Archives For ecologist

Every Friday Jobs at DOC will take you behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation.

Today we profile Little Barrier Island Ranger, Nichollette Brown.

At work…

Position: Ranger, Little Barrier Island

What kind of things do you do in your role?

As Ranger on Hauturu/Little Barrier Island my role is pretty varied. My ‘office’ and home is a 2817 hectare island and nature reserve in the Hauraki Gulf. I share the role of kaitiaki with Richard Walle and his family; his wife, Leigh Joyce, and children, Liam (7) and Mahina (9). My main role involves running the island’s weed programme. 

This is me weeding for Madeira vine on the cliffs at Raoul Island

Due to the terrain, (steep!) the ground-based grid searching can get pretty exciting and if that doesn’t get the adrenaline pumping, flying in the helicopter strop for pampas spraying will! 

I also run the annual reptile monitoring programme which, since the rodent eradication in 2006, has shown a promising recovery. When I’m not involved in these programmes I assist Richard with the island maintenance and operation, the tuatara breeding programme and provide support to researchers and translocation projects. We also host volunteers and visitors to the island. 

What is the best part about your job?

Me in my get up for heli spraying pampas grass on Little Barrier Island. I'm hanging from a 70m strop beneath a helicopter

Waking up every morning to a dawn chorus lead by kōkako, and sharing the path home in the evening with kiwi, bats and the scratch of wētā punga in the trees. 

It’s easy to become blasé about it all after a time until you get to share it with visiting researchers and volunteers who remind you what a beautiful and unique place Hauturu is. I think Marcus Lush (when he visited Little Barrier in his series North) put it perfectly: “(the ranger) clearly has the best job in the world…”
What is the hardest part about your job?

Being away from friends, family, and events on the mainland for long periods.
What led you to your role in DOC?

A lifetime exploring New Zealand’s bush, mountains and oceans; a postgraduate degree in ecology; and a love for conservation, and maintaining and improving our natural resources. Oh, and several years in the corporate world wondering why I was there!
What was your highlight from the month just gone?

So many! Generally, the excitement of never knowing what the day will bring. More specifically, the release of two captive bred tuatara, hanging 70 metres below a helicopter to spray pampas grass on the island’s cliffs, tramping from one side of the island to the other over two days, and meeting lots of interesting and dedicated people as part of the reptile monitoring programme. 

Back in September 2011 we welcomed 28 baby tuatara back to the island. They had been sent off as eggs the year before to Victoria University in Wellington for hatching

The rule of three…

Three loves

  1. The ocean
  2. A good story in which you can escape into, whether it’s a book or a movie
  3. Great home cooked food eaten in good company

    This is me in the island boat Hine Moana coming in to pick someone up off the rocks

Three pet peeves

  1. Animal cruelty
  2. Needless waste
  3. Littering

Three foods

  1. Chocolate
  2. Cheese
  3. Garlic

Three favourite places in New Zealand

  1. Hauturu (of course!)
  2. Arthur’s Pass National Park
  3. Aoraki/Mount Cook (Tasman Glacier)

    One of my recreational activities - mountaineering. This is a trip I did with friends to Mount Cook National Park, climbing out of Kelman Hut at Tasman Glacier. This might be the Hochstetter Dome summit

Favourite movie, album, book

  1. Movie: I’m a movie addict! It changes constantly. 
  2. Album: Currently anything by Trinity Roots, Age Pryor, or any Jack White collaboration.
  3. Book: The Torchlight List by Jim Flynn—an excellent summary of all the books you should have read and why.

Deep and meaningful…

What piece of advice would you tell your 18 year old self?

A quote by Goethe, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

Who or what inspires you and why?

People passionate about a cause, loving the work they do, and being keen to educate others— infectious enthusiasm!

Completed Building Project—we rebuilt the Derrick shed on Raoul Island with the island mechanic Ash Mangnall. This is the opening ceremony. Apparently it got pretty hammered in a cyclone the following year but is still there!

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A vet, or was it an astronaut? An artist, and I think there might have been a fire(wo)man period…

And now, if you weren’t working at DOC, what would you want to be?

A research scientist in Antarctica, or working in the natural history section of a museum (a nice mix of education, history, and research), or working with developing countries to educate and improve environmental practise, sustainability, and biodiversity.

What sustainability tip would you like to pass on?

Be aware of your impact on the earth—get online and calculate your ecological footprint. This measures the amount of resources you use and the waste you generate. It’s a great way to make yourself aware of where you can make changes to improve your sustainability and reduce your impact on the world. Currently the average human exceeds the Earth’s regenerative capacity by about 30%. The biggest gains can be made in reducing fossil fuel use—do you really need to drive or could you walk, cycle, or take public transport? Also, careful consideration of your energy provider e.g. supporting renewables, will make a big impact on your footprint. And finally: reduce, reuse, and recycle! 

Which green behaviour would you like to adopt this year—at home? At work?

Reduce, reuse, and recycle. The amount of packaging these days is obscene. Where possible I hope to grow my own veges, buy in bulk, and consider a product’s packaging and its ability to be recycled when purchasing. I will aim to mend and fix things rather than replace them—kind of a requirement anyway when living on an island! I’m also keen to make better use of library services rather than buying books and magazines.

If you could be any New Zealand native species for a day, what would you be and why?

It sounds like Sirocco has a pretty good life jet-setting round the country advocating for his species and for conservation!

What piece of advice or message would you want to give to New Zealanders when it comes to conservation?

