Spring has arrived this past week in Dunedin with the return of Taiaroa Head’s northern royal albatross/toroa.

Today’s photo of the week is of an albatross coming in to land for the upcoming breeding season.

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It has become an annual tradition in Dunedin to mark the arrival of the first albatross by ringing the local church bells. The church bells tolled around the city last Wednesday to welcome the albatross back.

Taiaroa Head’s northern royal albatross colony is the only mainland albatross breeding colony in the southern hemisphere.

Photo by SyCC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

By Lou Sanson, DOC Director-General

New Chief Science Advisor appointed

I’m pleased to announce that Professor Ken Hughey (Lincoln University Professor of Environmental Management) has been appointed to the newly created position of Chief Science Advisor for DOC.

Professor Ken Hughey.

Professor Ken Hughey

Ken has a strong academic background in freshwater science, introduced animals, endangered species management and public perceptions of the state of the environment. He has worked previously for DOC as a scientist. He will be an independent voice, providing high-level scientific advice to me, the Minister and our Senior Leadership Team. He will also support us to enhance DOC’s position as a key player in the science community by connecting with other scientists within and outside of DOC.

Ken’s appointment follows similar roles being established at the Ministry for Primary Industries, Ministry of Education, and the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment. These advisors will work together to improve evidence-based input into government policy and decision making.
I expect to achieve real value with the free flow of ideas between our existing science staff and Ken, as he helps challenge our thinking, continually improve our evidence-based science standards and demonstrate the enormous value of the science we do at DOC.

Ken will be based in our Christchurch office, working three days a week. His two-year secondment starts in December.

Te Urewera—a new entity

On Monday 22 September the new entity of Te Urewera came into existence, and I was privileged to represent DOC at the first meeting of the Te Urewera Board.

Tāmati Kruger was confirmed as the new Chair.

First meeting of Te Urewera Board (Whakatane Beacon)

First meeting of Te Urewera Board (Whakatane Beacon)

The management board is made up of Crown and Ngāi Tūhoe appointees. Their first meeting was focussed on describing the personality of Te Urewera in terms of its mauri (vital essence) and mana.

These discussions will continue over the next few months, so the board has a shared understanding of the land’s spirit and identity, its mystery and its remote beauty. This will then form the basis for agreeing a management plan that will bring that essence/personality to life—while ensuring the protected status of Te Urewera’s natural and cultural values, and safeguarding the integrity of indigenous ecosystems.

A river in Te Urewera. Photo copyright: Randall Watson | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

The mystery and remote beauty of Te Urewera

This is a world leading approach to protected area management. DOC and Ngāi Tūhoe will work together to place significant value on Te Urewera and restore mana to Tūhoe in its management of the land, guided by the principles of ewe whenua (place of origin and return).

Kakabeak restoration at Maungataniwha

While in the Central North Island, Reg Kemper (DOC’s Lower North Island Conservation Partnerships Director) and I visited Maungataniwha, which is the second largest private land conservation project in New Zealand.

The work is run by landowner, Simon Hall, and trustees Pete Shaw and John McLennan.

Together, they established the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust, and manage 24,000 hectares of land to the south of Te Urewera, including New Zealand’s largest kakabeak / kowhai ngutukaka restoration programme.

Reg Kemper (centre) with trustees of Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust  – Pete Shaw and Simon Hall.

Pete Shaw (Trustee), Reg Kemper (DOC) and
Simon Hall (Trust Chairman and landowner)

Amongst other things, the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust is overseeing the largest conversion of pine forest to native forest attempted in New Zealand (6,000 hectares).

They have also reared a total of 182 kiwi chicks for release back into their forests and Cape Sanctuary, through the Maungataniwha Kiwi Project—supported by volunteers from Tasti Foods and in partnership with Kiwi Encounter Rotorua.

Rachel Hunter is the Trust’s patron.

Crayfish recover at Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve

I was also pleased to have the chance to meet with staff in Masterton, Napier, Gisborne and Whakatane.

In Gisborne I visited Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve (established 1999).

Don McLean, Jamie Quirk, De-Arne Sutherland, Rebecca Lander at Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve.

Don McLean, Jamie Quirk, De-Arne Sutherland, Rebecca Lander at
Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve

Debbie Freeman from DOC’s Marine Ecosystems team completed a remarkable piece of research in the reserve a few years ago, which tagged 10,000 crayfish.

