Archives For Careers

From kōkako researcher to Science Advisor at DOC, come behind the scenes and learn about Rod Hay including his claim to fame on the $50 note.

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Laura Boren dances, runs, kayaks, makes jewellery, cooks Swahili, helps kids in East Africa and, at DOC, helps marine mammals by providing robust science advice. Come behind the scenes and into Laura’s world today on the blog.

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Meet freestyle skier, rower, fire fighter, and kiwi conservation crusader, Tongariro based Biodiversity Ranger, Renee Potae.

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Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Today we profile Norm Thornley, Geospatial Services Manager.

At work

Norm Thornley and Dave Hunt in Karori Park checking a stoat trap.

Norm (kneeling) with Dave Hunt, checking a stoat trap

Some things I do in my job include:

Leading a team of geospatial professionals who provide a service right across DOC.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by:

Providing the mapping and spatial analysis for everything—from marine protection to alpine avalanche prediction and wildfire modelling, to mention but a few.

The best bit about my job is:

The variety of the work, the professionalism of the team, and being able to contribute to conservation in a meaningful way.

The scariest DOC moment I’ve had so far was:

While on the fire line in Victoria—running to escape a burn over when a back burn breached a control on a track later name Kiwi Bacon Ridge.

Norm Thornley lighting a  controlled back burn in Victoria, Australia.

Lighting a back burn as part of a DOC deployment to Victoria

The DOC employee that inspires or enthuses me most is:

There are quite a few, but the ones that immediately spring to mind are Sandra Parkkali, Rene Duindam, and Martin Slimin. Their tenacity and dedication to DOC’s goals are an example to us all.

On a personal note…

Most people don’t know that:

I flew in an air force Orion out of Dunedin on a coastal surveillance mission for DOC. The object of the exercise was to capture aerial imagery of the Chatham Islands. When we got there, however, the only part that wasn’t covered in cloud was the lagoon.

My best ever holiday was:

Spending five weeks driving around Europe with Anne and our two daughters. We came away with a much better appreciation of how unique and special New Zealand is, and how privileged we are to live here.

Norm Thornley with family and friends waiting for the Motatapu mountain bike event to start.

Norm (far left), with family and friends, at the Motatapu mountain bike event

My greatest sporting moment was when:

I crossed the finish line after completing the Kepler Challenge back in 2001 with my best mate Chris.

The thing I’m most looking forward to in the next 6 months is: 

First, my daughter’s wedding, in late October. Then, in December, it’s up Arthur’s Pass to help Chris celebrate moving into his next decade.

Norm, Anne and Chris looking out of the DOC Collingwood Batch.

Looking out of the DOC Collingwood Batch

If I could be any New Zealand native species I’d be: 

A kea. I really love seeing the mischief they get up to and their seemingly carefree enjoyment of life.

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is:

Winston Churchill, speaking about the battle of Britain fighter pilots and crews: “never before have so many owed so much to so few”.

Norm, Anne and Chris at the start of the Queen Charlotte Track.

Anne, Chris and Norm, ready to start a ride on the Queen Charlotte Track

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is: 

There are two ways you can read a rule book: The negative way, where if doesn’t say ‘you can’ then you can’t; or the positive way, where if doesn’t say ‘you can’t’ then you can.

In work and life I am motivated by:

Our beautiful country and the contribution working for DOC enables me to make to improving and protecting all the things I value.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is: 

Join a local conservation group. I belong to a predator trapping group, and checking the traps takes an hour and a half a month—a small price for enhancing the bird life and halo around Zealandia.

The DOC southern team during the Charleston underworld caving experience.

The DOC southern team taking the Charleston underworld caving experience

Question of the week…

Pick a scar you got in childhood and tell the story of how you got it:

That will be the tip of my right hand ring finger, which I lost to a water pump belt pulley when I was three.

Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Today we profile Nadine Bott, Project Leader for the Cook Strait Whale Project based in Wellington.

At work

Collecting biopsy samples from humpback whales in the Cook Strait. Photo: Marlborough Express.

Collecting biopsy samples of humpback whales

Some things I do in my job include:

I’m currently overseeing the Cook Strait whale project. Before going on maternity leave in 2012 I was with DOC for almost 10 years working in the marine and freshwater teams. My role at the moment involves keeping the project afloat, organising the logistics of the whale survey, undertaking the research and then writing up the season’s work. The research involves spotting for humpback whales from a land based lookout on East Head of Tory Channel, going out in the DOC Kaikoura boat ‘Titi’ and approaching the whales to take photo identification samples of the tail flukes and biopsy skin samples for DNA analysis.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by:

It is a collaborative project with the community and business with considerable volunteer support, while achieving (hopefully!) a greater understanding of humpback whales to aid in their conservation, management and protection.

