Archives For Far North

By Denice Gillespie, Partnerships Ranger, Kaitaia

This year during Seaweek (1-9 March) a crew from Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium in Auckland released two green turtles back to the sea in the Far North with the support of Te Rarawa Iwi.

These two turtles, named ‘Luke’ and ‘Isla’, were found washed up near Ahipara last year, and were nursed back to health by the Kelly Tarlton’s team.

Locals returning a green turtle to the sea at Ahipara.

A crowd gathered at Ahipara for the release of Luke and Isla

A large crowd gathered on the beach at Ahipara to witness the returning of the turtles back to their natural environment.

Not long after the release Cyclone Lusi hit and we were all hoping that the turtles hadn’t been affected by it. I was getting a little worried.

Green turtle swimming at Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve.

Green turtle

Dan Godoy also known as the ‘Turtle Man’ from Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium recently gave me an update on the two turtles. It is good news!

Dan reports that one turtle has just left Parengarenga and is now exploring the waters around Houhora. The other turtle was recorded around Manukau Harbour but has since left and was heading a little further south.

A map tracking one turtle near Houhora in the Far North.

One turtle tracked in the waters around Houhora

So it’s good to see our turtle friends are still cruising the big blue, sharing the turtle love! It’ll be interesting to see what they get up to over winter.

By Denice Gillespie, Partnerships Ranger, Kaitaia

Last year we had some interesting visitors on the shores of the Far North beaches. Five turtles were found washed up: two olive ridley turtles and three green turtles.

We usually have reports of turtles in the Far North, but they are getting more frequent.

Rob Bennie of Kiwi Carpentry with a large olive ridley turtle.

Rob Bennie of Kiwi Carpentry fashioned a shipping crate for a sick olive ridley turtle

“Which makes us think why?”

The majority of the turtles that are reported to DOC are in poor condition. Their shells are covered with algae and goose barnacles, which indicate that they have been floating on the surface for some time and would have been unable to dive for food.

Turtles are prone to ingesting plastic, because they forage in areas where you get accumulations of marine debris. Floating plastic bags look a lot like jellyfish or seaweed. Eating this rubbish causes blockages in their digestive tract, which contributes to starvation and buoyancy.

Turtle and two tamariki/children on the beach.

Children investigate a turtle found on a Far North beach

Turtle eating a plastic bag.

Turtles are prone to ingesting plastic

“What can we do?”

The simple answer to this is to be “tidy kiwis” and to make sure that you reduce, reuse and recycle where possible.

Take part in local beach clean ups and make sure you follow proper boat waste disposal practices.

Join a conservation group today and help make a difference for our turtle friends, there are plenty of conservation groups to get involved with.

A sick turtle found on a Far North beach.

A sick turtle found by DOC staff

So, when your next exploring the beach keep an eye out for our turtle friends and be sure to report sick or injured wildlife, or whale or dolphin standings’ on the DOC Hotline, 0800 362 468.

Ask students in Dunedin how you snorkel a dune lake in the Far North without leaving home and they will tell you, ‘LEARNZ of course!’

Students checking out a fish under the microscope.

Checking out a fish

What started as a way to link New Zealand school children with field work in Antarctica back in 1996, has now evolved into a chance for schools to take part in virtual field trips across the country via live audio link ups and an interactive website with video, a web board and ‘ask an expert’ posts.

In its fourth year, the Far North field trip focuses on wetlands, with a strong Tikanga Māori and Te Reo component.

This year the focus of the Far North field trip was World Wetlands Day, held at Lake Ngatu. Schools from as far away as Dunedin joined in via LEARNZ, while around 160 students from nine Far North schools, and homeschoolers, actively participating in activities including a guided walk; investigating what species live in the lake; and traditional uses for natural resources found around the lake.

A sample collected from the wetland.

From the wetland

Ahipara School student, Ruapounamu, gave the most common response from students when asked for their highlight of the day; “My favourite was snorkelling because it was cool to see all the fish and the species that live in the lake.”

Coordinator, Camellia Nielsen, whose team ran the snorkelling, says her goal was to help the children to appreciate their role as kaitiaki (guardians) of the wetland.

Experiencing Marine Reserves Coordinator, Camellia Nielsen being interviewed.

Coordinator, Camellia Nielsen, being interviewed

“It’s a hands-on demonstration of the value of wetlands as flood protection,” says Camellia.

When quizzed about what they had discovered, Paparore School students talked about wetlands as also being places for holding water and providing habitat for native animals.

This year is the first time that the classroom materials have also been available in Te Reo.

DOC Kaitaia’s Community Relations Ranger and key organiser, Denice Gilliespie, believes that the event showed the lake in a whole different light for the students.

“They see how important it is to look after it so it sustains us all now and forever, recreationally and culturally,” says Denice.

Showing the children how to make things from natural materials that grow around the lake.

Whaea Betsy and Whaea Jane show the children how to make things from natural materials that grow around the lake

Lake Ngatu sits within the rohe of Ngai Takoto. Part of Ngai Takoto’s whakatauki (proverb) talks about the pioke (dog shark) being small in stature but still able to swim against the strong currents around it. For Te Runanga O Ngai Takoto’s Environmental Manager, Kaio Hooper, this is an important reminder in his role and commitment to ensuring that the lake is protected and cared for, despite increasing environmental pressures on the lake’s wellbeing.

Although still ranked as outstanding, environmental monitoring indicates a decline in Lake Ngatu’s water quality, and an increase in pest species. Kaio says this is a case for concern for Ngai Takoto, as the kaitiaki of the lake.

“For our people it’s not so much about scientific reports. They rely more on what they see, and they are noticing that the water is not as clear as it once was,” says Kaio.

Whaea Betsy with the poi and waka she made.

