This Sunday (31 July) marks World Ranger Day, so we caught up with Senior Ranger Sophie Kynman-Cole whose mahi is all about tackling marine and pest challenges. She tells us about her upbringing in nature, keeping her conservation skills fresh, and why Tiritiri Matangi is special.
Creating a naturalist
Sophie was born on a yacht and spent the first ten years of her life sailing around the world, swimming with whales, sharks, and turtles.
She attended BirdFair in the UK and saw a presentation by the conservationist Nick Baker, where he discussed key themes in the upbringings of naturalists, including relatively unsupervised play in wild spaces. .
“This really summarises my childhood, so no surprises I became a naturalist!”
She knew she wanted to work with animals and studied zoology and marine biology at university, realising that she’d have to work with people to help animals and their habitats, because people are the ones causing the harm.
Variety is the spice of life
Sophie’s career has challenged her field and people skills – sometimes all at once. She’s become more inclined towards habitat protection and has done a lot of mahi toa to rebuild healthy native forests, wetlands and streams, where plant pests are most problematic.
Being confident with a chainsaw is key to this sort of mahi – track clearing, chopping down plants and other weed control.
She’s also a competent abseiler, a skill she honed in her first role with DOC, doing weed control on the Hen and Chickens islands in Te Tai Tokerau. On one day there she completed a 50m vertical abseil to get to a cliff ledge!
Sophie has also worked in the Whitsunday Islands in Australia around the Great Barrier Reef in education and advocacy roles, sharing her knowledge with visitors about the challenges the unique ecosystems there face.
“A bit of psychology training about difficult conversations went a long way in creating effective dialogue about climate change and other human-induced problems.”
The same training helps in her supervisor role in Auckland’s inner islands: working with her team and understanding firsthand what it takes.
Sophie says it can be hard to keep all the skills fresh.
“I recently had an opportunity to do tractor training, but I opted out because the reality is that I won’t be able to put it into practice enough to become truly competent.”
Taking care of a team across Tikapa Moana
Until recently, Sophie was the supervisor of the Auckland Inner Islands team, and she says the island rangers are highly skilled and independent – essential when bringing the group together can be difficult logistically.
“The decarbonisation space has been a challenging exploration over the last year,” says Sophie.
“We have looked at piloting one island to be net carbon zero, and separately we’ve explored adjustments (i.e., reductions) to our service boat schedule, to reduce emissions from our operations.”
Sophie notes that boat ownership has sky-rocketed since the early days of COVID, and she has concerns for the impact this has on marine life. The island rangers make careful considerations about every trip they make.
All the islands are special, but especially Tiritiri Matangi
“It’s amazing to find myself as supervisor of the Tiritiri Matangi Island rangers,” she says. “It’s special for so many reasons, and an overnight trip should be on the bucket list of everyone who calls Aotearoa home.”
The forest there is really alive, with a diverse array of endangered species.
“Everything that Tiritiri Matangi is today was achieved by human effort. It’s a success story of how we can rewild places that have been destroyed. It gives hope, and lessons on how we can transform other places. We have a lot of hard-working people to thank for that.”