The best bit about my job is:

Working with a variety of different people within DOC and externally, working with whales and having an ‘office’ in a pretty spectacular place.

The awesome-est DOC moment I’ve had so far is:

While working in the subantarctic Auckland and Campbell Islands. Pretty hard place to beat in terms of ‘awesome-est’. I would love to go back one day.

Nadine measuring Chatham Island mudfish.

Measuring Chatham Island mudfish – an endemic poorly known freshwater fish

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is:

I would have to say the RMA planners that I worked with, Sarah Bagnall, Janice Duncan and Claire Graeme – three incredibly smart, enquiring, passionate and courageous women. Another would be Roy Grose, an inspiring leader loved by his community and who has always been supportive and instrumental in getting the whale survey up and running. I have great respect for the rangers in the field who give their heart, energy and time to conservation with little reward or expectation of reward.

On a personal note…

The song that always cheers me up is:

At the moment it is Birdy ‘Light me up’.

My greatest sporting moment was when:

While walking 100 kilometres for Oxfam I remember complaining that my burst blisters hurt more than childbirth and a lady who overheard my comment said ‘you obviously haven’t given birth’. My naive response was ‘you obviously haven’t walked 100 kilometres on burst blisters’.

Nadine with her camera taking photos of humpback whales in Cook Strait.

Photo identification of humpback whales in Cook Strait

In my spare time:

I don’t have any.

If I could be any New Zealand native species I’d be:

I have a few favourite animal species but I like to be warm and they all seem to live in cold water.

Before working at DOC:

I worked at Massey University doing autopsies on stranded and bycaught marine mammals.

Nadine and her family at WOMAD.

At WOMAD with my family: David, Dayananda (2) and Aroha (3 months)

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is:

“Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given:

That I can do it and not to listen to skeptics.

In work and life I am motivated by:

Compassion, selflessness, people in action

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is:

Stand up for what you believe in.

Nadine with Carlos Olavarria and Joe Heberley looking for humpbacks through binoculars from Arapawa Island.

With Carlos Olavarria and Joe Heberley (ex-whaler from Perano Whaling Station) looking for humpbacks

Question of the week…

What is your favourite marine mammal and why?

A tricky question because every species I have worked on has had its unique strength or endearing characteristic. I would probably have to say southern right whales because when I worked with them it was in the Auckland Islands where they were breeding and this is a pretty spectacular site plus there were calves which are incredibly cute. The whales were interactive, gentle and very visible with lots of breaching, tail slapping and rolling around on the water surface. It is easy to see how they were hunted so effectively by shore based whalers leading to their near extinction.

Nadine and others audio conferencing with LEARNZ students.

Live audio conferencing with schools as part of the LEARNZ Wandering Whales virtual field trip

Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Today we profile James Willcocks, Volunteering Manager, National Office.

At work

James standing in front of the Tarawera Falls.

Tarawera Falls

Some things I do in my job include:

Cheerleading the fantastic and funky Volunteering Team.

Listening and learning about what is going on for people working with volunteers, where the issues are and how we can best deliver what’s needed as a team. This is about really trying to stay connected.

Celebrating and sharing what our people are achieving through working with volunteers.

Bringing conservation to new audiences through national partnerships and opportunities for others to participate.

Where things are working well, actually endeavouring to stay out of the way.

Unfortunately, I also spend a fair amount of time in meetings which is the inevitable yet less inspiring part of the job.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by:

Raising awareness and creating opportunities to involve more people in conservation in new ways because each and every one of us has some role to play in achieving this massive vision.

Making it easier for people to work more effectively with volunteers and for our volunteers to work more effectively with us.

The best bit about my job is:

Being relatively new to this job I am constantly amazed at some of the incredibly innovative ways our people are working with others. From having people volunteering remotely from home in an overseas country to develop technical solutions, to having students launch their careers contributing their thinking and energy to new design projects, to groups of specialised fire fighters ‘Hotshots’ from the States coming to NZ in the off-season as self contained and highly capable work crews, the list goes on and on.

