D-G Direct: An update from Lou Sanson

Department of Conservation —  03/12/2015

By Lou Sanson, Director-General

China and NZ – saving our red knots

During the week of 9 November, I was able to support the Miranda Naturalist Society (Adrian Riegen), Ngati Paoa (Gary Thompson) and Bruce McKinley from DOC at high-level meetings with senior government officials in Hebei Province, China.

New Zealand red knot. Photo: DOC.

Red knot

We were there to discuss the protection of seven kilometres of the Luannan Coast, where at least 50% of all New Zealand’s red knots land in late April/early May to feed on molluscs after flying for seven days non-stop from New Zealand, a journey of 10,000 kilometres.

50,000 red knots rely on these mudflats and our numbers have declined 50% over the last 15 years as the mudflats come under pressure from reclamation and the oil, steel and chemical industries.

From one small bay in Bohai, they get enough food within three weeks to continue their remarkable journey for a further five days and 5,000 kilometres, as they make their way to the arctic shores of Northern Siberia for breeding. In September they repeat the flight to New Zealand, returning again to the same small mudflats as they have done for thousands of years.

 Bruce McKinlay, Vice Minister Chen Feng Xue, Yu Yue from the State Forestry Administration, Lou Sanson and Gary Thompson

Bruce McKinlay, Vice Minister Chen Feng Xue, Yu Yue from the State Forestry Administration, Lou Sanson and Gary Thompson

It has involved 30 years’ work by people like Adrian, first using bird bands and lately geotags, to uncover the mystery of the red knots and really understand the high conservation priority it is to protect the last remaining seven kilometres of coast in China that provides their temporary habitat.

From Great Walks to Short Walks

At the beginning of November I joined our staff at the launch event to mark seven of the Great Walks being mapped using Google Trekker.

The launch of the Great Walks on Google Maps.

Lou Sanson, Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon, DOC’s Peter Hiemstra, Google Trekker Matt Janke, Prime Minister John Key, Google Trekker inventor Steven Silverman

Following this highly successful launch, Google and DOC are in discussions to look at future opportunities to work together – for example, mapping our short walks. This summer will see us promoting the Short Walks as a great way for people to get outdoors and see more of our country, on family-friendly walks ranging from 1-4 hours.

Matt Jenke, the Google Trekker on the Abel Tasman Coast Track.

Matt Jenke, the Google Trekker on the Abel Tasman Coast Track

The Google Trekker project has been long in the planning, with DOC and Google working together on it since 2012, supported by our partners Air New Zealand. I’d like to say a huge thank you to the staff in CPU, GIS and the Operations and Partnerships staff on the ground who made it all happen and continue to work hard on bringing our tracks to life in virtual reality.

A visit to Fonterra’s farm

While in China, we were hosted by Fonterra at one of their Yutian Farms.

Fonterra is aiming to produce 1 billion litres of fresh milk in China and develop a brand around trusted dairy, nutrition and environmental management. The farm we visited was completely self-contained in terms of nutrient waste, employed 180 people, and had 14,000 cows.

Fonterra’s Alex Worker with DOC’s Bruce McKinlay at Yutian Farm.

Fonterra’s Alex Worker with DOC’s Bruce McKinlay at Yutian Farm

In terms of our Living Water partnership we were particularly pleased that Fonterra helped fund the cost of our delegation’s visit to China to save precious coastal ecosystems.

DOC's National Spatial Excellence Award.

DOC’s National Spatial Excellence Award

Top recognition for GIS team

It was great to see our Geospatial Services team recognised with top honours at the National Spatial Excellence Awards, where their work on Battle for our Birds was acknowledged with the Environment and Sustainability Category award.

DOC’s GIS specialists do exceptional work so to see this recognised by their industry peers is fantastic.

As we look towards another potential beech mast event in 2016, this acknowledgement of their work on Battle for our Birds is very timely.

Congratulations to Wayne Tyson and the wider team for their win, and Norm Thornley and Duane Wilkins for being named as finalists in the awards.

Air New Zealand commercial

It’s great to see what Air New Zealand and DOC’s Commercial Partnerships Unit are doing to promote our natural environment with the new Air New Zealand campaign, Where to next?

The partnership with Air New Zealand is helping us to encourage kiwis to connect with nature and feel proud of our natural heritage.

The television commercial below was filmed in Abel Tasman National Park and features DOC Partnerships Manager Martin Rodd and Threatened Species Ambassador Nic Toki. The commercial will run until mid-December.