Whaea Betsy with the poi and waka she made

Kaio says Ngai Takoto is looking at ways they can address their concerns. To start the conversation, Kaio set up an information stall where people were asked to complete a simple survey focussed on understanding people’s aspirations and concerns for the lake’s health.

“We’ve been watching the lake change over the past couple of years and it’s not good. We want to work alongside interested parties on a management plan, and the survey is a good starting point” says Kaio.

World Wetlands Day at Lake Ngatu was a two day event hosted by Ngai Takoto and DOC, with support from Bushland’s Trust, Northland Regional Council, Mountain’s to Sea Conservation Trust and Clean Stream Northland.


World Wetlands Day

World Wetlands Day is an annual event held every year on February 2 to promote the value and vulnerability of wetlands across the globe promoted by RAMSAR, an international agreement to protect wetlands.

It started with a broken dotterel egg on a traffic ridden Far North beach.

New Zealand dotterel at Ahipara.

New Zealand dotterel at Ahipara

A heartbroken Ahipara local phoned the Kaitaia Area office to report that children had smashed some New Zealand dotterel eggs on Ahipara Beach. Doug Klever and his wife Jackie were devastated. They had been watching the dotterels struggle to breed on the beach for three years. Each year, the eggs were either washed away by high tides, or broken by children or vehicles.

One of the little dotterel chicks.

One of the little dotterel chicks

Ahipara Beach is an area with a history of ongoing complaints about careless driving and irresponsible behaviour. DOC and Northland Regional Council (NRC) have been working together over the past five years to run beach safety and driving awareness campaigns, with some success. However, locals had been reluctant to get involved.

Doug wanted to raise awareness about the dotterels’ plight. Community Relations Programme Manager, Carolyn Smith, sent out a media release, which was picked up by the local papers.

Carolyn recalls the second phone call she received from Doug – this time it was good news. The dotterels had laid three more eggs.

Kaitaia Visitor Assets Ranger Kerry helps man the NRC stall.

Kaitaia Visitor Assets Ranger Kerry helps man the NRC stall

Another media release was written and a local plumbing firm donated some pipes for the dotterels to hide in. The dotterels managed to keep the eggs safe this time, and three little chicks soon emerged.

When word got out that the eggs had hatched, dotterel fever hit the Far North. The local newspaper editor devoted front page space to stories and photos, and DOC launched a ‘Name the NZ Dotterel chick’ competition on the DOC Far North Facebook page.

The community had fallen in love with the cute little chicks. When the police were called by a resident, who spotted a boy chasing the chicks with a net, a police officer immediately rushed to the beach to make sure no harm was being done to the little chicks. Locals joked that you can wait hours for the police to respond to a call, but look out if a dotterel chick is in danger!

Carolyn then introduced Doug to Laura Shaft, Northland Regional Council’s (NRC’s) Coast Care Coordinator, to see how she could help.

Coast care kids filling up their water bottles  - saving dotterels is thirsty work.

Coast care kids filling up their water bottles – saving dotterels is thirsty work!

Laura and Carolyn helped Doug set up a community meeting, and from that a fledgling Coast Care group was formed. Funding was obtained from NRC, and a planting and fencing programme begun to restore the degraded dunes around the dotterels’ nesting site.

Kaitaia Community Relations Ranger, Denice Gillespie, accompanied Doug to Ahipara School to talk about the project. It was a timely visit as the school had already been using resources from DOC and NRC to teach pupils about dotterels. The children were excited about getting involved and set about designing signs to educate people about the precious dotterels, and how to help them survive.

Haami Piripi with his family.

Haami Piripi with his family

Doug was also keen to work with the local hapu, and so Denice talked to Te Runanga O Te Rarawa CEO and Ahipara elder, Haami Piripi.

“Haami met with Doug and was immediately sold on the project. Te Rarawa decided that a Punanga (sanctuary) would be placed over the area that the dotterels were breeding in, restricting vehicles and skurfing.”

And so, on a stunning spring morning in November last year, DOC, NRC, Ahipara School, local residents and iwi gathered at Ahipara beach, alongside Doug and Jackie, to erect signs and carry out karakia over the Punanga.

Since then, apart from a few minor problems with people ignorant of the new rules, the dotterels’ future in their new sanctuary is looking bright!

Doug says nowadays any locals that cause trouble on the beach get a visit from Haami.

“Haami explains to them what the Punanga is about. Once people understand, they are supportive.”

Te Rarawa, along with two other Te Hiku (Far North) iwi, has recently signed their final deed of settlement of Treaty of Waitangi claims. Part of the settlement includes the establishment of a Te Oneroa a Tohe (Ninety Mile Beach) forum to manage the beach, consisting of Iwi, District Council and DOC. Haami says once this happens (possibly 2013), iwi will be in a position to enforce the rules that the community and iwi want over the beach.

“We need to take responsibility as Tangata Whenua of this place and take up the leadership role on these sorts of issues.  I will be advocating for no vehicles at all on the stretch of beach where the Punanga is because it’s not necessary to drive here,” Haami says.

Carolyn shared the story with Radio New Zealand reporter, Lois Williams. So Lois interviewed Doug, Haami, and some of the Ahipara school children. The story aired just after Christmas, and is an inspiring and heart-warming tale of how a community is coming together to make positive change.

Doug, Haami and the Ahipara with some of their signs.

Doug, Haami and the Ahipara with some of their signs

For Carolyn, the story highlights how change can come from within a community, without the need for agencies to take over. “I’ve always been clear that our role is to support.

As for Doug—our dotterel lover is now known locally as ‘Dotterel Doug.’ His story is best summed up in a statement he gave to Lois;

“There are now footprints in the sand where there used to be tyre tracks.  I would never have believed this was possible!”

And a final update on the three dotterel chicks—all three fledged successfully!