Snapper’s grassy beginnings

Snapper are one of New Zealand’s most popular fishes, and are highly sought after – both recreationally and commercially. They are found around the shallow waters of the North Island, making them an ideal fishing target.

Snapper, photo by Kirstie Knowles

The Kaipara Harbour, north of Auckland, is one of the largest harbours in the world. It is a large estuary, and supports fish, oysters, mussels and scallops. Seagrasses play an important role in these estuarine ecosystems.

They provide a nursery habitat for fish, help to stabilise the sediment by trapping sand and mud around their roots, and transfer nutrients between the seabed and the ocean above it, as the grasses grow.

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Boomerang birds

In New Zealand annually, between 10 -30 of transfers take place each year in an effort to re-colonise our mainland islands with threatened birds – however some birds, just prefer home and will go to great lengths to return to their forest, island or wetland base.

Fairy prion, bellbird and kaka often boomerang back to their source site. Photos: Nick Talbot, Craig Mckenzie, Brent Bevan

Fairy prion, bellbird and kaka often boomerang back to their source site. Photos: Nick Talbot, Craig Mckenzie, Brent Bevan

There’s the story of the weka who legged it back to Gisborne from Whakatane, the spotless crakes that beat their catching team back home and the little tomtit that was transferred to Tiritiri Matangi only to wing it back to the Hunuas.

Indeed, our wandering kokako “Duncan” – who became a media star in less than a week – strayed almost 31kms from his transfer site in the Waitakere ranges into suburban Auckland.

Since Richard Henry attempted to save kakapo from extinction in the 1890s by transferring several hundred of these gregarious green parrots to Resolution Island, hundreds of translocations have taken place across New Zealand.

Transfers have saved many species, including our little spotted kiwi, buff weka, black stilt, kakapo, South Island saddleback and black robin.

Initially, these were almost solely done by NZ Wildlife Service (later DOC) however since 2000, community groups have taken a lead role, with DOC providing best practise guidelines and some supervision for endangered birds.

Indeed, with all number of community restoration groups putting their hands up for threatened birds, reptiles and frogs the number of translocations has swelled. In 2010, 71% of the translocations were undertaken by community groups either solely or with the assistance of DOC.

We have come a long way since Richard-Henry’s one-man mission. Since then, we’ve transferred 70 species of birds – and steadily, the success rate went from just 15.3% in the 1960s to 66.6% in the 2000s.

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Successful mountain rescue

In a few months’ time, Kaikoura residents will celebrate the return of their nationally endangered Hutton’s shearwaters from Australia’s fishing grounds with a raucous street party.

Volunteers feed a 'sardine smoothie' to one of the chicks on the new site.

Volunteers feeding ‘sardine smoothies’ to the some of the chicks on the new site.

Indeed, these welcoming parties are becoming quite a tradition amongst birders in NZ.

Church bells toll and cake flows when our godwits return from their marathon flight from Alaska.

And although the celebration is just as lively in Kaikoura, emotions run a little higher because locals are hoping some of the returning shearwaters will choose their fenced man-made site on the peninsula.

The good news is that more and more birds are coming back to this site each year. In 2012/13, twenty one birds returned and two chicks successfully fledged from this 2.1 hectare predator-proofed sanctuary.

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Our amazing flat-faced patiki

In lakes, rivers and estuaries throughout New Zealand, groups of aquatic flying carpets are mobilising and moving downstream towards the sea.  Late autumn marks the time when a special species of New Zealand flatfish – the freshwater black flounder or patiki – embarks upon a spawning migration to the sea, with juveniles re-entering freshwater and migrating back upstream a few months later.

Despite their cute appearance, black flounder are ferocious predators of small fish. Photo: Alton Perrie

The black flounder (Rhombosolea retiaria) is a truly fascinating native freshwater fish species.  They are found mostly in freshwater, in lakes and streams close to the coast, although they have been known to travel as far as 250km inland!

They also complete migration-like movements in marine environments, some of which can be astonishingly large – one flounder that was tagged during a research study in the Wairarapa turned up in Taranaki a number of months later!

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Pest-free Stewart Island comes one step closer to becoming reality

New Zealand leads the world in clearing pests, however until now DOC has talked gingerly about the obvious next hurdle:  clearing pests from inhabited islands. Until now….

For fifteen years people have talked about getting pests off Stewart island (popn = 380), and five years ago a feasibility study was done to determine whether this is possible.

Oban – Stewart island’s only township will be surrounded by a predator proof fence first to cordon off the most sensitive area, and get locals accustomed to the bio-security measures that will be put in place. After that, the rest of the island (170,000 ha) will be cleared of pests. Click to enlarge

It wasn’t until businessman and philanthropist Gareth Morgan took the reins one year ago that this whole project has been swung into fifth gear. Since he took on this uber project, he has conducted an anonymous poll to determine firstly whether Stewart islanders wanted to rid the island of their rats, feral cats and possums.

