Brian Sheppard works for DOC at National Office in Wellington. He writes about his recent surprise at finding a giant kokopu living in the stream near his house in urban Wellington:
When I lived in the UK, I enjoyed the occasional bowl of whitebait but I couldn’t believe my eyes when I moved to New Zealand and found that our whitebait are the size of small matches rather than large pencils. I have eaten them, and even enjoyed them in a guilty way. Why guilty? I am used to eating eggs, whether from chicken or fish, but am more comfortable with the prospect of allowing the offspring to grow a bit before I devour them.
Our whitebait are the size of small matches.
Working in DOC, I follow the arguments about managing streams and their margins and, amongst other things, the impacts of riparian management on the breeding cycle of our native galaxiids, which, when harvested as babies, are our whitebait.
My interest took a new turn when I learned that a giant kokopu had set up home in our local stream in Wellington. I grabbed my camera and went on big game safari. When I saw this beautiful beast, which seems to be about 20 cm long, it was me rather than the fish that was hooked.
The beautiful beast
On a second visit, in brighter lighting conditions and from a better position, I was able to see it in its full splendour. It is coloured like the night sly, framed with reddish fins. After some frantic reading, I understand that the name galaxiid refers to its patterning that it reminiscent of a galaxy. I also read that it feeds on small koura and any insects that happen to fall into the stream. When I saw the size of its mouth and its fierce array of teeth, I realise that it must be a monster for unsuspecting invertebrates.
I have no pretence about being a ‘fishologist’ but its swelling belly made me wonder if it is a mum-to-be. Having shown the photos to others who are more familiar with these things, it seems to be likely, so the safaris will continue.
A swelling belly, possibly more kokopu to come
I have lived in my house since the mid 1980s and been aware over the years of the great efforts that have been made in cleaning up the stream, reducing pollution, looking after its surrounding vegetation and protecting its banks from erosion. In this urban landscape, all of that hard work is paying off. ‘My’ giant kokopu has made its home under a gabion basket that reinforces the bank against erosion during the periods of intense flow that follow heavy rain. With so much asphalt and so many storm water drains that feed the stream, the water flow can quickly change from a trickle to a raging torrent, the back to a trickle as the water flows into the harbour. All of this, in some mysterious way, is an essential part of the life cycle of these beautiful fish, and it all happens in urban Wellington.
Lots of work has gone in to cleaning up the stream
Is this really a mum-to-be? Is there a dad-to-be on hand to fertilise the eggs? Where will this happen, and will there be a happy ending? What’s more, will I ever find out? I think that a few more safaris are needed.
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 Dean Nelson, Programme Manager – Biodiversity Assets.
Name: Dean Nelson.
Position: Programme Manager Biodiversity Assets, Twizel Te Manahuna Area Office.
Lunch on the summit of Dasler Pinnacles, Hopkins Valley—Mt Ward in the background
What kind of things do you do in your role?
I primarily manage the staff and the resources involved in undertaking the Biodiversity Assets programmes in the Twizel and Aoraki Areas. The key one is the kaki/black stilt recovery project and the associated Tasman predator control programme, but there are numerous others involving plants, fish, lizards and invertebrates. Examples include the delightfully named ‘fish guts’ plant (yes it smells), a fish only found in the Mackenzie Basin called bignose galaxiid (it has a bulbous ‘nose’) and the recently rediscovered knobbled weevil which hadn’t been seen since the 1920s.
Occasionally I still manage to get out in the field when the team needs someone to help out with bird surveys or something similar. I also enjoy doing a bit of fish work where we are having some excellent results with using weirs as trout barriers to protect the bignose and lowland longjaw galaxiids.
What is the best part about your job?
Working with some incredibly dedicated people who never stop trying despite everything that gets thrown at them. Also the chance to work with some really cool species and visit some stunning places.
What is the hardest part about your job?
Dealing with some of the decisions being made by people further up the line who seem to have a relatively limited grasp of the reality of operating at an area level.
What led you to your role in DOC?
