Today is World Environment Day, to celebrate we talk to volunteer Serge Peeters who is putting his professional skills and time to good use protecting one of New Zealand’s most iconic bird species.
Serge Peeters is one of many New Zealanders contributing to conservation and our environment through volunteering. Using his expertise in geographical information systems (GIS), Serge – a member of New Zealand GIS in Conservation (NZ GiC) – has been helping the community to enable kororā (little blue penguin) populations to live peacefully around Wellington.
“When joining NZ GiC as a volunteer, I didn’t expect to get involved with kororā,” says Serge. “It just happens my first job as a GiC volunteer was to map kororā nesting boxes. It has been a real pleasure to work with people who are so passionate about these little penguins.”
Serge has worked as a GIS professional on a variety of environmental topics such as transport emissions and water assets (stormwater, wastewater and drinking water). “I wanted to protect the environment for future generations. Joining NZ GiC meant I could use my expertise to help conservation groups optimise the benefits of their efforts,” Serge says. As trap monitoring was suspended during the COVID-19 lockdown, Serge is excited that kororā monitoring can now re-commence during Alert Level 2. “It will be interesting to see if there are any changes in the data patterns”.
DOC volunteer Mike Rumble has a similar story to tell. He’s been monitoring and banding kororā on three Wellington Harbour islands since 2009, including the scientific and historic reserve Matiu Somes Island. With more than 300 nest locations, Mike knew he could benefit from smart technology, so he called NZ GiC in 2014 to discuss his project.
Together with Serge, they devised a plan. Mike undertook the major task of entering GPS coordinates of all the kororā nest locations. Serge uses this data to develop GPS maps to plan the work for the teams of volunteers that would access the nests and monitor kororā.
“These maps are still in use and only require simple updates when nest changes occasionally occur. The use of technology has been an immense help for my volunteer teams, especially those still learning where nests are located,” Mike says.
Fast forward to 2016, Kerry Shaw – a volunteer for the community project Places for Penguins – reached out to NZ GiC for help on kororā monitoring along the Miramar Peninsula. Inspired by his previous work, Serge jumped at the opportunity and helped Kerry with data mapping the nest locations, nest occupancy, the number of chicks hatched and predator trapping results. He constructed a visually appealing digital dashboard to inform Kerry on predator catch rates, including stoats and rats that predate on kororā eggs or chicks. Over the years, Kerry has been able to use this data with the Places for Penguins committee members to analyse nest box occupancy as well as ensuring the predator control is effective to cover the nest box locations.
Kerry’s data has benefited projects beyond Places for Penguins. She has shared her kororā location data with Wellington City Council when it was undertaking major projects. One of the projects was to upgrade the sea walls.
“Providing a map with exact locations of nest boxes and natural nests detected has helped minimise the disturbance of breeding penguins,” Kerry says.
“Maps have also been used by Wellington City Council when weeding areas around the south coast. They check where the nest boxes are so the nest boxes are not disturbed and the pathways are not blocked by weeds.
“In the future these maps will help the harbour cycleway development to construct suitable areas for breeding penguins to use.”
Thanks to the work of Serge, Mike, Kerry and other volunteers, the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) also has access to precise data on kororā nest locations if there ever was an oil spill.
In 2019, Roger Uys, a Terrestrial Ecologist from GWRC started work on a proactive risk mitigation project to protect native fauna in the incident of an oil spill.
“Knowing where penguins are nesting is essential for protecting them if there is an oil spill at sea,” says Roger.
“The work of Serge Peeters and NZ GiC has unlocked this knowledge gathered by citizen scientists around Wellington, making it available to guide responders, should we ever need it.”
Regional councils are responsible for controlling developments in the coastal marine space.
“These activities affect marine birds and the information made available through the help of NZ GiC is helping the GWRC to protect our environment.”
Serge is happy GIS smart technology has been able to empower the community in so many ways.
“As a NZ GiC volunteer, I always try to introduce GIS in gentle manner,” he says. “First, I introduce simple GIS solutions that integrate with existing processes. Then gradually I introduce more advanced solutions in collaboration with the conservation group I work with. It is important for conservation groups to retain control of their data and feel comfortable with the technology.”
NZ GiC currently has more than 140 volunteers who are passionate about making GIS accessible to community conservation work. Find out more about NZ GiC here: www.nzgic.org