When the earth moved: A year on since the Kaikōura quake

Department of Conservation —  13/11/2017

Tomorrow marks a year since the earth moved in Kaikōura, causing significant damage to the local landscapes and affected some of our native wildlife. We’ve had a busy year managing the quake’s impact on native species and conservation areas, and our work continues. We reflect on the last 12 months.

The changing landscape


Barratts Bivvy was destroyed in the 2016 quake.

DOC’s South Marlborough district was seriously affected. Landslides, rockfall, and land uplift caused extensive landscape change in our coastal and backcountry conservation areas. There was damage to tracks, huts, ecosytems and some habitat of some native species. Two huts, Barratts Hut and Barratts Bivvy, and an historic Clarence Reserve bunkhouse were destroyed.

It’s been a huge job for our South Marlborough team to assess and remedy earthquake damage where possible, with considerable support from other staff, organisations and individuals – there’s too many to name individually! We thank everyone for helping us to get to this point.

Most South Marlborough and Kaikōura conservation areas are now open to the public. Some remain closed because they are unsafe, inaccessible or repairs are still to be carried out. Up to date information can be found on the DOC website or by contacting the Kaikōura Visitor Centre.

The Ōhau Seals

Around 2000 New Zealand fur seal pups/kekeno are born each year at Ōhau Point alone. The population is showing resilience to earthquake impacts and recent road reconstruction work. It’s encouraging to see the large numbers of seals, despite the changes to their habitat.

We’re also very pleased with the care and considerable effort of North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery (NCTIR) workers and their Seal Team to move seals away from road reconstruction work to keep them safe.

A large section of Ōhau Stream waterfall rock face broke away in the earthquake. It remains unsafe and closed to public access with danger of further rockfall.

The Hutton’s shearwater population

Hutton’s shearwater/Kaikōura tītī have been seen in large numbers though some damage occurred to their habitat. Approximately 10 to 15% of the Hutton’s shearwater nesting burrows in two Kaikōura Ranges colonies were wiped out by slips. It’s likely nesting birds were killed and their eggs destroyed. Work will continue over summer to determine the full impact on their population.

Rubber boat with a raft of Hutton's shearwaters swimming off Kai

Hutton’s shearwater in the sea off Kaikoura Peninsula prior to the earthquake. Photo: Graeme Taylor, DOC.

Encouragingly, since the earthquake large flocks of the seabirds have been seen feeding at sea and this spring the birds have been flying into the colonies for the breeding season. A third Hutton’s shearwater colony established on the Kaikōura Peninsula is intact. It was set up to ensure the species’ survival in the event of major damage or destruction to its mountain colonies.

Restoring the Ōhau rock daisy

A plant that only grows on the Ōhau Point coastal bluffs, the Ōhau rock daisy, had around 95% of its habitat wiped out by a landslide and only an estimated 80-100 plants remained. Steps are underway to restore its population.

NCTIR abseilers collected seed from six rock daisy plants that have successfully germinated, and around 200 plants are now growing at a nursery near Nelson. It is planned to plant most of these on the Ōhau Point bluffs next autumn and to collect more seeds for cultivation and replanting back in their natural habitat.

Ohau rock daisy web Photo Shannel Courtney DOC

The Ōhau rock daisy. Photo: Shannel Courtney (DOC)

Some other plant communities now have new habitats to colonise but need protecting from goats, weeds and other threats to recover. We are controlling pests in areas when they become safe and accessible and assessing what additional measures are needed.

Higher ground to help New Zealand’s diving petrels

Outside of Marlborough, Mana Island rangers made the most of the tsunami warning to the lower North Island. The team used the move to higher ground as an opportunity to band diving petrels at the top of the island. It was part of on-going work to monitor their success at establishing a breeding colony on the island.

“At 2 am my phone rang; it was the duty officer passing on a tsunami warning for Wellington. I got up and roused Leon and Jo, and within another 10 minutes the warning was extended to Porirua and Kapiti so we were on the move. My colleague Jo is from France; he has only been in New Zealand for six months and this was his first earthquake. Hopefully he’ll remember it fondly as the night we banded kuaka under the super-moon and safely evaded a tidal wave.” – Ranger Chris Bell.

Our work continues…

South Marlborough is a centre of endemism, with plants, plant communities and animals that are found nowhere else. We’re working hard to enable our native species in Kaikōura to thrive in the future.

For more information on our response to the earthquake, visit our website.