Island (Mamaku) is home to kiwi that could have been translocated by conservationist Richard Henry in the late 1890. It’s pretty special to know that we’re carrying on that work. The 14 cameras we use to monitor the project have captured lots of footage of kiwis at night. We've even had volunteers stumble across them in broad daylight. It’s awesome!

Fiordland crested penguins (tawaki). Image credit: Pure Salt.

A24s to maximise success and minimise effort

When we started, the tunnel tracking rates were over 30%. For a while we hardly had any catches which had us doubting the effectiveness. Then we started to see piles of rats under the traps for a few checks, with tracking tunnel rates as well as catch rates decreasing soon after. The largest amount of rats was seven under one trap, which removed any doubt around effectiveness in our context. The tracking tunnel rate has been below 5% with an occasional 0% for just about two years now while cameras are showing us the same and the increase in birdlife is reflecting that as well.

We also use snap traps and DOC200 as it’s never going to be just one tool, and are constantly learning what may be needed to eradicate and manage reinvasion.

On Resolution Island, we support the already brilliant efforts of the Department of Conservation to increase trap checks to support stoat eradication, covering the cost of operations and three full time employees being funded by Jobs for Nature.

Reinvasion is an ongoing problem, which is why we have set up a tight grid of traps on Long Island as well as Pickersgill harbour, and a line of stoats on Indian Island to also help with stoat invasion on Resolution Island (Mauikatau).

We plan one field trip per month and also invest time in developing tools, because we all honestly know that we don't yet have enough tools to eradicate, detect reinvasions and respond effectively to re-eradicate the pest in such diverse environments.

It's amazing what you can do, one step at a time, just by doing what you can at the time.

Multiple ways to get involved

People can get involved in the restoration projects in different ways. If they’ve been onboard with us before, they can volunteer to help us set up and service the traps.

We charter a minimum of three dedicated Tamatea adventures to support our conservation projects every year. We provide the boat, crew, food and fuel for free. Half of the people onboard are paying clients who book on a per person basis knowing that at least one and a half days of their trip will involve giving back in a way that feels comfortable - make the sandwiches or check the traps.

One of our first paying clients has become a volunteer on every trip since then. He is now a full-time member of our conservation team and has become a very good friend.

The other half onboard are volunteers. Paying clients and volunteers work hard for the first one and half days and then we take our paying clients away on the boat. They might go kayaking or diving or cruising. The volunteers continue working to ensure the work gets done with lines between clients and volunteers naturally blurring beautifully.

We also give a trap to the Tamatea Restoration Project for every trip that we do. This automatically connects each charter and the people to a project.

Our approach is intergenerational. We charter two or three extra trips annually for younger people through the TamateaLEARNZ initiative. We work with Core Education and the Ministry of Education to bring conservation to students in schools through the online field trip module designed to fit into the school curriculum.

Through TamateaART we also invite artists onboard to create further connections with the place as well as funding support. The artworks they create - sculptures, prints, workshops - is their way of giving back and is sold on our website as well as in a number of galleries.
All proceeds go towards conservation work right where the piece of art was conceived.

We also run a couple of TamateaBLUE adventures every year to look at what lies beneath the surface - underwater clean ups, biosecurity and sustainable fishing.

Looking over Doubtful sound. Image credit: Pure Salt.

Every bit of support helps

If everybody everywhere looked after everything around them, we wouldn't need to worry about anything!

People-power and logistics are amongst the most expensive parts of conservation so we work with the Nature Fund for anybody wanting to contribute physical funds towards the costs of our infrastructure as well as receive a donation receipt.

We’re grateful for people sponsoring fancy things like A24 traps, cameras or ALDs, but we still need people to help with the basics like nails! Some of our clients get that and we’ve had gifts from anything like a box of triangles to a GPS.

Clients or anybody can also sponsor an A24 on the ground and fund the $60 rebaiting gear each year or take on a whole trapline.

As we run a social enterprise the amount given back is linked to our commercial operation and the number of days in the year. So to increase boots on the ground people know that if they come on a charter with us, they can donate one day or more of their time to one of our conservation projects. Some days, we can suddenly have twelve people wanting to physically help which is brilliant!

Pure Salt clients installing servicing one of Goodnature's 700 traps of the Tamatea conservation project. Image credit: Pure Salt.

Measuring success and thinking ahead

We know anecdotally and from the tracking tunnels and cameras, that the trapping efforts are responsible for the abundance of birdlife and the decreased population of rats and stoats.

When we started, 30% of the tracking tunnels detected rats. For the past two years, this has dropped to 5%, which is the minimum necessary that allows for more bird species to be released in the area. We’re stoked that this number often sits between zero and 1.6%, and we’d like to keep it that way so we can bring/save more endangered species! It’s a bonus to see results this quickly and we know this is only the start.

What are the next steps? Full ecosystem restoration of Dusky Sound (Tamatea) is a big vision and once that is cracked there is the rest of Fiordland and the rest of New Zealand and the rest of the world that needs looking after.

Much work is already underway and supported by the Department of Conservation and many partners. Because we are going further together, it would be amazing to see more and more businesses taking up work and sharing their experience and expertise to help our planet breathe life again.

We’ll continue to do what we can when we can, for the places we touch, one step at a time.