Archives For Science Advisor

Science Advisor Kath Walker has been studying Powelliphanta snails for nearly four decades and has recently submitted her PhD on this ancient lineage of snail – an awesome achievement to someone so dedicated to these quirky creatures, which are special to some of our most rugged and wild landscapes.

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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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By Lou Sanson, DOC Director-General

New Chief Science Advisor appointed

I’m pleased to announce that Professor Ken Hughey (Lincoln University Professor of Environmental Management) has been appointed to the newly created position of Chief Science Advisor for DOC.

Professor Ken Hughey.

Professor Ken Hughey

Ken has a strong academic background in freshwater science, introduced animals, endangered species management and public perceptions of the state of the environment. He has worked previously for DOC as a scientist. He will be an independent voice, providing high-level scientific advice to me, the Minister and our Senior Leadership Team. He will also support us to enhance DOC’s position as a key player in the science community by connecting with other scientists within and outside of DOC.

Ken’s appointment follows similar roles being established at the Ministry for Primary Industries, Ministry of Education, and the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment. These advisors will work together to improve evidence-based input into government policy and decision making.
I expect to achieve real value with the free flow of ideas between our existing science staff and Ken, as he helps challenge our thinking, continually improve our evidence-based science standards and demonstrate the enormous value of the science we do at DOC.

Ken will be based in our Christchurch office, working three days a week. His two-year secondment starts in December.

Te Urewera—a new entity

On Monday 22 September the new entity of Te Urewera came into existence, and I was privileged to represent DOC at the first meeting of the Te Urewera Board.

Tāmati Kruger was confirmed as the new Chair.

First meeting of Te Urewera Board (Whakatane Beacon)

First meeting of Te Urewera Board (Whakatane Beacon)

The management board is made up of Crown and Ngāi Tūhoe appointees. Their first meeting was focussed on describing the personality of Te Urewera in terms of its mauri (vital essence) and mana.

These discussions will continue over the next few months, so the board has a shared understanding of the land’s spirit and identity, its mystery and its remote beauty. This will then form the basis for agreeing a management plan that will bring that essence/personality to life—while ensuring the protected status of Te Urewera’s natural and cultural values, and safeguarding the integrity of indigenous ecosystems.

A river in Te Urewera. Photo copyright: Randall Watson | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

The mystery and remote beauty of Te Urewera

This is a world leading approach to protected area management. DOC and Ngāi Tūhoe will work together to place significant value on Te Urewera and restore mana to Tūhoe in its management of the land, guided by the principles of ewe whenua (place of origin and return).

Kakabeak restoration at Maungataniwha

While in the Central North Island, Reg Kemper (DOC’s Lower North Island Conservation Partnerships Director) and I visited Maungataniwha, which is the second largest private land conservation project in New Zealand.

The work is run by landowner, Simon Hall, and trustees Pete Shaw and John McLennan.

Together, they established the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust, and manage 24,000 hectares of land to the south of Te Urewera, including New Zealand’s largest kakabeak / kowhai ngutukaka restoration programme.

Reg Kemper (centre) with trustees of Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust  – Pete Shaw and Simon Hall.

Pete Shaw (Trustee), Reg Kemper (DOC) and
Simon Hall (Trust Chairman and landowner)

Amongst other things, the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust is overseeing the largest conversion of pine forest to native forest attempted in New Zealand (6,000 hectares).

They have also reared a total of 182 kiwi chicks for release back into their forests and Cape Sanctuary, through the Maungataniwha Kiwi Project—supported by volunteers from Tasti Foods and in partnership with Kiwi Encounter Rotorua.

Rachel Hunter is the Trust’s patron.

Crayfish recover at Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve

I was also pleased to have the chance to meet with staff in Masterton, Napier, Gisborne and Whakatane.

In Gisborne I visited Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve (established 1999).

Don McLean, Jamie Quirk, De-Arne Sutherland, Rebecca Lander at Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve.

Don McLean, Jamie Quirk, De-Arne Sutherland, Rebecca Lander at
Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve

Debbie Freeman from DOC’s Marine Ecosystems team completed a remarkable piece of research in the reserve a few years ago, which tagged 10,000 crayfish.

The research was continued by DOC staff in Gisborne, in partnership with local commercial fishermen.

We’ve seen a dramatic recovery in crayfish, with a recent research haul of 93 crays in one pot—with fish as big as 3 kilograms.

Crayfish, Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve

Crayfish, Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve

Jamie Quirk has developed an amazing camera system for marine reserve compliance monitoring which has had considerable success in ensuring the crays are protected.

Today over 10,000 people are visiting the reserve each year.

Inspiring the next generation

Another highlight was a visit to Whakatane Intermediate School, where they’ve recently established a state of the art conservation science education centre.

Partnerships Ranger Mike Jones, Principal Doug McLean and Graham Henton at Whakatane Intermediate enviro centre.