I did the old Parks and Recreation Diploma at Lincoln College (now University) and got a job as a Park Assistant at Makarora where I had spent some of my practical year. Not long after I was offered a ranger job at Mount Cook National Park – this was back in the Department of Lands and Survey days. After about seven years of doing all sorts of stuff, I shifted to Dunedin in the middle of the 1989/90 yellow-eyed penguin population crash and got thrown into hand rearing orphaned chicks which led to the species management work I had always been keen to do.
Checking for a transponder in a yellow-eyed penguin on Whenua Hou Codfish Island
What was your highlight from the month just gone?
A trip to Whenua Hou/Codfish Island to resurvey the yellow-eyed penguin population which is declining for some reason. This is my fifth trip to the island for penguin work and it is a very special little haven for biodiversity. I’ve been fortunate to have a few kākāpō encounters, including having Sirocco do his thing on my head—a painful experience. Have also met and worked with some special people down there.
I wrote a diary (probably should call it a blog or something these days) of this trip which was organised by the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust.
The rule of 3…
Getting into the outdoors, walking, tramping, hunting, mountain biking, fishing …whatever it is as long as it’s away from built up areas.
Holidays which generally involve the above two. I think it is really important to give the kids adventures and experiences that they will remember and treasure.
Family adventures. Arriving at Saxon Hut on the Heaphy Track
3 pet peeves
Idiots who think that it is entirely appropriate to take their 4WD wherever they can, regardless of the damage it causes or the impacts it has on wildlife.
So much of our beautiful Mackenzie Basin disappearing under pivot irrigators.
The habit/fashion (whatever you want to call it) that people have of wearing their pants at half mast, exposing undies, boxers and/or bits of their anatomy that shouldn’t be seen.
Tasman Bay scallops fresh out of the water and quickly fried in a wee bit of butter – melt in your mouth, but unfortunately a bit of a distant memory now!
Crunchy peanut butter and honey, spread thickly together on warm toast.
Good quality boutique brewery beers – we have got some stunners down south but sadly, Emersons has sold out to Lion. Hopefully it won’t affect the quality and variety of the beer!
3 favourite places in New Zealand
Totaranui – I holidayed there as a kid for many years and we are now going back as a family.
Nelson Lakes – my tramping playground as a teenager. Beautiful valleys, easy tops and the best shingle screes to run down anywhere in the country.
Any backcountry hut at the end of a hard day’s tramping with the trusty pit laid out on a bunk and a brew on.
Family fun in the lagoon while on holiday at Totaranui
Favourite movie, album, book
Movie: showing my age here—Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. A classic.
Album: Pink Floyd—Wish You Were Here
Book: there are heaps of books which could fit the bill however, for someone who has done a wee bit of climbing, an excellent read is ‘Savage Arena’ by Joe Tasker. He delivered the manuscript of this book on the eve of his departure for the British Everest Expedition 1982 where he lost his life. A dramatic tale from a guy who lived life on the edge. “Every step was dogged by a presentiment of catastrophe, as if, out of the mists above, a white wave of death would engulf us.”
Deep and meaningful…
What piece of advice would you tell your 18 year old self?
Get out and do it—you are a long time old and decrepit or even worse—dead.
Who or what inspires you and why?
Our rangers. They are our unsung heros at the bottom of the heap, paid peanuts but they do some stunning work.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a kid, the usual list of suspects, but then in the third form at college, a mate and I wanted to be marine biologists. He is—working for NIWA—and I guess I ended up on terrestrial stuff.
And now, if you weren’t working at DOC, what would you want to be?
I’ve always had a hankering to be a helicopter pilot or failing that, a photographer for National Geographic.
Talking to Otago University Wildlife Management Diploma Students about threatened fish and the trout barrier we are using to protect them
What sustainability tip would you like to pass on?
Turn down the thermostat on the hot water cylinder by a couple of degrees—they are often set too high. I’ve done it a couple of times and my wife who loves her hot showers hasn’t squealed yet.
Which green behaviour would you like to adopt this year—at home? At work?
Get the compost working better and grow more veggies.
If you could be any New Zealand native species for a day, what would you be and why?
There are a whole lot of them that I really admire—the diminutive wee rock wren, the fearless falcon (I saw one trying to attack an Iroquois helicopter that came too close to its nest) the melodious kaka – the list is endless. However, imagine going back in time and being Harpagornis/Haast’s eagle. Now that would be something.