Stepping back and just considering the immensity of who’s out there willingly contributing their time, energy, enthusiasm and commitment to this thing called conservation, it is very humbling.

James with his nephews Leo and Luca— before chopping off his dreads.

My nephews Leo and Luca—little legends. Moments before the big chop in 2012

The strangest DOC moment I’ve had so far is:

Getting a call out to Ashpit Road Camp Ground on the shores of Lake Rerewhakaaitu to retrieve ‘some meat’ that had been dumped along the lake shore as it was starting to exhibit signs of decay.

Being somewhat dubious as one is when receiving calls of this nature (never quite knowing what to expect), another Ranger and I loaded up some waders and were off.

Upon getting to the campground we were confronted by the relatively grim site of what appeared to be the entire contents of a medium sized butchery floating in the azure lake shallows, this was not someone’s freezer contents.

There was everything from strings of sausages, rolled roasts and chops to leg roasts and steaks all bobbing along in various states of decomposition.

Left contemplating a certain career decision and the value of that hard earned university degree, I suited up.

In any case, after a solid day’s toil we had retrieved the necessary product and trundled back to town. None the wiser as to the who or why to this very day.

As strange as this may sound, it is the unpredictable nature of operational work that I still miss the most.

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is:

I’ve worked for and with so many incredible people in my 11 years with this fine organisation but in terms of choosing just one it would have to be the mighty Reg Phillips, my first boss. He taught me the value of bringing other people on the journey, supported my development implicitly and was the first person to take a chance on this simple lad from Rotorua, employing me in my first job as a Visitor Assets Ranger. He taught me a lot about leadership and really made everything else that has followed possible—so massive thanks and respect Reg!

James standing in front of Lake Tarawera.

My happy place – windfall runs on the lake shore tracks of stunning Lake Tarawera

On a personal note…

The song that always cheers me up is:

No Rain by Blind Melon, a double dose of positivity if accompanied by the video.

My stomping ground is:

Our nation’s cultural capital and birthplace of tourism—Rotorua. With its multitude of lakes, steaming hot pools, forests, endless recreation opportunities and geothermal heartbeat, all interlaced with a sweet sulphurous scent, how could one want for anything else. Proudly Vegas born and bred!

James and his brother in Aspen, Colorado.

Me and my brother taking a break from doing some damage to the Highland slopes in Aspen, Colorado last year

My best ever holiday was:

I took a good wedge of leave without pay from DOC and spent close to a year wandering through Central/South America including a long stretch volunteering in Mindo Cloud Forest in Ecuador.

It is a stunning place and amazing opportunities to see the complexities inherent in conservation play out in the everyday lives of a small community.

This was a challenging reality check for an idealistic Kiwi boy seeing both local environmental protection and wider development aspirations collide in such a confined and confronting setting.

In my spare time:

I spend as much time getting amongst it in the outdoors as possible usually riding, skiing, tramping or being in/on/under the water doing my best to harvest a feed.  I love to travel, it’s a lifelong affliction wandering through strange and colourful places, experiencing cultures so profoundly different to my own and of course all of the people.

Other than that I try and spend as much time with my whanau as I can, that’s where I draw both strength and identity. We’re spread throughout New Z these days so time together is super precious.

My secret indulgence is:

I do have a solid appreciation for decent tequila and an unholy alliance with German trance music.

James off for a tramp with work colleagues.

Off for a tramp with the Capability Development Team (my last team)

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is:

We lose much by fearing to attempt” I’m not sure who it’s from but it has always served me well in those moments of intrepidation.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is:

“Son, life is not a straight line” – My Ma

In work and life I am motivated by:

People that believe in something and are prepared to back that up with action. It’s easier to be critical of something and do nothing about it than stay the course. When I see people doing the hard yards it becomes a little harder for me to moan about trivial things that just don’t matter.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is:

I am a massive advocate of experiential learning so I would say if you haven’t afforded yourself the opportunity to go and do something in nature, then get out there, it’s good for you.

And if I was afforded a ‘soap box’ moment my advice would be: remember we are part of the environment, we are most definitely not separate.

James drinking from the cup after winning the Wellington Dragon Boat Festival.

Rehydrating after winning Gold in the Social Final of the Wellington Dragon Boat Festival as part of our mighty Doctopus Dragon Boat Team

Question of the week…

What did you do with your dreadlocks?

Someone once told me I’d be able to sell them to a wig maker, so I still have those ones and their predecessors. I still haven’t found this person!