The shores of Miranda, in the Firth of Thames, are the part-time home to the kuriri. The fourth most common of the Arctic migrants that visit each summer, the kuriri used to arrive in their thousands each year to escape the Northern Hemisphere’s winter. Now, fewer than 200 visit. Why the numbers coming to New Zealand have declined is a mystery, as is much about the birds’ life.
Each year the small birds migrate to somewhere near the Arctic Ocean to nest. It’s not known whether this is Siberia or Alaska, what route the birds take to get there or if and where they might stop on the way. There’s speculation a habitat they might use as a stop-off point might be degraded.
This summer the Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre is going to try to find answers to fit 10 of the birds with tiny GPS trackers to see where they go. $20,000 was raised for ten lightweight GPS trackers. With permission from the Department of Conservation and Massey University Animal Ethics Committee, the notoriously flighty birds have been successfully tagged.
You can follow the progress of the campaign on the Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre website.
Newsroom reporter Farah Hancock reported on this recently here.
The Hauraki Gulf is home to a threatened population of Spotted Shags, thought to be genetically distinct. Whilst the Spotted Shag is relatively common in other parts of the country, in the Hauraki Gulf the birds are now limited to just two colonies, on Tarahiki and Waiheke Islands, with an estimated population of 300 breeding pairs.
In an attempt to attract Spotted Shags back to the Noises group of islands, a replica colony of Spotted Shags has been installed on the steep cliff face of Otata Island – the largest of the Noises group. The replicas were made from six Spotted Shag specimens in the Auckland Museum’s collection, that were collected by Museum staff from the Noises back in 1913.
The Museum’s specimens have been scanned, 3D printed and painted. As well as the replica birds, nests have been constructed from dried seaweed and a solar-powered sound system installed to transmit bird calls. White paint has been used to mimic the droppings that mark seabird colonies.
Damian Christie from the Aotearoa Science Agency was on hand to film the installation.
You can also watch Auckland Biodiversity ecologist Tim Lovegrove and Auckland Museum’s Matt Rayner take part in an annual survey to monitor the threatened populations of Spotted Shags in the Hauraki Gulf here.
As reported frequently in the Gulf Journal, shellfish beds are vital to marine ecosystems. They filter and clean the water, stabilise the seafloor, dampen the effects of storm surge, enhance biodiversity, and remove nutrients that run off the land.
This newsroom article by Professor Simon Thrush, Director of the Institute of Marine Science at the University of Auckland, calls for urgent research to inform targeted restoration activities, as well as more coordinated partnerships of current restoration efforts. Professor Thrush urges, however, that scientific knowledge alone will not secure the success – community participation and commitment are critical to ensuring the long-term success and sustainability of restoration.
Sea Change – Tai Timu Tai Pari was the first of its kind in New Zealand – a bold initiative to create a marine spatial plan. The Office of the Auditor General (OAG) decided to see what lessons could be learned from this ambitious undertaking. They looked at how the agencies involved set up the project and prepared the plan, including a focus on the project’s governance arrangements and planning for implementation.
The OAG says that “in many ways, the project was a successful example of a stakeholder-led collaborative approach. It resulted in a completed plan with general support from those who prepared it. However, the plan is not easy for the agencies to implement and those involved in the project are frustrated at the lack of progress in implementing the plan. Our report identifies aspects of the project that if done better would have made implementing the plan easier, including improving stakeholder engagement and better planning for implementation.”
From the age of dinosaurs up until the mid-1800s, wētāpunga lived between Waiheke Island and the Far North’s Paihia. But by the early 1900s, habitat destruction and predation from exotic pests saw to their demise. Auckland Zoo has been extremely successful at breeding wētāpunga and is safeguarding the giant insects’ future. So far about 4,300 of the zoo’s wētāpunga have been set free on Hauraki Gulf islands.
Rotoroa Is. has one of the most interesting of the Hauraki Gulf’s island history’s. Now writer Amy Head has used that colourful past to come up with a new novel set on the island.
Head takes us on a humorous romp through some of Rotoroa Islands history as a rehab centre run by the Salvation Army, as she explains why she set her new novel on the island, and how the antics of some of it’s “inmates” shaped her characters.
There is little good news with climate change, but altered currents off Australia’s coast will surprisingly see Hauraki Gulf water temperatures stay much as they are for some time. The downside is our southern coastline waters are warming up. Normally, the warm East Australian current ambles across the Tasman Sea bringing warmer water to the east coast of the North Island. This accounts for much of the teeming diversity of sea life found around the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve.
The warmer water extends south through the Hauraki Gulf. But the East Australian current is getting pulled further south under climate change, diminishing the flow across the Tasman Sea…
Stamping your personality on to a new home took on a whole new meaning for one family on the Coromandel.The award winning wilderness bach at Otama Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula has the family’s DNA patterns included in one of the house’s design features. Designed by Architect Ken Crosson The DNA House has been likened to a spaceship and recently won a Housing Award in the 2018 NZIA Waikato/Bay of Plenty Architecture Awards.
