A trip to the Chathams

Department of Conservation —  26/01/2015

By Lou Sanson, DOC Director-General

Having visited our Chatham Islands offices with Minister Chris Finlayson (Minister of the Chathams), I was so impressed to experience the leadership and vibrancy of Connie Norgate and her team at Te One.

Minister Chris Finlayson and Conservation Services Manager Connie Norgate on Mangere Island.

Minister Chris Finlayson and Conservation Services Manager
Connie Norgate on Mangere Island

Chatham Islands really is on the verge of ‘step change growth in conservation’ with our focus on partnerships and joint decision making with the Chatham Islands community, Moriori and Ngati Mutanga, and of course the Pitt Islanders.

At Hapupu with Hokotehi Moriori Trustees. From left: Tom Lanauze, Connie Norgate, Justin Maxwell, Susan Thorpe and me.

At Hapupu with Hokotehi Moriori Trustees
From left: Tom Lanauze, Connie Norgate, Justin Maxwell, Susan Thorpe and me

The locals on the Chathams have established 40 covenants and kawenata on the islands (the highest rate per head in New Zealand) – up from only 11 covenants in 2000. Many of these covenants are now playing a crucial role in the conservation of 18 endemic species, 12 critically endangered.

The covenants under private land protection has grown from 440 hectares to 3,000 hectares in 15 years, demonstrating a high commitment that Chatham and Pitt Island landowners have made to protecting their heritage.

Ngā Whenua Rāhui has played a key role here as has the Chatham Heritage and Restoration Trust given many of the unique species are found on private land.

With Lois Croon, Chair of the Chatham Heritage and Restoration Trust.

With Lois Croon, Chair of the Chatham Heritage and Restoration Trust

Chathams today has 800 insect species (25% endemic), 392 endemic plant species (the highest in New Zealand, of which 31 are threatened), 18 endemic bird species (12 critically endangered).

Chatham Island forget-me-not. Photo: Dave Crouchley.

Chatham Island forget-me-not

On Rangatira (South East) Island, Chathams black robins had 80 chicks this summer, bringing the population up to 300 birds since our low of seven birds in 1976.

Forbes’ parakeets and Chatham Islands snipe are also thriving as a result of the extensive land restoration work.

Chatham Island snipe, newly hatched and hand held.

Newly hatched Chatham Island snipe

Kenny Dix – DOC’s most remote Ranger

Kenny Dix on Pitt Island.

Kenny Dix

I was totally chuffed to meet DOC’s most remote Ranger, Kenny Dix, proudly representing us on Pitt Island.

Kenny is a Chatham Islander that does 2-3-week stints on Pitt Island.

Working alone, his focus on safety was remarkable. On days off he is repairing Pitt Islanders tractors and quads, the next day he is saving shore plovers and wandering albatross and doing up our 150 year old Glory Cottage on South Pitt Island.

His pride though, is the work he is putting into keeping wild cats under control in our scenic reserves and covenants.

Widely respected by the Pitt Islanders, Kenny really is the face of community conservation for the future.

German Mission Station – 1866

We met Helen Bint who has been working with Heritage New Zealand on the conservation of the 1866 Stone Cottage at Maunganui built by Johannes Engst.

She has done a wonderful job of recreating a living pioneer cottage, and gratefully welcomes visitors, while also shooting 20 odd possums a week which are wrecking havoc with her wonderful garden.

Stone Cottage at Maunganui.

Stone Cottage at Maunganui

Chathams Taiko Trust

At the Tuku Nature Reserve, DOC has recently funded the new albatross predator free fence with $350,000 from the Community Conservation Partnerships Fund (CCPF).

We’ve also given $150,000 to the Taiko programme and funded 40% of the cost of the Sweetwater Sanctuary predator fence.

Bruce and Liz Tuanui with Mike Bell at Taiko Camp.

Bruce and Liz Tuanui with Mike Bell at Taiko Camp

The Sweetwater Sanctuary has seen an 85% survival rate of taiko (arguably New Zealand’s rarest bird) within the fence as opposed to 30% in the adjoining nature reserve with ground based predator control. This has seen the taiko (magenta petrel) go from six pairs in 1993 to 22 pairs this season. Additionally, 200 Chathams petrels have been transferred in over the last four years.

Chatham Island tuis were introduced from Pitt Island to Chatham Island in 2010. Along with the predator control programme within the Tuku Nature Reserve (gifted by Manuel and Evelyn Tuanui) and the private land covenants, the critically endangered parea (Chatham Islands pigeon) has been brought back from the brink of extinction from 25 birds in 1988 to 600 birds now on the South Chathams.

The next big project for the Taiko Trust using the new CCPF fence is to shift 60 Chatham albatross from The Pyramid to their new site on mainland Chathams, following the 57 fledglings already shifted last summer. No one else in the Southern Hemisphere has done this with albatross.

Bruce Tuanui at Albatross translocation site on South Chathams.

Bruce Tuanui at the new CCPF funded Chathams Island
albatross translocation site on South Chathams

Hokotehi Moriori Trust

DOC and Moriori are working closely together to protect the remaining kopi orchards on the Chathams to retain the dendroglyph bark carvings (rakau momori).

Justin Maxwell and Susan Thorpe pose in front of new wind fence.

Justin Maxwell (Otago Uni) and Susan Thorpe with new wind fence designed to protect the Moriori dendroglyphs on the Chatham Kopi tree orchards

Successive loss of vegetation and strong winds have led to the loss of the kopi groves and subsequent canopy breakdown and the use of wind breakers is the only way to now save these important cultural forests.

Kopi and Hoho, Nikau Palm Scenic Reserve, Chatham Islands. Photo: R. Suggate.

Kopi and Hoho, Nikau Palm Scenic Reserve, Chatham Islands

3 responses to A trip to the Chathams


    Fantastic to read about some of the conservation gains that have been made on the Chathams over the past 20 years and the extent of the buy-in by the local community. Great place: great people!


    Wonderful to read about the conservation gains DOC has made. My job in the Department of Lands & Survey took me there a couple of years before DOC was formed. Early days for conservation then!

    Dave Lumley 12/02/2015 at 3:22 pm

    I think its great that youve been back to the Chathams Lou,and I really appreciated catching up with all the great things that have been happening there in conservation since I was there in ’97/98.Its such a unuique and important part of NZ and when I worked there I really felt that everything we did really mattered for conservation.Cheers ,Dave.