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 th