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An update from Lou Sanson - July 2020

Tēnā koutou, It gives me great pleasure to share our conservation stories and give you an inside look at DOC's work, as well as the efforts of others contributing to the important work of conservation.

World Ranger Day We celebrated World Ranger Day on 31 July. Te Papa Atawhai’s rangers are incredible - see my story ’Ranger to the rescue’ below. To keep up to date with the fantastic work of our rangers follow us on Facebook and Twitter and check out our social media channels

World Ranger Day posts on Twitter. Image: DOC

Conservation Week With only a week till Conservation Week, you’re probably starting to see geckos popping up in all sorts of places! Our theme is Nature through new eyes, drawing on the COVID-19 lockdown and how many of us looked at our lives and the world differently. During Conservation Week, 15-23 August 2020, we're inviting you to enjoy a fresh prospective on our natural spaces and unique wildlife, and boost your wellbeing by immersing yourself in nature. See our website for more details.

Te Papa Atawhai’s Pōneke/Wellington Visitor Centre with the gecko Conservation Week window decal. Photo: DOC

Taranaki’s best whio season yet Intensive predator control in Egmont National Park is paying dividends for the whio (blue duck) population. The settled weather, the extension of trapping networks and an aerial 1080 operation in June 2019 all helped make this a bumper breeding season for whio. 

Whio pair and duckling numbers were significantly higher than previous seasons. The rate of fledging was also substantially up. Overall, 44 whio pairs, 89 ducklings and 65 fledged whio were recorded this season – a fantastic result! The five-yearly census confirmed that whio are becoming widespread throughout the National Park.

Bringing whio back to Taranaki is a team effort. Predator control for whio is also carried out by the Taranaki Mounga Project, a landscape-scale restoration project based on collaboration between the Department, Taranaki Iwi Chairs Forum, the NEXT Foundation, other sponsors and the efforts of many volunteers. Whio recovery is also supported by Genesis Energy, our national partner for Whio Forever.

It’s wonderful to see these partnerships producing such impressive conservation outcomes.

Whio adult and ducklings this breeding season, Egmont National Park. Photo: Lyn Hassell.

Seabird success on Fiordland Islands As recently as 2016, Fiordland was considered a region where almost nothing was known about breeding petrel numbers and distribution. This has changed, however, with new surveying done in partnership by Te Papa Atawhai and Te Papa Tongarewa.

The most recent survey focused on Breaksea and Dusky Sounds. It included the first seabird survey of Breaksea and Hawea Islands since rodents were eradicated from these islands in 1988 and 1986 respectively.

As a result of these surveys, we have a far better understanding of the importance of these islands and the species that rely on them. Highlights included:

  • The first records of mottled petrels from Breaksea Sound, now the northernmost colonies recorded for this endemic species.

  • Significant increases in the numbers of petrels and shearwaters on Hawea and Breaksea Islands after removal of rats. Sooty shearwaters (tītī) have had a 50-fold increase in numbers and broad-billed prions (pararā) have increased from a few pairs in 1986 to about 1200 burrows.

  • Breaksea Island has also been colonised by prions. A small colony was found on the side closest to Hawea Island and tītī are starting to spread and increase in numbers.  When rats were present in the 1980s, all the tītī chicks were killed and eaten by these predators soon after the eggs hatched.

  • The surveys carried out in Fiordland between 2016 and 2019 now show more than 75,700 petrel burrows to be present in southern Fiordland, an order of magnitude higher than the previous best guesses.

  • Another finding of the trips was the surprising spread of native forest birds onto smaller islands. Robin (toutouwai) and yellowhead (mohua) have self-colonised many of these small islands in Breaksea and Dusky Sounds and are abundant on the larger islands. Removal of stoats has allowed these small islands to be safe breeding habitats.

Left: Surveying team members on a Fiordland island. Right: Peta Carey and Colin Miskelly on one of the small petrel islands in Breaksea Sound. Photo: Graeme Taylor

Seabird work with Tangata Whenua The Ngā Whenua Rāhui funding programme has gone east, teaming up with tangata whenua in the Eastern Bay of Plenty to help protect rare seabirds.

