By Lou Sanson, Director-General
I was saddened to hear about the death of a well-liked and respected young ranger who had taken a year off to pursue his passion. Along with current and former West Coast DOC staff we mourn the loss of Sarwan Chand, 27, who died from a fall while climbing in the Darren Mountains in Fiordland along with his good friend and climbing buddy Conor Smith. Sarwan and Conor were both accomplished climbers and mountaineers and members of the NZ Alpine Team. Sarwan worked for DOC as a ranger in both Reefton and Greymouth, and was very well regarded by all who knew him as a thoughtful, hardworking, talented and fun person who loved a good adventure.
I’ve talked in previous D-G Directs about the big challenges we face in biodiversity and tourism. In this edition I want to highlight some things we are doing in the biodiversity area.
Kākāpō genome sequencing
The Kākāpō Recovery Team is leading a project to sequence the genomes of every individual kākāpō – a world-first for any species. Kākāpō are managed on an individual basis, so having individual genomic information will transform kākāpō conservation.
North Island kōkako
Back in 1999, North Island kōkako were one of the most threatened species in New Zealand with only 400 pairs. DOC realised the only way to save them was through a determined predator control programme. Today, there are an estimated 1,600 pairs at 22 pest-managed sites from Northland to Kāpiti Island. A great example of how we can turn around the prospects of a threatened species!
Sights set on pest newt eradication
I recently visited Rotorua and caught up with one of our technical advisors who has been providing advice to the joint DOC/MPI programme.
The European Alpine Newt Incursion Management Programme is aimed at eradicating the European alpine newt from our islands. This foreign amphibian feeds on frog eggs and larvae, posing a threat to our populations of rare native frogs. Hailing from the alpine areas of Europe, they are prolific breeders and capable of colonising large areas of New Zealand.
The newts were detected at one farm near Waihi in late 2013. With MPI, we have worked across four farms with virtually daily visits for two years, checking fyke nets and drift fences. Over that time, we have caught over 3,500 alpine newts. Encouragingly, we haven’t caught a newt for the past five months. If we can verify that eradication has taken place, this would be a remarkable achievement for the programme and for our native species of frogs.
If you believe you have seen these newts, inform MPI on 0800 80 99 66.
Murihiku – Rakiura visit
Last week I visited staff in our Murihiku/Invercargill and Rakiura offices and heard of the significant impacts of increasing international tourism on their work, and the success of their biodiversity work.
In the Catlins Conservation Park visitor numbers are now above 100,000 a year, with our newly completed Curio Bay carpark full most days. Freedom camping at Pūrākaunui Bay has been hugely sought after due to the spectacular location.
On Rakiura, visitors are up 20%, with Ulva Island/Te Wharawhara and our Rakiura Great Walk the most popular visitor attractions.
Rakiura staff recently completed a successful ground based 1080 possum control operation at the isolated southern end of Port Pegasus and noted the highest number of New Zealand sea lions ever recorded there.
We have also boosted resources significantly to bring back New Zealand dotterel on the Tin Range from last year’s (recent) record low number of an estimated 126 birds – caused by predation by cats, spur-winged plovers, gulls and deer. New traps, toxins and predator targets have been included in the ramped up programme, which complement more intensive monitoring that includes colour banding, disease screening and genetic profiling to inform future management.
While on Rakiura I was able to attend the pub meeting hosted by us for the locals on Stewart Island (the critical issues being shark cage tourism and aquaculture at Port Pegasus) and hear some fantastic stories of how our staff in the deep south celebrated DOC’s 30th birthday.
Joint Conservation Boards meeting – Hanmer
It was great to join the Nelson/Marlborough and the Canterbury Aoraki conservation boards and our staff for a joint meeting at Hanmer to discuss the future of St James and Molesworth, the potential reclassification of St James, along with treating our management with Environment Canterbury, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and local government of the whole Clarence River landscape as an integrated approach for our least modified river system on the eastern South Island.
The quality of our community representation on our conservation boards impresses me and their genuine desire to make DOC successful continues to be one of the department’s great strengths.
Some of the kōrero on freshwater impacts by our Māori members made a very big impact on us all.