The poll came back emphatically in favour of the idea: 84% of the respondents said ‘yes’. Re-envisioning this island (NZ’s third largest) as a bird-filled paradise with kiwi walking down Oban’s main street and kakapo sitting in the trees appealed not just to conservationists, but also tourism operators in an island where there are few economic opportunities.

Indeed, an appetite for biodiversity restoration already exists in some parts of the community – after all, the community ‘demanded’ that the invading rat population on Ulva Island was re-eradicated in 2011.

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Duncan come home!

**Newsflash** Duncan was caught and happily returned to his home yesterday afternoon (May 15th). To go to the TV One news report – see here – 

In 2011, Duncan – our endangered kokako – disappeared from our pest controlled sanctuary in the Waitakeres and two years later he has turned up in suburban Glendowie. Yes, that’s thirty one kilometres from his home.

Duncan come home!

As you’ll know kokako aren’t great fliers, so great mystery surrounds why he decided to take this flight of fancy across motorways and highways, and why Glendowie seems to be his resting spot.

Fortunately for Duncan, he seems to be surrounded by friends. He was discovered by a birder in the region who spotted this endangered bird (only 750 pairs to its name) and called DOC to establish his origins.

Many of the people in the neighbourhood are keen birders and Tiritiri Matangi supporters, so they’ve done a mail drop and they’re keeping a close eye on his whereabouts, and their cats.

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The secret life of our bluegill bully

Beneath the water’s surface, in a stream or river near you, a tiny native fish is searching for a rock. It has to be the right size and shape, in the right location in the stream and the right orientation to the current. It also has to be defended from all the other little fish currently on the hunt for the perfect rock!

The magnificent bluegill bully. Photo: Alton Perrie.

The bluegill bully (Gobiomorphus hubbsi), one of New Zealand’s lesser known native fish is preparing for autumn spawning. Bluegill bullies are a stocky, tubular fish, sandy to dark brown/black in colour with blotchy markings and distinctive dark spots on their cheeks. They get their name from the brilliant, iridescent blue band that is visible on their gills. Bluegill bullies are the smallest of New Zealand’s seven bully species, with most adults growing only to around 50-60 mm in length.

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Saving a Giant

New Zealand has joined a worldwide club – a club of countries battling serious forest pathogens.  From ash dieback in the UK to the deaths of chestnut trees in North America, elms in Europe and North America, cedar in Oregon, plantation pines in Chile, up to 40% of the native flora of Australia and then to us – where an organism too small to see is killing our largest tree the kauri (Agathis australis).

It’s been called “kauri dieback”. For kauri it’s the latest threat to its existence following browsing by exotic pests, clearance for farmland, and logging for timber.  In the 1800’s the kauri resource was regarded as endless.  Clearly that was not true but it must have seemed so with hundreds of thousands of hectares of this most massive tree growing in dense, even-aged stands.  Only 1% of kauri forest remains.  So a new threat is really the last thing the giant kauri needs.

Kauri that are affected by kauri dieback

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DOC Restructuring – a breach of trust with the West Coast

Restructuring the Department of Conservation (DOC) is a breach of trust with the West Coast. It also betrays all the other remote and rural parts of New Zealand that have small populations but large areas of conservation lands.

DOC manages one third of NZ, 8,802,673 hectares, as public conservation land on behalf of all New Zealanders. In doing this it honours commitments made by generations past who created a National Parks and Reserves network that remains the envy of the world. Protection of conservation land also upholds the promise we make to our children. We are the guardians for future generations of the unique native plants, native animals and natural landscapes that make NZ special.

DOC also upholds a special relationship between the people of NZ and the West Coast. 83% of the West Coast is public protected conservation land, 1.896 million hectares out of the 2.277 million hectare West Coast land area.  West Coast conservation land makes up 22% of all conservation land in NZ and roughly one third of our NZ National Park land area.

Conservation protection has occurred in distinct stages over the last 120 years and each stage has been actively debated. The resulting protection decision was always accompanied by a Government commitment to adequately manage those protected lands both for conservation and as key areas for recreation and tourism. Each parcel of protected land has been fought for - on the West coast it started with Arthur’s Pass National Park (1929) with our most recent additions being Kahurangi National Park (1996) and Timberlands native forest (2002).

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Breeding breakthrough for critically endangered frog

Frogs typically make good captive breeders, so the fact that for eight years experts couldn’t successfully raise one froglet from our Archey’s frog was proving mind-bogglingly frustrating.

Some of Auckland Zoo’s latest zoo-borns. Photo: Mandy Herrick. Click to enlarge the photo.

Enter Richard Gibson – an English reptile and amphibian breeding expert with over 20 years of experience.

He flew here in late 2011 to take up a position as the Team leader of Reptiles and Invertebrates at Auckland Zoo, and one of the defining challenges of that role was to get this tiny 50 million year old frog to breed successfully.

After touchdown he immediately began tweaking husbandry methods in the hope of producing froglets from this critically endangered frog, and in December last year seven froglets were hatched (our frogs don’t have a free-swimming tadpole stage).

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