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World Oceans Day is on the 8th of June. Since 1992, the United Nations has taken this day to celebrate all the ways that the ocean supports our lives and livelihoods, and to highlight the significant challenges we face in ocean conservation.

To mark this event, and key international climate change talks later this year, our marine team is bringing you a series of blogs to celebrate the vast big blue that surrounds us, while learning more about its role in climate change mitigation and adaptation. 

By Irene Llabres Pohl, Technical Advisor Mountains to Sea; and Helen Kettles, Technical Advisor Marine Ecosystems

Okarito Lagoon. Ship Creek with mountains in background, South Westland.
📸: Andris Apse

With fundamental changes being observed throughout New Zealand’s and the world’s oceans (see previous blogs), it is pressing for us to better understand and devise strategies to safeguard the health of the ocean on which human well being depends.

Climate change impacts are often tricky to disentangle from the many other pressures we put on the environment, let alone manage. But we must try! We’re working to future-proof all the work DOC does in the marine space, in line with our Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan. The ocean does provide us with some phenomenal opportunities to put us in a better position to face climate change. Here a few sure-win action:

Nature-based solutions

Unsurprisingly, nature knows best and will have the best chances to adapt if we leave it be. So called nature-based solutions involve working with nature through protection and restoration to maintain or re-establish natural resilience to cope with change. Because nature-based solutions are about working with nature to manage climate change impacts, they simultaneously provide other benefits such as biodiversity protection. In light of the ongoing biodiversity loss crisis, nature-based solutions are our best allies.

What are some of these solutions?

Marine protected areas

Marine protected areas (MPAs) can work to restore and  protect the natural functioning of marine ecosystems and with it the many ways us humans benefit from it (food, medicine, and wellbeing) by limiting extractive uses. While they cannot stop external pressures such as pollution, we manage those through other tools, they provide species, habitats and ecosystems with a safe haven from direct impacts. The thinking is that by protecting marine ecosystems they will be healthier and more resilient to climate change impacts.

Marine reserves provide the highest level of protection in New Zealand but other tools at our disposal include fisheries closures and customary management approaches. Learn more about the marine reserves DOC manages.

Jewel anemone in Poor Knights marine reserve
📸: Vincent Zintzen

Restoration and protection of coastal ecosystems

Coastal ecosystems including estuaries are at major threat from climate change due to sea-level rise, marine heat waves, and extreme weather events. They are also amongst some of our most degraded ecosystems, which limits their capacity to act as floodwater protection, water filters and fish nurseries. In light of climate change, protecting and restoring coastal ecosystems such as seagrass meadows, saltmarsh (a shout out to all the community groups actively doing this), and shellfish beds (another shout out to the great people at Revive our Gulf), is key towards building coastal resilience.

DOC working with communities to restore Cobden Aromahana Sanctuary, Greymouth
📸: Henk Steng, DOC

Blue carbon

Blue carbon is the carbon stored naturally by coastal and marine ecosystems. Simply put, carbon taken out of the atmosphere means less green-house effect. Coastal ecosystems such as seagrass, mangroves and saltmarshes are, though relatively small in extent, true blue carbon superstars, representing about 50% of the marine carbon sink. Mangroves for example can store up to 10 times as much carbon as the same area of land-based forests. This is because they don’t stop storing carbon when they reach their full height like trees do. Most of the carbon is sucked down by these plants and locked up in the sediment and that can process can go on forever.

When these ecosystems are degraded not only do they stop taking carbon out of the atmosphere, they will also release carbon back into the atmosphere when they decompose. Protecting and restoring these natural carbon sinks are recognised as an important component of climate change mitigation.

Kelp forsts, such as this in Ulva Island-Te Wharawhara marine reserve, take CO2 out the atmosphere to grow.
📸: Vincent Zintzen

Cushioning the effects of ocean acidification

CO2 released from fossil fuels is being absorbed into the oceans and causes ocean acidification which impacts a variety of animals with shells (see Blog No. 2).

But nature even has some solutions for this!

As marine plants grow they are sucking the CO2 out the water (just like trees do from the air). It’s a lesson in chemistry  – in doing this they are reducing the acidity of the water around them. So, at marine reserves like the ones at Leigh, where protection has allowed kelp forests to recover they are banking blue carbon AND reducing the acidification impacts on nearby species. Kelp and seagrass associated with mussel farms will also provide some protection to this export industry. Isn’t nature amazing…the gift that keeps giving.

Seagrass at Pauatahanui inlet
📸: Wriggle Coastal Management

Practical adaptation action

Marine species are already vulnerable to a range of threats and climate change poses an additional risk. For example, over the last couple of years DOC has recorded highest ever pup mortality of New Zealand sea lion/rāpoka/whakahao on Campbell Island, the breeding site which accounts for 30% of pups born into the population. More research into this is needed but currently we think that the changing climate might exacerbate the already harsh environment, favouring conditions such as heavy rainfall and subfreezing temperatures at a time when pups are at their most vulnerable. To help sea lion pups adapt DOC is currently trialling different designs for pup shelters at various fur seal colonies around the mainland. This is a joint project with Auckland Zoo and landowners. 

