Second Nature: An update from Nicola Toki

Department of Conservation —  31/05/2016

By Nicola Toki, Threatened Species Ambassador

This month I’ve had the privilege of spending time with communities and nature-lovers that focus on freshwater wildlife, from scientists and artists supporting braided rivers, to a gathering of like-minded groups and individuals working to protect their favourite freshwater areas. To all of you who get their feet wet in the name of conservation – thank you!

Braided river art auction

Earlier in the month I attended a fantastic art auction, all in the name of one of our most endangered braided river birds (in fact, the world’s most endangered wading bird), the kakī or black stilt of the Mackenzie Country. In the 1980s this species got down to just 23 adults, and today, even with an intensive captive breeding programme, there are still less than 80 adults remaining.

Braided river art auction.

Braided river art auction

In a collaboration of two very different disciplines, scientists from Canterbury University who work on the ecology of the Mackenzie Basin got together with some amazing artists to host a “Braided River Awareness Art Auction” at the Nut Point Gallery in Christchurch. There was an inspiring array of paintings, sculpture, photography, and even jewellery (special shout out to Stephanie Galla of Canterbury University for my robust grasshopper earrings – I bet nobody else has a pair of those!).

The purpose of the event was two-fold, to raise some funds for kakī recovery, as well as to raise awareness of the unique and special wildlife found at our globally-rare braided rivers. There was a great turnout, and plenty of art purchased.  (NB: If you’re interested, the team at the Nut Point Centre, have continued the exhibition with the remaining pieces of art for sale until September this year).

For me personally, as a kid who grew up in the Mackenzie Country, the more love we have for braided river ecosystems the better. Braided rivers are only found here in New Zealand, Alaska, Canada and the Himalayas, and our braided rivers are globally rare, due to their different geomorphology, and the distinct wildlife that relies on these rivers for its survival.

Freshwater hui

In Wellington, locals were getting together for freshwater conservation as well, thanks to the team at Whitebait Connection (Mountains to the Sea Conservation Trust) in Wellington, and supported by DOC and the Wellington Regional Council. The hui was an opportunity for a variety of groups working on freshwater restoration to hear from others about best practice techniques, to hear iwi perspectives on freshwater conservation, and to get to know each other for further collaboration.

Appropriately, it was pouring with rain, but tucked safely inside the Island Bay Marine Education Centre, we heard some excellent presentations on topics such as the importance of whitebait spawning sites, community engagement, artificial fish habitat, citizen science and the development of a tribal freshwater health index.

World Fish Migration Day

Nicola getting up close and personal with inanga/whitebait.

Getting up close and personal with inanga/whitebait

When I spoke to Jesse Mulligan about World Fish Migration Day on our afternoon “Critter of the Week” segment on Radio New Zealand a couple of weeks ago, he joked that it should be a public holiday. Maybe not, but it is still a really important day – which has taken off all over the world!

World Fish Migration Day, as the name suggests, celebrates fish and their migrations up and down rivers, lakes and oceans. The day is very significant to our native fish, as many of them (including whitebait species) need clear fish passage to get from the ocean and back into our streams and rivers.

I helped celebrate World Fish Migration Day at Opawa School along with some very passionate freshwater scientists from DOC, EOS Consulting, Canterbury University’s Marine Ecology Research Group, the Whaka Inaka project, Christchurch City Council, Fish and Game and others.

More than five hundred school children and pre-school children (yikes!) attended the day which had a series of tents, tanks, talks and other displays to show how our migratory fish make their way up our rivers and streams, and how they need protected habitat (including the edges of rivers, since inanga lay their eggs out of the water in vegetation on the stream banks) in order to survive. Me and the kids learned heaps, and seeing the ‘whitebait treadmill’ pipe, which showed how inanga need stones to provide shelter in the water to help them swim, was a real eye opener.

I was also amazed to the whitebait eggs under the microscope, with their big black eyes looking back at us, as they waited to hatch!

Whitebait/inanga under the microscope.

Whitebait/inanga under the microscope

Nature Goody!

This month I also had the privilege of accompanying Bill Oddie (OBE), who many of you (well from my age at least) might remember from the Eighties hit British comedy show “The Goodies”, and who since then, has become a world renowned birder and nature television presenter. Bill is a bit of a hero of mine, so it was great fun to show him what’s special about our nature.

Bill was in New Zealand as a guest of the Auckland Writer’s Festival, after which DOC and the NZ Royal Society hosted him for a series of talks around New Zealand, and gave him some opportunities to get up close and personal with New Zealand nature.

Nicola Toki and Bill Oddie.

Meeting a hero of mine, Bill Oddie

I was lucky enough to travel to Motutapu and Rangitoto Islands with Bill, as well as local DOC staff, the Motutapu Restoration Trust and the Royal Society representative. He very much appreciated the chance to see New Zealand nature up close, and quickly understood the importance of removing introduced predators for the benefit of our native animals. He considered his various peeks into the lives of our native species a highlight of his visit to New Zealand, and was very grateful to the knowledge and expertise of the DOC staff looking after him in each place.

I’ve got plenty to report next month (couldn’t fit it all into this month’s update), so I hope you’re keeping warm, trapping predators like mad, and I’ll be back next month for another installment. Thanks for loving those things that make us Kiwi.