Molesworth: Stories from New Zealand’s largest high country station has beaten stiff competition from the likes of The Luminaries, to win the Nielsen Booksellers’ Choice at the New Zealand Post Book Awards.

Rob Suisted on stage to accept the award (on behalf of Harry Broad too). Photo: Mark Tantrum.

Photographer, Rob Suisted, at the New Zealand Post Book Awards

Molesworth tells the stories of those who have contributed to this spectacular and iconic reserve, and explains the importance of recreation and conservation in the running of a modern high-country farm.

Horses being walked down the Driving Spur.

Molesworth Station (New Zealand’s largest farm)

The book was written by DOC’s honourary writer in residence, Harry Broad, with photographs by Rob Suisted.

“What we have attempted with the book is to do justice to all those who have made Molesworth and its mystique into such an iconic landscape.” ~ Harry Broad.

Molesworth: 'Like riding through a painting'. Photo copyright: Rob Suisted.

Molesworth: An iconic landscape

It has been said that the Booksellers Choice Award is the best one to win as it is a reflection of consumer awareness, from the people who buy and sell books, not just the view of the judges for any one year.

Congratulations Harry and Rob!

Learn more about Molesworth

By DOC’s Andrew Crawford, Dunedin

A southern right whale/tohora and her calf were spotted cruising around Otago Harbour last week—coming close to the shore, showing off their acrobatic skills, and giving onlookers a dramatic display of their flukes and blowholes.

Southern right whale in Otago Harbour. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery

Southern right whale blowhole

These beautiful, inquisitive, gigantic mammals (adults are up to 18 metres long) are often seen along Otago’s coast during winter.

DOC Coastal Otago ranger Jim Fyfe tells me that their visits to Otago Harbour are increasing.

The fluke of the whale partially above water. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery

Fluke of the whale

These whales were once almost hunted to extinction, as they were deemed the “right” whales to catch—they were easy to approach, lived close to shore, and provided huge amounts of meat, oil and whalebone.

Southern right whales are showing signs of recovery, but we’re keeping a close eye on their movements around New Zealand to monitor their numbers.

Callosities on the head of the southern right whale. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery

Calcified skin patches known as callosities

If you see a southern right whale please call the DOC hotline immediately: 0800 DOCHOT (0800 36 24 68).

These fantastic photographs were taken and supplied by Stephen Jaquiery.

By Denice Gillespie, Partnerships Ranger in Kaitaia

I recently visited the Shadehouse, a native plant nursery in Kerikeri, where I had the pleasure of meeting Roger a lizard enthusiast and member of Guardians of the Bay of Islands, a local group working on a diverse range of island restoration projects.

The Shadehouse nursery grows native plants for various community groups around the Bay of Islands. When the plants are ready at the nursery they are taken to whichever ecological district the seed came from and planted.

Group talking with Roger at the Shadehouse, Kerikeri.

Meeting Roger from the Guardians of the Bay of Islands

Potting mix which the Shadehouse uses on a regular basis has created the perfect breeding environment for rainbow skink, a pest species from Australia that competes with our native lizard species for food, habitat and space. Rainbow skinks are a threat to our invertebrates, ground nesting birds and other native lizard species. It also reproduces faster and in larger numbers than our native skinks.

Roger showed us various pit fall traps that he had set up around the Shadehouse as a biosecurity measure to trap these invasive pests.

The trap is made from a tin can placed inside of a hole with a piece of wood on top and is baited with cat food. The smooth tin walls make it difficult for rainbow skinks to escape but is friendly to our native species who are clever and can escape the traps.

A copper skink on the ground.

A clever native copper skink that can escape the trap

The traps are checked on a regular basis and they are proving to be very effective at catching rainbow skinks.

If you wish to trap pest skinks seek some advice from your local DOC office to avoid accidental harm to our native species.

Rainbow skink pest preserved in alcohol.

The rainbow skink pest

Thanks to Roger and the Shadehouse crew for a great day out in Kerikeri.

Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Today we profile Karin Mahlfeld, Land Snails Ranger based in Wellington.

At work

Karin working in the Science Lab at DOC's National Office.