The research was continued by DOC staff in Gisborne, in partnership with local commercial fishermen.

We’ve seen a dramatic recovery in crayfish, with a recent research haul of 93 crays in one pot—with fish as big as 3 kilograms.

Crayfish, Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve

Crayfish, Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve

Jamie Quirk has developed an amazing camera system for marine reserve compliance monitoring which has had considerable success in ensuring the crays are protected.

Today over 10,000 people are visiting the reserve each year.

Inspiring the next generation

Another highlight was a visit to Whakatane Intermediate School, where they’ve recently established a state of the art conservation science education centre.

Partnerships Ranger Mike Jones, Principal Doug McLean and Graham Henton at Whakatane Intermediate enviro centre.

Mike Jones (DOC Partnerships Ranger), Doug McLean (Principal) and
Graham Henton (Environmental Science Coordinator)
at Whakatane Intermediate Enviro Centre

We met Principal, Doug McLean, and Environmental Science Coordinator, Graham Henton, who explained how each student participates in 20 ninety-minute sessions of environmental science education as part of their core education.

The students are actively involved in restoring an adjacent wetland and native forest. They’re growing native seedlings, planting tussock to restore a wetland, and are out there on the wetland in their kayaks taking water samples and learning about the ecosystems and principles of kaitiakitanga.

I was really blown away by this project. It goes to the heart of DOC’s goals to educate and engage New Zealanders of all ages in conservation, and to bring conservation into schools in a way that’s led by teachers and students.

Congratulations Caroline Carter

Congratulations to Te Anau Partnerships Ranger Caroline Carter who received the Motel Association NZ service-plus award at the recent Destination Fiordland annual tourism awards, which celebrate and acknowledge excellence from within the local tourism industry.

Caroline Carter standing in the Murchison Mountains.

Caroline Carter: An “influential conservation crusader”

Caroline was the first education co-ordinator for the Kids Restore the Kepler Project, and was described in The Southland Times as an “influential conservation crusader”.

Well done Caroline and to all those involved in this project—it’s great to see your work recognised!

By Jose Watson, Partnership Ranger in Hokitika

On a misty Thursday morning last week I headed out to the Kawhaka Creek to help retrieve eggs from two whio / blue duck nests.

Whio / blue duck. Photo copyright Sabine Bernert. Used with permission.

Whio / blue duck

whio-eggs-ranger-rodney-incubator

Ranger Rodney

The newly established West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail follows alongside this beautiful river and makes access to the site easy.

The Kawhaka Creek is good for whio. It’s fast flowing, clean—with plenty of invertebrates for whio to eat—and has good habitat either side for nesting. I myself have enjoyed plenty of nice swims in this creek.

It’s a bit of a walk with the incubator to the nest—definitely a job for two people—especially on the return trip when we want a smooth ride for the precious eggs.

Two people carrying the incubator.

Carrying the incubator

This is the first time ever that whio eggs have been taken from this site.

In 2012 Kawhaka Creek was added to the Central West Coast Whio Recovery Site. The support of Genesis let us grow this site, that was initially made possible with support from Solid Energy. The Central West Coast Whio Recovery Site now includes the Styx,  Arahura, Taipo and Kawhaka catchments.

The first nest at Kawhaka Creek was found a couple of weeks ago by Cloud the whio dog.

Ranger Ron Van Mierlo delves into the whio nest.

Ranger Ron Van Mierlo delves into the whio nest

The nest was quite a way up a hill beside the river—a good place for a nest as it was out of the reach of floods. In a forest, on a hill, did seem to be a peculiar place to see a duck though. However, I am assured this is quite normal for whio.

Ranger Ron Van Mierlo had to stretch his arm quite a way down a hole to retrieve the eggs.

The whio eggs being retrieved.

The eggs being retrieved

It was exciting to see the eggs being retrieved, and a bit nerve-raking  too—nobody wants to drop and egg, and the utmost care is taken.

Ranger holds the first whio egg friom Kawhaka Creek.

The first egg

We found 6 eggs at this first nest. I thought 6 was an epic effort, but apparently nests with up to 9 eggs are found!