Mike Jones (DOC Partnerships Ranger), Doug McLean (Principal) and
Graham Henton (Environmental Science Coordinator)
at Whakatane Intermediate Enviro Centre

We met Principal, Doug McLean, and Environmental Science Coordinator, Graham Henton, who explained how each student participates in 20 ninety-minute sessions of environmental science education as part of their core education.

The students are actively involved in restoring an adjacent wetland and native forest. They’re growing native seedlings, planting tussock to restore a wetland, and are out there on the wetland in their kayaks taking water samples and learning about the ecosystems and principles of kaitiakitanga.

I was really blown away by this project. It goes to the heart of DOC’s goals to educate and engage New Zealanders of all ages in conservation, and to bring conservation into schools in a way that’s led by teachers and students.

Congratulations Caroline Carter

Congratulations to Te Anau Partnerships Ranger Caroline Carter who received the Motel Association NZ service-plus award at the recent Destination Fiordland annual tourism awards, which celebrate and acknowledge excellence from within the local tourism industry.

Caroline Carter standing in the Murchison Mountains.

Caroline Carter: An “influential conservation crusader”

Caroline was the first education co-ordinator for the Kids Restore the Kepler Project, and was described in The Southland Times as an “influential conservation crusader”.

Well done Caroline and to all those involved in this project—it’s great to see your work recognised!

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 Kris Ramm, a Science Advisor in DOC’s Marine Species and Threats team.

At work

Some things I do in my job include… working with the fishing industry and other to reduce the bycatch of protected birds, mammals, sharks and invertebrates by commercial fisheries.

Kris Ramm giving a presentation to commercial fishers.

Giving a talk to commercial fishers on seabird mitigation – though it looks more like an air guitar competition

What this tends to mean is that I spend lots of time talking to fishermen about their interactions with protected marine species and trying to get them to think about how to reduce those interactions.

We also work a lot with fisheries observers training them in protected species identification so that we get better information about what is happening at sea.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by… raising awareness and ultimately reducing bycatch of many of our protected species, including the less cute and cuddly ones like spine-tailed devil rays and basking sharks.

The best bit about my job is… getting around the country and talking to a wide range of people with a very wide range of views about marine conservation.

I get to have some very interesting debates with fishermen. A lot of the work is in explaining the value of these animals and just how fragile some of the populations are.

Because the work of the team is so varied I get to be a part of some really interesting and ever changing work.

Kris Ramm mountain biking at Makara Peak.

Struggling up the final hill at the last Makara Peak Relay

The awesome-est DOC moment I’ve had so far is… any time I’m out in the field to help remember why we do this in the first place. Maybe tracking little blue penguins on Adele Island in the Abel Tasman National Park. Spending the entire night waiting and listening out for those little critters then trying to be as gentle as you can while they’re doing their very best to slice your hands up.

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is… I have to pick two for this, Gen Spargo and Nick Fisentzidis out on Kapiti Island, wrangling tourists and keeping the island’s flora and fauna safe and happy. I’ve never met two people more passionate about conservation.

On a personal note

The song that always cheers me up is… Graceland – Paul Simon. I’ve got a pretty varied music taste but somehow keep coming back to that (the whole album actually).

My stomping ground is… the south coast of Wellington. Amazing diving (if not a tropical temperature) and awesome mountain bike tracks in the hills above.

My greatest sporting moment was… wakeboarding on a plank of wood while being towed by a speed boat in Antarctica. We were down there on a fishing boat for three months so had to occupy ourselves somehow.

Kris Ramm wakeboarding in the Ross Sea.

Attempts at wakeboarding in -20C water in the Ross Sea

In my spare time I… mountain bike… constantly… some would say obsessively, anywhere I can get and anytime I can get out. Riding the Heaphy Track earlier this year was a revelation about how much fun multi-day rides can be.

Kris Ramm's bike ready to take on the Heaphy Track.

Loaded down and ready to head off on the Heaphy Track

Before working at DOC I… worked as a fisheries observer on a whole range of different boats. My fist trip was two months on a Russian trawler, where only one of the 80 crew spoke any English, which made for a pretty steep learning curve—as did a diet mainly consisting of cottage cheese and sour cream.

Kris's dog Sky.

My trusty hound and riding/diving buddy

Deep and meaningful

My favourite quote is… Lead me not into temptation… I can find my own way.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is… New Zealand is a nice place, you should go visit (that was 14 years ago).

In work and life I am motivated by… being outdoors. Doesn’t matter what I’m doing, just being outside and getting to enjoy this amazing country.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is… get out into the water and experience what we have, if more people do that, more people care and the conservation just grows from that.

Question of the week…

What three appliances in your home would you not want to live without?
Easy! Coffee machine, coffee grinder, sliding compound mitre saw (just because it’s awesome).