Ngā Whenua Rāhui is a funding programme that exists to protect the natural integrity of Māori land and to preserve mātauranga Māori. The programme works in a Māori way, encompassing tikanga and is Māori-led using customary Māori knowledge, principles and practice. At times, that can mean responding to calls from landowners – “Can you come over here and give us a hand?”.

Eastern Bay of Plenty tangata whenua have initiated a community-funded programme focused on their taonga manu, which they asked Ngā Whenua Rāhui to support.

What is particularly special in this project is how the tangata whenua, their kura and tamariki are committed to learning and being involved in the mahi. Nature acts as a classroom, which will help ensure that generations to come are also engaged in conservation.

Specific locations were identified by locals and baseline monitoring of tītī began along the coast at the known active sites. Colonies of burrowing seabirds are very rare on the mainland today. They are an important part of indigenous biodiversity and are ecologically very significant. Without site protection and pest control, they will disappear.

Ngā Whenua Rāhui kaimahi and tangata whenua arriving at tītī site for monitoring. Photo: Summah Te Kahika-Heemi

Ngā Whenua Rāhui kaimahi camped out to observe and survey titi, their nesting burrows and pest species. With the use of trail cameras, recorders and people power, some good data were captured.

Reports that include these data have been prepared for presentation back to the tangata whenua. These reports will help guide tangata whenua in their longer-term management planning to protect these taonga. Involvement of kura groups has stirred a desire within the tamariki to learn more about what is in their surrounding taiao. Ngā Whenua Rāhui is growing its presence within these learning environments, at the request of kura. Development of educational resources is underway, with Te Papa Atawhai taxidermy being a valuable tool to the mātauranga of tamariki.

The tangata whenua and Ngā Whenua Rāhui team has now begun baseline monitoring of kiwi along the coast, with kākā to follow.

From left: Morehu takes a closer look at a dead tītī, killed by a possum; Hōri Barsdell (Ngā Whenua Rāhui Kaimahi) investigates remains of tītī at a burrow site; Trail camera footage showing presence of tītī. Photos: Summah Te Kahika-Heemi.

Ranger to the rescue Topeora Wiremu, a kaitiaki ranger on Mana Island through the summer season, helped rescue a family after their boat capsized on the Western side of the island. She arranged for volunteers on the high point of the island to locate the boat, then gathered kai and warm clothing and set off. After finding the family on the shore and getting them warm and comfortable, she took them to the ranger base where they could wait for the police boat to arrive.

The damaged boat at Mana Island. Photos: Topeora Wiremu.

This is an excellent illustration of the dedication and commitment of our rangers, as well as the important community role they play. If Topeora hadn’t reached the family when she did, they could have developed hypothermia and the situation would have worsened rapidly.

The Mana Island Summer Kaitiaki Ranger programme is a joint initiative with Ngāti Toa. It supports their young people to develop ranger/environmental management skills, and also to have hands-on involvement in the management of this important island.

Ehara ko koe te ringa e huti punga ana (Indeed you are the arm that raises the anchor).

Topeora Wiremu on Mana Island. Photo: DOC

Operation Tidy Fox – one year on It's been a year since Operation Tidy Fox – the huge volunteer effort, led by Te Papa Atawhai, to clean up the rubbish from the Fox and Cook Rivers and coastline of South Westland. A closed landfill was breached by an extraordinary flood in March 2019, spilling buried waste into the river and sending it 21 kilometres downstream through Westland Tai Poutini National Park, and into the Tasman sea. I was able to participate in Day 46 of Operation Tidy Fox in what was one of the most remarkable days as my time as Director-General.

The landfill is at risk of further erosion by the river during the large floods which are becoming more common. Funding has recently been announced by the Government’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund for Westland District to remove the waste material from this closed Fox Glacier landfill. The funding will also allow Westland District to employ people to complete a follow-on clean-up of any remaining rubbish and debris along the Cook River and foreshore. This will provide employment in the Fox Glacier area and reduce the ongoing environmental impact from the landfill washout.