Seal pups going for a mud bath on Campbell Island
📸: Dahlia Foo

Environmental health disclaimer

The above information might raise the illusion that we can get ourselves out of severely cutting down greenhouse gas emissions because marine ecosystems (like forests on land) suck CO2 out of the atmosphere and we have some idea about how to help nature adapt to climate change. As an unprecedented global challenge, there’s still much to learn (not that climate change is happening, we’re way past that) but one thing we are clear is that the severity of the challenge ahead is set by actions we take now. Cutting down emissions from fossil fuels and agriculture (because methane is 80 times more effective in trapping heat as CO2) still needs to be a primary focus. But we need all the help we can get so it’s get onboard with nature too as it’s so worth it!

Find out about the government’s Carbon Neutral Government Programme.


For more information about climate change and conservation, visit our website: http://www.doc.govt.nz/our-work/climate-change-and-conservation

2019 has been another big year for us here at the Department of Conservation. We take a look back and countdown some of biggest stories throughout the year.

10. Takahe – bumper breeding season

It was a big year for takahē with a bumper breeding season seeing the population surpassing the 400 mark for the first time in over a century.

Critically the number of breeding pairs has doubled in the last six years which means a brighter future for the bird once considered extinct.

Takahe and chick. Photo: Sian Moffitt
Feeding time for this takahē chick. 📷: Sian Moffitt

9. Hoiho – bird of the year crown

2019 was the year that a seabird finally took out the title of Bird of the Year. Run annually by Forest & Bird, this year’s competition was as fierce as ever with campaigns taking to social media to share hilarious and witty memes to encourage voters.

The hoiho/yellow-eyed penguin crew ran a marvellous campaign to bring awareness to this nationally endangered seabird, amassing a huge support base online, and just pipping the popular kākāpō at the finish line.

Hoiho received a much needed helping hand in November with over $500,000 from the DOC Community Fund going to protect the future of this taonga species.

Yellow-eyed penguin (hoiho). Photo by Sam O'Leary.
Hoiho/yellow-eyed penguin. 📷: Sam O’Leary


8. Rare rowi kiwi strays far from home

A rare rowi kiwi who had strayed far from her lowland forest home to a cliff face at 1250 metre in the snowy mountains of South Westland was rescued after a mission by the Search and Rescue Alpine Cliff Rescue Team.

The rowi, named “Aroha” was one of 27 juvenile rowi released last December into the area around Lake Gault, which is situated amid lowland forest near the township of Fox Glacier.

Aroha the rowi kiwi. 📷: DOC


7. Humpridge Track to become a Great Walk

In July it was announced that Southland’s 61 km Hump Ridge Track will become New Zealand’s next Great Walk. The Track will provide walkers with access to a spectacular southern coastline and forests, dramatic alpine tops and historic viaducts.

In December New Zealand’s ninth Great Walk, the Paparoa Track, was opened at a ceremony in Blackball on the West Coast.

Hump Ridge Loop Track.
Hump Ridge Track. 📷: Hump Ridge Track Ltd


6. Stoat and Karearea stare off at Aoraki

In March our staff captured some amazing footage of a stoat and kārearea/falcon having a stand-off near our Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park office. 

Stoats will take on just about anything, even a fully grown falcon! They are quick and nimble and while the falcon may have been able to fight it off, its chicks might not have been so lucky.

5. New Biodiversity Strategy

This year we launched our consultation on New Zealand’s latest biodiversity strategy. Check out the inspiring video created to encourage submissions on this important strategy.


4. Royal cam star Karere fledges

In September our Royal Cam star Karere fledged from her nest at Taiaroa Head bear Dunedin. She will spend the next 4-10 years at sea before returning to Taiaroa Head to breed.

We’re already preparing for our next Royal Cam Star with a new camera and a partnership with Cornell University. Find out more about our Royal Cam: http://www.doc.govt.nz/royalcam

Karere. 📷: DOC


3. New genetically distinct population of Haast tokoeka kiwi

In July we celebrated the discovery of a new, genetically distinct subpopulation of the critically endangered Haast tokoeka by DOC staff on the West Coast near Haast.

Haast tokoeka is New Zealand’s most endangered kiwi. Finding an isolated population that we didn’t even know about is something to celebrate as it takes numbers up to an estimated 475 adult birds in the wild.

Haast tokoeka kiwi. Photo: © Sabine Bernert.
Haast tokoeka kiwi. 📷: DOC

2. Bumper kakapo breeding season

No list would be complete without celebrating the success of a massive kākāpō breeding season that saw a 44% increase in their population.