There is a good chance that the duck who laid those eggs will now lay another clutch this season. In this way, whio breeding can be “supercharged”—the duck lays more eggs that can be successfully raised into adulthood.

Ranger Glen Newton with the egg in a protective cup.

Ranger Glen Newton with the egg in a protective cup

After the first nest we were feeling very chirpy—what a great start to the morning.

The next nest was located further up and across the river. We located the nest but, unfortunately, it was empty. The nest had been raided by some sort of predator. The mother duck was still hanging around the nest, on the other side of the pond. Here she is on her lonesome. Hopefully she will lay some more eggs and we will be able to safely retrieve them.

An adult female whio after her eggs were raided by a predator.

Lonely mother duck

After a commute to Christchurch, the eggs were taken to the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust, a privately funded charitable trust specialising in captive breeding and release of endangered species.

Hopefully, all going well, these eggs will all end up as strong healthy whio that will be returned the wild and in turn lead to even more whio!

Whio eggs back at the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust.

Egg care at the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust

The Palais du Roi de Rome in Rambouillet, near Paris, was built for the son of Emperor Napoleon more than 200 years ago.

It may not be the most likely place to find floors full of New Zealand’s endemic biodiversity but, nevertheless, there it is—nine rooms, two floors, over 200 m² of kākāpō, kiwi, kakī…

Juvenile kakī / black stilt.

Juvenile kakī

The multimedia exhibition, Aotearoa New Zealand, the Protectors of the Lost Ark, has been at the French palace for the past few weeks (finishing September 28).

It is the culmination of years of work by French writer / photographer Sabine Bernert, who wanted to “show the fascinating and rich endemic biodiversity of New Zealand and celebrate the tireless dedication of its protectors”.

Will Batson with long-tailed bat. Photo copyright Sabine Bernert.

Will Batson with long-tailed bat

The exhibition includes 93 stunning pictures, 20 illustrated posters, and a 17 minute film with interviews.

Morepork. Photo copyright Sabine Bernert.

Morepork

Sabine, who has also been running special guided tours of the exhibition for schools, tells us that French audiences are captivated:

“People love it and are very surprised to discover these aspects of New Zealand, far from the rugby and the sheep!”

Marlborough green gecko. Photo copyright Sabine Bernert.

Marlborough green gecko

Sabine worked closely with DOC while creating this exhibition (a big shout out to Ros Cole and Les Moran in particular) and we’re excited to be so beautifully represented.

Surely the Palais du Roi de Rome has never experienced such remarkable treasures before.

The Palais du Roi de Rome in Rambouillet, near Paris. Photo copyright Sabine Bernert.

The Palais du Roi de Rome

The exhibition inside the Palais du Roi de Rome. Photo copyright Sabine Bernert.

The exhibition inside the Palais du Roi de Rome

Yellow-eyed penguin / hoiho

Yellow-eyed penguin / hoiho

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 Jack Mace, National Integration Coordinator in Wellington.

At work

Some things I do in my job include:

Jack standing with a local in Afghanistan.

Jack Mace (right) with one of the locals in Afghanistan

I provide a voice for Conservation Services in National Office (and a voice for National Office within Conservation Services) so there is a lot of working in with other groups within DOC to make sure that things are working smoothly and there’s coordinated and integrated decision making across the Department.

Thus far I’ve mostly been busy trying to align our business planning and reporting processes with the outcomes we’re trying to achieve—and make them simpler and more practical in the process.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by:

Making sure we are doing the right thing in the right place at the right time, and that we’re working as one organisation. Finding opportunities to make things easier. Looking for risks and problems and trying to resolve them. Picking up the odd jobs that would otherwise fall through the cracks.

Jack Mace on a historic tractor.

Making the most of our historic heritage

The best bit about my job is:

Jack on a plot in South Westland – with Peter Doonan and Chippy Wood.

A steep plot in South Westland

Working across the whole of DOC’s work. I can see how it all connects together and where there are some big opportunities for us.

I get to work with a bunch of onto it people from all levels of the Department. Plus, I’m finally starting to understand the reason for some of the things that really bugged me as a ranger—like CAPEX, thirdly reporting, depreciation…

The strangest DOC moment I’ve had so far is:

Putting a penguin in a wine cask (we were trying to work out a good way to hold it to take blood samples).