Get out and enjoy our beautiful parks and wild areas. Make a multi day tramp the focus of your next holiday—staying  in DOC huts is a lot cheaper and more rewarding as a family than staying in a hotel in the city! Encourage children into tramping, climbing, and swimming—and educate them about our natural flora and fauna. Get involved in volunteer programmes—many of them take you to some amazing, remote places that most people don’t have access to.

Every Monday Jobs at DOC will take you behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation.

This week we meet freshwater ecologist, David Kelly

At work…

Fisheries survey on Six-foot Lake, Campbell Island

Name: David Kelly

Position: Scientific Officer, Freshwater Section R&D, Christchurch

What kind of things do you do in your role?

A combination of managing science projects, developing tools for more effectively managing freshwaters (such as flow management models and conservation ranking tools), and providing technical advice in varying capacities on freshwater management

I spend a reasonable amount of time working with some of the Conservancy planners and solicitors around RMA processes.

I work with some of the other sections in National Office, such as the Policy Group, on inputting ideas to national policy statements and environmental standards. 

I work quite a bit with scientists and managers from other organisations such as CRIs, universities, and regional councils on various freshwater projects. 

What is the best part about your job?

By far the best part of my job is being out there and getting wet. As with most people who work for DOC, it’s my love of the environment, and particularly rivers and lakes, that drives me. So pursuing a career as a freshwater ecologist means that I have the privilege of spending time out there submersed in my study medium.

I dive, I wade, and I flop around on the banks in my waders like a clumsy seal, and it’s all great. Like all fieldwork, there are days when you say ‘I can’t believe I am getting paid to do this’, and then there are the days when I say ‘There is no way I’m getting paid enough to do this’ – usually as sleet is falling in a howling southerly.

The freshwater team on a weekend excursion up the Rakaia River

What is the hardest part about your job?

The hardest part of my job is the amount of contract management I do. Because we are a small section, a significant amount of this work is done externally through other science providers. This involves a lot of process and paperwork, which is a little less inspiring than either running experiments, or analysing data.

What led you to your role in DOC?

It’s a bit of a long story how I ended up here: I was finishing graduate school in Canada, and co-taught a course on coastal limnology (the study of freshwaters) with a kiwi—Warrick Vincent—who was then working at Laval University in Quebec City.

Warrick is one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met. It was through Warrick that I made contact with some of his colleagues from NIWA, where I came to work (with the lakes team in Christchurch) for a number of years.

I was co-managing a project between NIWA and DOC, on a national lowland lakes examination, and eventually DOC advertised a position within their newly formed freshwater section to run this work. The thought of working for an organisation that is more directly linked to conservation management was really attractive to me, so I applied.

What was your highlight from the month just gone?

It would have to be attending the combined meeting of the Freshwater Science societies of both New Zealand and Australia in Brisbane. It was great to see what is going on across the ditch in terms of their approaches to managing freshwater under some very challenging circumstances (multi-year droughts), and to get to share some of our projects and ideas with them.

The rule of three…

Three loves

  1. My family
  2. Fishing
  3. Hunting… my wife might question whether that is really the correct order, but I’m holding strong on this one.

Three pet peeves

  1. Earthquakes—having to abandon my home in Christchurch; surprise
  2. The lack of thermal insulation in buildings—come on, what latitude is it here anyhow? 
  3. Way too much sport in the news—never with any coverage of ice hockey I might add.

Three things always in your fridge

  1. Milk, because I can’t even begin a conversation in the morning without at least one latte in me.
  2. Finely crafted homemade beer, for which I have a ‘special fridge’ with in-built taps.
  3. Wild venison salami—because making pizzas in my wood-fired brick oven is truly the highlight of all my cooking experiences; man-flame-outdoors-large tools-wild meat-pizza. Mmmmmmm.

The pizza oven on Christmas day lunch at Inangahua

Three favourite places in New Zealand

  1. My bach on the Inangahua River, where I am now lucky enough to live for a stint while the earthquake aftermath unfolds in Christchurch (working out of the Kawatiri Area Office temporarily, so thanks to the folks there for making me welcome). 
  2. Campbell Island—wow, what a place to see wildlife up close and personal, my most memorable DOC trip ever!
  3. The wild and free West Coast back-country rivers—fishing and hunting nirvanas, I’d tell you which ones, but then I’d have to kill you.

A day exploring Campbell Island

Favourite movie, album, book

  1. Movie: The Big Lebowski—’The Dude’ cracks me up every time, and laughing is one of the most important things in life.
  2. Album: It’s nearly impossible to narrow it to one, but by the sheer amount of enjoyment I’ve gotten from spinning the vinyl version of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon makes it the winner.
  3. Book: It has to be a quirky one, possibly Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins.

Deep and meaningful…

What piece of advice would you tell your 18 year old self?

Make sure you do something you enjoy, and don’t hurry into it, it’s all about the journey—not where you get to.

Who or what inspires you and why?

Really smart people who know a lot about a whole range of things. I like to see people that are not only good at their jobs but at a range of things outside work that they can pass along to others. And my six month old son Jasper, whose smiles and giggles make even the worst day all make sense.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Funnily enough a doctor, but I think this was subliminally instilled in me by my mother. Once I was older and realised how many people were on the planet, my far greater concern was to help other species.

And now, if you weren’t working at DOC, what would you want to be?

Possibly a fishing guide, I love being out on rivers and I think I could watch fish all day.

A good haul for the freezer

If you could be any New Zealand native species for a day, what would you be and why?

I reckon an octopus—they are so smart, can squeeze through the tiniest of spaces to uncover delicious crayfish, and how handy would it be to have even three arms let alone eight?

What piece of advice or message would you want to give to New Zealanders when it comes to conservation?

Learn from the experiences of other countries that have much higher population densities, and don’t let the incredible natural assets you have erode away.