• Nick Smith

Conservation Minister Nick Smith today formally closed the Auckland and Campbell Islands to visitors in response to potential risks to human health, from the mystery illness that has caused mass fatalities of New Zealand (Hooker) sea lions.

"It is wise to take a cautious approach, given that scientists have not yet identified the cause of the sea lion deaths. I have sought and received advice on the potential risks to humans.

The advice from public health authorities, including the Ministry of Health, Massey University and Southern Public Health, is that the risk is low, particularly if the cause of death is a virus or biotoxin. There is a greater uncertainty however, if the cause is bacteria.

They have recommended that until more information is known, access for all non-essential persons be restricted". The Minister said that one domestic and two international tourist boats were planning visits to the island nat

ure reserves this month, and the Department has been advised to not permit landings. This will also reduce the risk of tourists spreading any disease from one island to another. "Advice has also been sought on the potential risks to scientific staff working on the problem and squid fishermen who may come into contact with sick or dying sea lions. Suitable precautions are being taken to minimise these risks".

"It is our desire that tours be able to resume as soon as possible. Every effort is being made to identify the cause of the fatalities and as more information becomes available, the situation will be reviewed. When the situation has returned to normal, tours will be allowed to return".