Science Lab, identifying snails

Some things I do in my job include:

Updating the Department’s information on threatened land snail species, adding descriptions, images, notes on habitats, distribution maps etc. More than 450 species are currently listed in the Department’s Threat Classification list of land snails. I answer inquiries from staff, other agencies and the public relating to terrestrial and freshwater gastropods. I am also involved with monitoring the impact of rodent predation on the Wainuia urnula species. Most of this work requires me to liaise with a number of snail experts, staff at DOC, Te Papa, Wellington City Council, Greater Wellington and volunteers.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by:

Providing information and images that staff can use to maintain inherent values of our landscapes (NZ and overseas tourists are keen to experience NZ as close to its original natural state); to ensure that nationally threatened species are conserved; to inform conservation volunteer groups of what is in their patch and its importance; to raise the profile of invertebrates and their role in ecosystem health; add to guides/publications (in addition the few iconic invertebrates usually used). Our images are useful to bring invertebrates closer to the public. We cannot fully appreciate our own place in an interconnected web of life without acknowledging how fundamentally dependent we are upon “the little things that run the world.” Invertebrates and other micro-organisms are very sensitive environmental indicators.

Litter samples and sieves equipment.

Some of our high tech equipment (showing dried litter sample sieved into fine, medium and coarse fraction)

The best bit about my job is:

That it involves a variety of activities: field work, research, new species discovery, working with volunteers, blogging, curation, publishing, cartography, graphics.

The funniest/strangest/loveliest/scariest/awesome-est (all of them!) DOC moment I’ve had so far is:

My first fieldwork in New Zealand in Nelson Lakes National Park, when I was accompanying Rod Hay monitoring South Island Robins. Being surrounded by mature forest with kākā monkeying around next to our hut in the middle of nowhere without any traffic noises was entirely different to managed pine and beech forests, steel works and intensive agriculture I grew up with back in Germany. After that I decided to return to NZ in the following year to do my MSc project here, which turned out to be on land snail diversity in bush fragments on Awhitu Peninsula (famous as one the highest diversity spots for micro-molluscs worldwide), the influence of stock trampling and habitat fragmentation. Geoff Park (formerly DOC) suggested this as a potential project to me. I had no idea what I got myself into. My affiliation with DOC stretches back nearly 27 years now. In 1991, I moved permanently to NZ.

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is:

Geoff Park obviously got me into researching New Zealand land snails. When I first met Geoff, I was a student studying landscape ecology in Germany. There were not many people interested in landscape ecology then, it was a relatively new degree. I always admired Geoff’s ability to jolt people into action and his love for and understanding of New Zealand’s landscapes.

Rat predated Wainuia urnula shells.

Rat predated Wainuia urnula snail shells

On a personal note

Most people don’t know that:

I run a very successful science community project involving Ngaio School and its community. Together with a group of Ngaio School mums, I am running lunchtime sessions, where students learn about plants, animals, rocks, chemistry, robots, lungs, brains, angular momentum, the universe—basically anything children are interested in. We are supported by around 70 parent volunteers, who share their passion, knowledge and resources for science and sometimes other topics.

My stomping ground is:

All around Wellington. With my partner Frank, our two sons and Dave Roscoe we have covered a lot of spots around Wellington (collecting). When my partner’s parents were still alive, we would regularly visit Puponga near Farewell Spit, where we had some wonderful Christmas holidays.

Karin and family on Mount Kaukau.

On our way to collect litter in the bush remnants on top of Mount Kaukau

My best ever holiday was:

Very hard to make a decision but Austrian Alps (Carinthia) rate definitely very high but also Corsica and Canaries were trips I really enjoyed.

My greatest sporting moment was when:

I was regional champion (Lower Saxony) in table tennis a long, long time ago. These days I do a lot of walking/hiking, however I am thinking of taking up table tennis again. It is a great game: non-contact, fast (you have to anticipate quickly your opponents counter moves) but also subtle when you spin the ball.

In my spare time:

I love tinkering. My older son and I go to a robotics club, where we build simple robots. Had I not taken on malacology as my primary occupation, robotics would have been my choice, had I known how much fun it can be. But back in the early 80s, I had no exposure to it and was not encouraged in that direction at school or at home. I also like reading a good crime novel or just hanging out with my family.

Threatened species team meeting at DOC's National Office.

Threatened species team meeting

Deep and meaningful

My favourite quote is:

“Ignoring invertebrates in conservation is simply spineless” – Kylie Williams, Charles Sturt University.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is:

If you can’t find something to live for, what do you die for? (I read this somewhere and it stuck with me.)

In work and life I am motivated by:

Getting more people engaged with science and conservation. Science is often portrayed in the media as a matter of opinion rather than scientifically proven knowledge and wisdom we should base our policies and decisions on. “Being entitled to my opinion” is often used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned as has been witnessed with the climate change debate. It breeds a false equivalence between experts and non-experts that has become an unfortunate feature of our public discourse.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is:

Have a long term plan, get as much help as you can, share your experiences with others and learn from others. I have attended the Conservation Day for volunteers Wellington staff organises each year and found it very useful.