Or the time Dean Caskey, Glen Fyfe and I had to go and rescue hundreds of short-finned eels from a muddy dried-up pond in Taranaki. We got covered in muck and filled up two wheelie-bins full, which I’m sure is someone’s worst nightmare!

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

I could write a long list for this one—but maybe I’ll say Mark Martini from Hokitika. You won’t find a friendlier or more helpful bloke. Incredibly passionate about his work, knowledgeable about the bush and the ecological and social problems we face. He knows how to work within the system and achieve good results. And he has a good sense of humour to boot. Just don’t let him near the cooking stove…unless you like pie sandwiches!

On a personal note…

My happy place is:

Nelson Lakes National Park. I grew up skiing at Mt Robert aged 6 so it was my introduction to the great outdoors. I genuinely thought that screaming horizontal hail was normal alpine weather. It was also where I got my first job with DOC—as a stoat trapper—and where my wife Anneke and I got married last year.

Jack and others sitting high above the Whataroa Valley.

Today’s dining room, this time above the Whataroa Valley

If I could trade places with any other person for a week—living or dead—it would be:

Kupe. Imagine being the first person to set foot on Aotearoa—the things you would see before humans and rats and dogs and pigs and all the rest came along and mucked things up.

My best ever holiday was:

A climbing trip to Afghanistan in 2009.

I didn’t get up to much climbing, but we spend 5 weeks walking around the Wakhan corridor in the far northeast of the country. An incredibly remote and difficult place. The people there live a definite hard-scrabble life, but were some of the most friendly and welcoming folk I’ve ever met.

Everywhere we went we were greeted with cups of tea, bread, and a place to stay. And I think if we could import a few of their yaks and donkeys we could cut down on the helicopter bills.

Kirghiz camp in the Afghan Pamir, Tajikistan in the background.

Kirghiz camp in the Afghan Pamir, Tajikistan in the background

If I could be any New Zealand native species I’d be:

A falcon/karearea. Would beat walking around those hills, and I could specialise in taking out stoats and rats. BAM!

Alternatively, a kea. Mucking about in the mountains causing mischief sounds like a good life.

My secret indulgence is:

Sneaking off into the bush by myself to wander around exploring. I like to say I’m hunting but my serious lack of results lately suggests I’m subconsciously just after a slow walk on my lonesome out in the bush.

A New Zealand sealion pup dives into the water.

An example of our majestic wildlife on Enderby Island

If I wasn’t working at DOC, I’d like to:

Be semi-retired, focusing all of my efforts on restoring a patch of bush somewhere in the top of the South Island. Failing that, a professional spinner of yarns would be a good racket.

Deep and meaningful…

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

Listen more and talk less. Obviously I’m still working on this.

Helicopter hovers at Pelorus.

Hovering at the Pelorus “landing” site

In work and life I am motivated by:

People who are passionate about what they do, and are good at it. Talking to people like Jeremy Rolfe about plants or Nobby Robson about the Ruahines make me want to get out and do it.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is:

Make the time to get out there and enjoy it. There’s not a single town in New Zealand that doesn’t have incredible natural places nearby (even Ashburton!).

Also the pleasure that can be gained from knowing a few plants and animals far outweighs the effort it takes to learn them.

Jack Mace and his celebrity lookalike Grizzly Adams.

My celebrity lookalike

Question of the week…

Who is your celebrity lookalike?

I’ve been told I bear a certain resemblance to someone called “Grizzly Adams” but I’m too young to know who that is.

By DOC’s Lower North Island Outreach and Education Coordinator, Angeline Barnes

Like many parents, I am concerned about the amount of time my children spend glued to screens at the expense of being outside. But with Habitat the Game—a free, fun and educational app that rewards kids for their real world behaviours and for spending time outside—launching in New Zealand, my worries have subsided.

Kid's exploring Otari-Wilton's Bush.

Enjoying Otari-Wilton’s Bush

Why a child would choose to play computer games over climbing a tree, exploring the forest, or interrogating defenceless insects, remains a mystery to me. Some would say it’s because they are not connected to nature.

My role at DOC focuses on connecting children to nature. Encouraging kids to enjoy the outdoors, build empathy for animals, have a sense of oneness, and hold a sense of responsibility for the world around them. This is what gets me out of bed in the mornings.

