You don’t need me to tell you that 2021 was a big year – and it’s not looking like this trend is changing for 2022.
Despite how the newspaper headlines might look, there’s a lot to celebrate. Here are ten great things that DOC marine staff and partners achieved since Seaweek 2021.
1. Aotearoa and Spain agree to protect seabirds
In December we were finally able to announce the signing of a historic MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) between Aotearoa New Zealand and Spain to protect our long-ranging seabirds
Highly migratory species pose unique challenges for conservation management. Reaching these agreements with other influential fishing nations (we have a similar one with Chile) is critical to reduce bycatch on the high seas and protect species such as albatrosses and petrels.
2. First full year of new marine rangers + a bump-up marine monitoring programme
Okay, so the new Marine Reserve Ranger roles started a while ago, but at some point last year we hit the one-year anniversary of the new (and growing) network of Marine Rangers.
These roles are critical for engaging with mana whenua and communities with their local reserves, monitoring the health of the reserves, designing new monitoring programmes, and patrolling the waters to ensure compliance. Plus, this programme has spawned some very cool science projects such as Spyfish Aotearoa and whānau snorkel days.
We’ve got some exciting announcements about this approaching so stay tuned!
3. Fur seals on holiday
We couldn’t travel overseas, but that doesn’t mean anything for our oceanic neighbours. Subantarctic fur seal pups were spotted frequently during the winter and spring, at places all around the country. They caused quite the stir on social media, partly due to being so dang cute but also because some of them may have swum more than 8,000km to get here.
At the same time, we had reports of New Zealand fur seal pups showing up in Rarotonga. This pup, Nosey, hung out with the locals for more than a month before moving on.
Then in August we had the first-ever report of a kekeno popping up in Fiji.
Now that we’re officially in autumn, it’s time to take a deep breath and brace for the return of Seal Silly Season in May.
4. Revitalising the Gulf launch
Sometimes success looks less like cute pups and more like delicate processes reaching their next level of evolution. The release of Revitalising the Gulf was the result of many years of discussion between mana whenua, community groups, industry, and government, born from the Sea Change process which was initiated in 2013.
This is just the beginning, of course, but we can celebrate the Government’s commitment to tripling the area of the Hauraki Gulf/ Tīkapa Moana / Te Moananui-ā-Toi under marine protection, expanding protected species programmes, and undertaking habitat restoration, among many other things. A big win for one of the most treasured and threatened ecosystems in the country.
5. WWF-Ocean Tales partnership
Most recently, working with WWF-NZ and Kelly Tarlton’s, we helped to support the Whale Tales 2022 art trail which features 80 beautiful art pieces across Tāmaki-Makarau.
Blending art and science and reaching nearly half a million people? Yes please.
6. Sea lion research becomes an international news sensation
When Laura Boren flagged that American PhD student Veronica Frans was going to be publishing her research on the NZ sea lion, I don’t think any of us predicted the impact it would make.
The research, modelling where future sea lion breeding colonies could be, was picked up by the New York Times, Washington Post, Smithsonian Magazine, and several other major outlets. Just goes to show that our humble native species can hold their own on the global stage.
7. Camera on fishing boats announcement
With Fisheries New Zealand, in June we announced the roll-out of 300 more on-board cameras for commercial fishing vessels in our inshore fisheries. Fisheries is leading this work, but we’re delighted to see electronic monitoring increased across the fleet as it provides much-needed data and protection for our seabirds, marine mammals, fish, and corals.
8. Steps to vaccine for hoiho diphtheria
Hoiho, still Bird of the Year in some of our hearts. Multiple diseases threaten their survival, along with habitat loss, dogs, and climate change.
So the announcement in June that the bacteria responsible for avian diphtheria had been discovered and had it’s genome sequenced is a reason to rejoice. UK scientists, working with DOC staff, discovered proteins which may have the potential to develop a vaccine against the bacteria. Science!
9. Development of ‘pup pods’ with Auckland Zoo
If you haven’t watched the two-part mini documentary series Sheltering New Zealand’s Sea Lion, choose an evening during Seaweek to screen it with your whānau! It’s an uplifting story that hits all the buttons – good partnerships, brilliant innovation, and adorable baby animals.
This work done with Ngāti Hinewaka, Ngāti Kuri, and Auckland Zoo is eventually destined for Campbell Island to reduce mortality of sea lion pups.
10 Bay of Islands marine mammal sanctuary launch
December 15 marked the first day that the Te Pēwhairangi/Bay of Islands became a sanctuary for marine mammals. The new regulations should give the declining bottlenose dolphin population a change to rest, feed, and raise their young with much less disturbance from humans – and has the bonus of protecting visiting orca and fur seals as well.