Operation Tidy Fox – Using People Power to Restore a River was recognised at this year’s Public Relations Institute of New Zealand (PRINZ) awards. It was one of 69 entries and only 25 finalists across a number of categories.

Te Papa Atawhai’s communications campaign won a bronze medal in the ‘one off project or special campaign’ category. This category was hotly contested with the most finalists of any section, so receiving a bronze award is a great achievement. A new award, recognising excellence in research, measurement and evaluation, gave a special mention to the Operation Tidy Fox campaign.

A huge congratulations to everyone who worked on the Operation Tidy Fox campaign – it’s fantastic to see your hard work and skill being publicly commended.

I’d like to thank everyone involved, both behind the scenes at Te Papa Atawhai and all the volunteers and New Zealand Defence Force personnel who worked in the field.

Operation Tidy Fox volunteers. Photo: DOC.

Taking a trip down South Rachel Bruce, Deputy Director-General Corporate Services, and I visited the Dunedin, Owaka, Invercargill and Rakiura DOC offices. The trip was part dealing with the impact of COVID-19 on Te Papa Atawhai.

We heard fantastic stories of leadership during lockdown and saw nearly all staff back in offices. Staff generally reported positive experiences during lockdown and a real pride in what they were able to achieve through our technology.

Rachel and I were pleased to hear that record numbers of Kiwis have been visiting some of our best nature experiences in these areas. An impressive 29,000 people have visited Nugget Point (Tokata) Lighthouse in 13 weeks, the Rakiura Track has strong bookings during the school holidays, and Rakiura National Park Visitor Centre is having one of its busiest June-July seasons ever. The day walk tracks on Rakiura were in the best condition I have ever seen, thanks to maintenance work by six Jobs for Nature contractors.

Jordan Reed, Nick Stinson, Ethan Taswell, Scott Slater, Michaela Joy in a workshop on Rakiura, working on the Jobs for Nature programme (not present – Wayne King). Photo: Jennifer Ross, DOC

We met the CEOs of the Dunedin City Council and Otago Regional Council. They expressed strong interest in the regional alliances we are building to make Jobs for Nature decisions with our Treaty Partner.

Clockwise from top left: Nugget Point/Tokata; View from Nugget Point/Tokata; Tracks on Rakiura, maintained by Jobs for Nature workers; Nugget Point (Tokata) Lighthouse. Photos: Lou Sanson

Walking Rakiura Track with Air New Zealand’s David Morgan While visiting Southern South Island, Rachel and I took Captain David Morgan, Chief Operational Integrity and Standards Officer at Air New Zealand, on the Rakiura Track Great Walk. We also hosted local Stewart Islanders at a social function at our Visitor Centre. David has taken over the Air New Zealand-DOC relationship, and will see the partnership continue throughout Air New Zealand’s ‘Survive Revive Thrive’ 800-day plan to recovery. 

Left: Dale Chittenden, me, Rachel Bruce, Dave Morgan at North Arm Hut on Rakiura Track. Right: Rachel and Ren Leppens – Ren is Operations Manager, Rakiura. Photos: Lou Sanson

We walked parts of the Rakiura Track while we briefed him on the impact of Air New Zealand’s funding for biodiversity projects associated with the Great Walks. Over the last eight years, Air New Zealand has helped us significantly reduce predators on over 38,000 hectares around the six Great Walks and thus restore populations of native species.

In that line, they have also funded part of our Threatened Species Ambassador work and transferred over 3,500 endangered birds around Aotearoa by air. They also gave us significant support to establish High Performance Engagement, our sustainability strategy and our DOC Kaupapa. Sincere thanks to Air New Zealand!

