Jobs at DOC: Freshwater ecologist, David Kelly

Department of Conservation —  31/10/2011

Every Monday Jobs at DOC will take you behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation.

This week we meet freshwater ecologist, David Kelly

At work…

Fisheries survey on Six-foot Lake, Campbell Island

Name: David Kelly

Position: Scientific Officer, Freshwater Section R&D, Christchurch

What kind of things do you do in your role?

A combination of managing science projects, developing tools for more effectively managing freshwaters (such as flow management models and conservation ranking tools), and providing technical advice in varying capacities on freshwater management

I spend a reasonable amount of time working with some of the Conservancy planners and solicitors around RMA processes.

I work with some of the other sections in National Office, such as the Policy Group, on inputting ideas to national policy statements and environmental standards. 

I work quite a bit with scientists and managers from other organisations such as CRIs, universities, and regional councils on various freshwater projects. 

What is the best part about your job?

By far the best part of my job is being out there and getting wet. As with most people who work for DOC, it’s my love of the environment, and particularly rivers and lakes, that drives me. So pursuing a career as a freshwater ecologist means that I have the privilege of spending time out there submersed in my study medium.

I dive, I wade, and I flop around on the banks in my waders like a clumsy seal, and it’s all great. Like all fieldwork, there are days when you say ‘I can’t believe I am getting paid to do this’, and then there are the days when I say ‘There is no way I’m getting paid enough to do this’ – usually as sleet is falling in a howling southerly.

The freshwater team on a weekend excursion up the Rakaia River

What is the hardest part about your job?

The hardest part of my job is the amount of contract management I do. Because we are a small section, a significant amount of this work is done externally through other science providers. This involves a lot of process and paperwork, which is a little less inspiring than either running experiments, or analysing data.

What led you to your role in DOC?

It’s a bit of a long story how I ended up here: I was finishing graduate school in Canada, and co-taught a course on coastal limnology (the study of freshwaters) with a kiwi—Warrick Vincent—who was then working at Laval University in Quebec City.

Warrick is one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met. It was through Warrick that I made contact with some of his colleagues from NIWA, where I came to work (with the lakes team in Christchurch) for a number of years.

I was co-managing a project between NIWA and DOC, on a national lowland lakes examination, and eventually DOC advertised a position within their newly formed freshwater section to run this work. The thought of working for an organisation that is more directly linked to conservation management was really attractive to me, so I applied.

What was your highlight from the month just gone?

It would have to be attending the combined meeting of the Freshwater Science societies of both New Zealand and Australia in Brisbane. It was great to see what is going on across the ditch in terms of their approaches to managing freshwater under some very challenging circumstances (multi-year droughts), and to get to share some of our projects and ideas with them.

The rule of three…

Three loves

  1. My family
  2. Fishing
  3. Hunting… my wife might question whether that is really the correct order, but I’m holding strong on this one.

Three pet peeves

  1. Earthquakes—having to abandon my home in Christchurch; surprise
  2. The lack of thermal insulation in buildings—come on, what latitude is it here anyhow? 
  3. Way too much sport in the news—never with any coverage of ice hockey I might add.

Three things always in your fridge

  1. Milk, because I can’t even begin a conversation in the morning without at least one latte in me.
  2. Finely crafted homemade beer, for which I have a ‘special fridge’ with in-built taps.
  3. Wild venison salami—because making pizzas in my wood-fired brick oven is truly the highlight of all my cooking experiences; man-flame-outdoors-large tools-wild meat-pizza. Mmmmmmm.

The pizza oven on Christmas day lunch at Inangahua

Three favourite places in New Zealand

  1. My bach on the Inangahua River, where I am now lucky enough to live for a stint while the earthquake aftermath unfolds in Christchurch (working out of the Kawatiri Area Office temporarily, so thanks to the folks there for making me welcome). 
  2. Campbell Island—wow, what a place to see wildlife up close and personal, my most memorable DOC trip ever!
  3. The wild and free West Coast back-country rivers—fishing and hunting nirvanas, I’d tell you which ones, but then I’d have to kill you.

A day exploring Campbell Island

Favourite movie, album, book

  1. Movie: The Big Lebowski—’The Dude’ cracks me up every time, and laughing is one of the most important things in life.
  2. Album: It’s nearly impossible to narrow it to one, but by the sheer amount of enjoyment I’ve gotten from spinning the vinyl version of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon makes it the winner.
  3. Book: It has to be a quirky one, possibly Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins.

Deep and meaningful…

What piece of advice would you tell your 18 year old self?

Make sure you do something you enjoy, and don’t hurry into it, it’s all about the journey—not where you get to.

Who or what inspires you and why?

Really smart people who know a lot about a whole range of things. I like to see people that are not only good at their jobs but at a range of things outside work that they can pass along to others. And my six month old son Jasper, whose smiles and giggles make even the worst day all make sense.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Funnily enough a doctor, but I think this was subliminally instilled in me by my mother. Once I was older and realised how many people were on the planet, my far greater concern was to help other species.

And now, if you weren’t working at DOC, what would you want to be?

Possibly a fishing guide, I love being out on rivers and I think I could watch fish all day.

A good haul for the freezer

If you could be any New Zealand native species for a day, what would you be and why?

I reckon an octopus—they are so smart, can squeeze through the tiniest of spaces to uncover delicious crayfish, and how handy would it be to have even three arms let alone eight?

What piece of advice or message would you want to give to New Zealanders when it comes to conservation?

Learn from the experiences of other countries that have much higher population densities, and don’t let the incredible natural assets you have erode away.