With so many new chicks, it was all hands on deck with specialist help from zoos and vets all around the world. The season was complicated by an outbreak of aspergillosis, a respiratory disease which killed two adult birds and seven chicks.

Our Kākāpō Recovery Team worked with Auckland Zoo, Massey Wildbase, Dunedin Wildlife Hospital and Wellington Zoo to treat the affected birds and to understand more about the underlying causes of this disease.

The first kākāpō to hatch in 2016.
Kākāpō chick. 📷: DOC

1. Conservation Dog Flint’s rescue

Our top story for 2019 was an extraordinary rescue from the ends of the earth. 

Conservation Dog Flint had to be rescued from Campbell Island in the New Zealand subantarctics after being charged at by a sea lion and running away. An extensive ground search couldn’t find Flint and with bad weather closing in and a mechanical issue on the boat needing to be fixed the difficult decision was made to leave.

Luckily the focus shifted to a rescue operation by helicopter and Flint was found safe and well waiting for our return at Beeman base when we arrived. It was an epic rescue and our top story for 2019!

Flint the Conservation Dog

We’re looking forwards to an even bigger and brighter year for conservation and recreation in 2020!

It’s been a few weeks now, since we got news of a rare rowi kiwi, Aroha who had wandered far from her lowland forest home, to a cliff face in the snowy mountains of South Westland. We recently caught up with ranger Iain Graham who led the search and rescue mission, for a bit more of a background to Aroha’s story and an update to hear how she is currently doing.

Aroha’s rescue story.

Iain: Aroha wears a smart transmitter that records the amount of time she spends moving or foraging for food each night. If this transmitter stops moving for over 12 hours, it switches into mortality mode and lets us know she has either dropped her transmitter or died.

In general, a normal healthy kiwi will feed for as long as it is dark each night and a when a kiwi is incubating an egg, it will feed for half that time. When this happens, we are able to determine when a monitored kiwi lays and incubates an egg and the transmitter switches into incubation mode.

The transmitter doesn’t have a gps unit built in, as this technology is far to power hungry to run on a suitably sized battery. The technology used to find the birds is similar to the old analogue locator beacons. A rough position is found each month by a small plane, that collects the signals and data as it flies over the area. The exact position is found by the ranger on the ground with an antenna and receiver.

In May Aroha went wandering from her usual area beside Lake Gault and her rough position was followed by the monthly monitoring flights. She moved out towards Gillespies beach road for a month. The following month her signal was 8km to the east beside lake Mueller and then she was gone! At the beginning of August Aroha’s signal was found after some freestyle searching from the plane. When followed up on the ground it was narrowed down to an area on the slopes of Mt Mitchell and her transmitter was in incubation mode. As she was far too young to be breeding, this suggested she wasn’t moving much. Three weeks later another attempt was made from below, from the sides and from above to get to her. However, vertical rock faces meant it wasn’t going to happen without ropes. Given her lack of movement over the past weeks The LandSAR Alpine Cliff Rescue team were asked if they would like to use it as a training opportunity.

When performing health checks we weigh each bird and compare that weight to its previous three weights. We give it a body-condition score, between one and five, based around the prominence of its ribs and spine. 1 being skin and bone and 5 being very healthy. We also take into account the birds behaviour while handling, ie is it active and feisty or lethargic and drowsy etc.

If during a health check a bird has lost >25% of their body weight, since the last health check, then we intervene by sending them to either Massey Universities Wildbase Animal Hospital or  The Wildlife Hospital in Dunedin. Here they are fed on a captive kiwi diet, diagnosed to see if there is an underlying injury or disease that has caused the significant weight loss and subsequently treated if anything is found.

Air New Zealand flies all our taonga species around New Zealand free of charge. This allows us to undertake trans-locations and get these species to veterinary treatment in the shortest time, and with the least stress possible.

When Aroha was found on the ledge she weighed in at 1400g, her weights prior was 1680g, when she was released and weighed 1830g at her three month health check. Her weight loss was 24% so very close to the 25% trigger. Her body condition score was 2 so she didn’t have much reserve left. However, she was still pretty feisty. Pulling a bird for treatment is not a decision that is made lightly as it can obviously be a very stressful experience for a wild bird.

The decision was made to release her back to lake Gault and check on her again in a couple of weeks to see if her weight had increased. Of course Aroha didn’t stay put, and again she disappeared for the next flight. Some more freestyle flying found her again, up to the west of Lake Matheson and we raced in the following day to check on her before she could move to far again.

Lake Gault.
📷: DOC

Aroha has quickly replaced the 400 grams she lost during her mountain adventure. Her quick weight gain suggests she was in fact unable to move from her ledge where she wasn’t getting enough food to sustain her.

She is currently residing up behind lake Matheson approx 5km away from where she was released post rescue. We are looking forward to the next challenge she poses!!