Left: Rachel Bruce and Cherie Hemsley (DOC's southernmost admin officer). Right: On the Rakiura Track. Photo: Lou Sanson

Fee relief for tourism concessionaires It was a pleasure to see more support being given to our tourism concessionaires through a new fee relief scheme. The decision was announced by the Hon Kelvin Davis, Minister of Tourism, and the Hon Eugenie Sage, Minister of Conservation, on 26 June.

The fee waiver will benefit approximately 1,000 tourism-related concessionaires and permit holders who operate on public conservation land, and will be funded from the Government’s Tourism Recovery Package. It is effective from 1 March 2020 until 30 June 2021.

The loss of revenue for the Department will be recouped by up to $25 million in funding from the Tourism Recovery Package. Importantly, this will ensure our conservation work is not impacted by the fee relief scheme.

Tour group with guide, Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve. Photo: Daniel Deans

Remembering Bill Black, conservation and aviation legend Fiordland helicopter pilot Bill Black passed away on 1 July, aged 76.

Bill was a brilliant pilot who saved countless lives through his involvement with Search and Rescue. He completed more than 500 Search and Rescue missions and was also a pioneer in deer recovery.

Highly respected by Rakiura Māori, Bill was recognised for transporting iwi and birds to the Rakiura Tītī Islands.

Bill is less well known for his massive contribution to conservation, where his flying skills played a key role in our kākāpō recovery work in the 1970s.

Based out of Te Anau, at one stage in his career Bill was credited with the most helicopter hours as a pilot in the world. In the late 90s, he clocked up something like 27,000 hours flying.

Bill is a Kiwi legend and will be greatly missed. If you would like to learn more about Bill, his book I did It My Way (compiled by Merv Halliday) is a wonderful read.

Bill Black. Photo: Supplied

Collaboration leads to PF2050 science breakthrough Congratulations to PF2050 Ltd, Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research and the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge, who announced their success in mapping the DNA genome for stoats. This milestone complements the earlier successful genome mapping of ship rats.

Genome mapping provides us with foundational knowledge about introduced predators, which will be essential if we are to achieve our Predator Free 2050 eradication goals. This significant breakthrough was co-funded by PF2050 Ltd (with funding from the Provincial Growth Fund) and the National Science Challenge. The work was led by scientists from Manaaki Whenua.

The PF2050 Strategy, launched by the Minister of Conservation in early March, emphasises that Predator Free goals will not be reached without collaboration. This scientific breakthrough in genome mapping is a fantastic example of what we can achieve by working together.

Mustelid profiles. Image: DOC

Kiwis flock to Matiu-Somes It was great to visit Matiu-Somes Island recently. Our rangers have been welcoming nearly 250 visitors per day every weekend since we moved to Alert Level 2 – that’s the maximum the island can hold. They have hosted almost 2,000 visitors over the past month, as Kiwis seek out nature experiences close to home.

Matiu-Somes has a rich culture and history. The island belongs to Taranaki Whānui ki te Upoko o te Ika and its history dates back to the time of Kupe. It’s also an important site in recent Aotearoa history, with an historic quarantine station and relics from both World Wars. Today, the island is managed by the Department and administered by a co-governance entity called the Kaitiaki Board.

It was fantastic to meet Jan Heine, who is a volunteer Eastbourne Forest Ranger and a regular helper on Matiu-Somes. I was acquainted with her late husband Arnold Heine, who passed away last year at the age of 93. Arnold was a remarkable man – a keen conservationist, tramper, climber and polar explorer. I first met him at Scott Base in 1981, where he was leading deep field expeditions.

Jeff Hall (DOC Ranger) and Jan Heine (a volunteer Eastbourne Forest Ranger) at Tāne Te Waiora, the tomokanga (carved gateway/waharoa) at Matiu-Somes. Photo: Lou Sanson

If there is anything you wish to discuss, please feel free to contact me directly on Also, you can follow updates and DOC news at your own pace by following me on social media #DOCBoss .

Hei konei rā, Lou Sanson Director-General—Tumuaki-Ahurei Department of Conservation—Te Papa Atawhai



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