Karin building a robot at Robotics club at Victoria University.

Robotics club at Victoria University

Question of the week

When you’re not working at DOC, how do you like to relax?

When I come home, I have a cup of tea with my partner and we reflect on the day’s events, listen to some music and relax for a little while before having dinner. I try to avoid switching on my laptop in the evenings. I rather read, spend some time with my boys and occasionally watch a DVD.

By Sarah Thorne, Awarua Wetlands Project Manager

It sounds like a bad joke. What is green, stringy and lurks at the bottom of Waituna Lagoon? The answer is Ruppia. Or it should be. But right now the future is not looking very green for this aquatic plant.

Ruppia on a shovel.

The life support system for Waituna Lagoon

So what is Ruppia?

Ruppia is a green, salt tolerant aquatic plant that grows on the floor of Waituna Lagoon like a meadow of long wavy seagrass. It’s essential for a healthy lagoon and is the life support system for the lagoon.

Just like grass, its roots hold the sediment together. Its leaves use up nutrients and create oxygen and they also provide a home for fish and aquatic invertebrates to live. It is even a meal for some fish and wildlife.

Without Ruppia the water quality declines, animal numbers decrease and the lagoon could become dominated by algae. Put simply: healthy Ruppia means a healthy lagoon and healthy fish.

A clump of Ruppia at Waituna Lagoon.

Ruppia is very sensitive to water levels

What’s up?

DOC has just received the latest annual monitoring report from NIWA, which describes the health of the ruppia beds in the Waituna lagoon. This year’s results recorded the lowest number of sites with Ruppia and a reduction of overall cover of Ruppia since annual monitoring began in 2009. One of the species—Ruppia megacarpa, was only found at one of the 48 monitoring sites. Nuisance algal species that cause algal blooms and could smother Ruppia plants were also recorded in the lagoon during the monitoring.

Ruppia growing in sediment at Waituna Lagoos.

A recent NIWA report describes the health of the ruppia beds

Why should we be worried?

We know that Ruppia is very sensitive to water levels, salty conditions during spring germination, nutrient loads (nitrogen and phosphorous) and water clarity. Even though some overseas species of Ruppia are marine species, ours are freshwater and estuarine species that are only tolerant of salty conditions as opposed to being salt lovers

Ruppia growing on the floor of Waituna Lagoon.

Ruppia grows on the floor of Waituna Lagoon

What’s next?

It is hoped that under ideal conditions (high water levels and low salinity) Ruppia will flourish in the lagoon again.

DOC is working with locals and the Waituna Partners and Working Groups to help create the best conditions possible for Ruppia in the Waituna Lagoon.

A piece of Ruppia being held from Waituna Lagoon.

It is hoped that under ideal conditions Ruppia will again flourish in the lagoon.

A full copy of the report is available on the DOC website.

Today’s photo shows a ferny glade in Iris Burn valley, Fiordland National Park.

Ferny Glade, Iris Burn Valley, Fiordland National Park. Day 3 of the Kepler Track.

DOC completed its ‘Battle for our Birds’ pest control operation in the Iris Burn valley on Monday.

Iris Burn was identified as one of the sites where rare native species, such as the critically endangered long-tailed bat, whio/blue duck, kākā, and Fiordland tokoeka kiwi, were under greatest threat from rising numbers of rats and stoats.

It is one of 22 confirmed ‘Battle for our Birds’ operations that will use aerially applied 1080 to knock down rising predator numbers fuelled by unusually heavy seeding in South Island beech forests.

Monitoring the effects of the pest control operation will be undertaken in coming weeks.

Photo: Phil Norton | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

It’s New Zealand Fashion Week.

If you missed getting tickets to see the latest looks from designers such as Kate Sylvester, NOM*d* and Juliette Hogan, we’ve got your back, with this exclusive show from our very best designer…

“There is no better designer than nature.” Alexander McQueen


Tui on trend in billowing florals

Ranger Dragonfly (Procordulia smithii). Photo: Jon Sullivan | CC BY-NC 2.0.

Choose romance for spring in ladylike lace

Beauty of the waves. Photo: Stewart Baird | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Orange is the New Black

So, for the best fashion advice:

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.” Frank Lloyd Wright.

It’s also a lot cheaper than