Technology is now part of a child’s life. My attitude is, let’s not fight it, but embrace it. The big question is: Can apps connect children to nature?

Ruby, looking through binoculars backwards.

Ruby, exploring nature… backwards!

Illustration of polar bear mum and cub from the Habitat Game.

Habitat is an interactive mobile game designed to teach 7—12-year-olds ecologically sustainable habits. It is both educational and empowering.

In the vein of Tamagotchi, the aim of the game is to keep a virtual polar bear happy and healthy.

The game is attracting interest globally as, unlike other games, this one rewards kids for performing real world actions and visiting nature locations.

Over the past few weeks, my kids and friends, both boys and girls, have been playing the game and they love it!

Angeline and four children in the bush, with phones, at Otari-Wilton's Bush.

Playing Habitat with the kids at Wellington’s Otari-Wilton’s Bush

We have seen changes in behaviour at home; the taps and lights are turned off and when asked to put the compost out, I get an “ok” rather than a “yuck”—because these real life actions they perform earn them game points. It’s helping them understand their behaviour impacts the world around them.

While it may take decades for evidence of their actions to show in the real world, when faced with a sad polar bear that is forced to swim in a black sea in search of the absent fish, they are motivated to stick with their actions.

Another adventure outdoors. This time at Khandallah Park.

A geo caching adventure at Khandallah Park

Angeline's favourite 'pin' - the hihi / stitchbird.

Hihi / stitchbird: A virtual habitat pin

Collecting virtual habitat pins is part of our weekend activities. We pack a picnic and our ‘screens’ and head out on a scavenger hunt/geo caching adventure to hunt down and collect the 14 virtual pins that are scattered across the Wellington region. We don’t have a full set yet, but we are working towards it.

I’ve enjoyed watching my kids explore rock pools, run freely in the forest and recognise birds, and have welcomed the improvement in their behaviour as a result of the regular dose of nature.

Exploring rock pools.

Exploring rock pools.

The jury is out on which pin is ‘the cutest’. My favourite is the hihi / stitchbird that I found in Zealandia; but Sasa the sunbear, who lives in Wellington Zoo, and the animals who reside at Taputeranga Marine Reserve are also contenders.

There are 160 pins scattered across 13 countries; with more pins being added regularly.

Ponga - Silver Tree Fern 'pin'. Trading pins is fun and teaching my kids that the conservation story is far wider than just New Zealand. Last week we traded a Ponga for a Kangaroo!

The game can be played across New Zealand but, for now, the virtual location pins are only available for collection in Wellington.

If this pilot programme involving DOC, Wellington Regional Council, Wellington City Council, Zealandia, Wellington Zoo and Pukaha Mount Bruce is successful, we hope to expand pins across other New Zealand locations.

Finn with smartphone in the bush at Zealandia.

Finn at Zealandia

This is the game that I don’t mind my kids playing.  Secretly I’ve become quite fond of my pet polar bear and the collection of cute animal pins that I’ve picked up while discovering the world where we live.

More information: www.doc.govt.nz/habitatthegame.

The app,’ Habitat the Game’ is free to download from the Apple Store or Google Play, and there are no in app purchases.

For information about how to play the game, there are some great player tutorials at www.habitatthegame.com.

Free family event at Zealandia in Wellington

To celebrate the launch of Habitat the Game in New Zealand, come along to Zealandia in Wellington on Saturday, 4 October 2014 between 11 am and 3 pm.

Ensure you have the app on your phone/device and kids will go free as will the first 100 adults.

This is a great opportunity to explore Zealandia, learn more about the game, collect the three virtual pins that are hidden within Zealandia and be in to win spot prizes.

Our native New Zealand pigeon—the magnificent kererū (also known as kūkū or kūkupa in Northland)—features in today’s Photo of the Week.

Kererū in flight. Photo: Southstar | flickr | CC BY 2.0.

New Zealanders have been asked to keep their eyes open for kererū from now until Sunday, 5 October and to log their findings on the Great Kererū Count website.

It’d be great to see you get involved in this citizen science project, which will help build a detailed picture of kererū distribution across the country.

The Great Kererū Count is organised by Forest & Bird, the Kiwi Conservation Club and Kererū Discovery.

Photo by Southstar | CC BY 2.0.