Predator Free 2050 Ltd, the Crown company established to secure funding for predator-free projects around the country, has received over 40 expressions of interest for funding and support for large-scale efforts by conservation groups. They include proposals from Waiheke and Great Barrier Island groups.
Several will be shortlisted and funded as ‘pathfinder projects’, to prove new tools and collaborative approaches. http://pf2050.co.nz/news/
There are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic garbage floating around in our oceans, and the number is growing exponentially. By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish — if we let this trend continue.
The oceans have experienced a 25% increase in acidity since we started measuring such things. This puts many kinds of ocean life at risk.
Oxygen levels in the entire ocean are down 2% overall, and have declined up to 4% in some places — leading to numerous “dead zones”.
The “Living Blue Planet Index”, WWF’s measure of how much life is in the sea, is down 50% since the 1970s.
In June the United Nations convened its first ever Oceans Conference. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 14 aims to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”
A classic 1960s book Islands of the Gulf has been reprinted. In the early Sixties Shirley Maddock joined seaplane pilot Captain Fred Ladd to visit isolated island communities, filming New Zealand’s first locally produced documentary series and spawning a book of the same name.
The new 2017 edition has been published to coincide with a remake of Islands of the Gulf, to screen on TV One later this year with Shirley Maddock’s daughter, actress and writer, Elisabeth Easther.
Weaving together traditional and aquaculture industry techniques will provide the best of both worlds for rope that will be seeded with mussels to be hung from the pylons of Ōkahu Bay wharf. This taura (rope) is intended to seed larger amounts of mussels into the bay over time by avoiding the sea floor which is covered in sediment. The mussel taura (rope) has been woven by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei weavers who have harvested the harakeke (flax) from their ancestral whenua (land).
With a vision to return the mauri (essence of life) back to the marine environment a 3-year mussel reef restoration programme in Ōkahu Bay has attempted to bring back historical mussel beds. Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei have committed themselves to returning the whenua (land) and moana (water) back to healthy state for 15 years through their planting of 220,000 trees on the whenua (land). “Protection of our waters and providing a future for our whanau is paramount for us, our daily connection with the moana recognises our ancestors and their kaitiakitanga” (guardianship)” says Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei descendant, Donna Tamaariki.
The Earthquake Commission is funding research to improve the understanding of known and potential faults in the Hauraki Rift; a geological area running through the Auckland and Waikato regions including the Hauraki Gulf, Firth of Thames and Hauraki Plains.
“The Christchurch earthquakes highlighted the need to research and better understand slower moving geological structures that have the potential to pose a significant natural hazard risk to high population areas and infrastructure,” says University of Auckland’s Dr Jennifer Eccles who will lead an team of international researchers.
A Hauraki Gulf / Tikapa Moana marine spatial plan launched in December after three years work by a stakeholder working group is available on the Sea Change – Tai Timu Tai Pari project website.
The proposed plan contains five pathways designed to create long-term health and wellbeing for the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. Transitions to high value wild caught and farmed fisheries, the creation of marine reserves areas and scaled up restoration initiatives, setting load limits and mitigation for sediment and nutrients, local-scale coastal management and ambitious public engagement are outlined in the December issue of the Gulf Journal.
DOC, Motuihe Trust and Yamaha are trailing weed control with an unmanned helicopter.
Weed control on cliff faces can be very expensive often requiring carrying heavy loads to remote places and abseiling or a helicopter.
The RMAX helicopters are piloted by remote control and used in a wide range of industrial and research applications overseas. The trial was a success and the team have plans to further improve the precision of the technology.
NIWA scientists are asking for help from people who have had a long association with the Hauraki Gulf.
They are researching the areas where juvenile fish have congregated to find out how these nursery environments have changed over the years.
NIWA marine ecologist Dr Mark Morrison says they are particularly interested in populations of juvenile snapper, less than 10cm long in coastal waters.
He says young fish are strongly associated with what’s on the seafloor, especially seagrass meadows, horse mussel beds and sponge gardens.
Historical photographs, personal field diaries or fishing logs would be particularly valuable to document environmental change.
A computer model will be built to enable the researchers to explore ‘what if’ scenarios to help decide on the best management actions for the future.
Recent surveys have shown crayfish numbers declining inside and outside marine reserves at Leigh and Tawharanui.
Dr Nick Shears, a marine biologist at the Leigh Marine Laboratory, says crayfish numbers in the reserves are down a further 25 percent from 2014.
Numbers outside the reserve are the lowest they have been since monitoring began in the 1990s. Biomass is estimated to be <5 percent of unfished levels.
Earlier this year scientists released figures showing crayfish numbers inside Goat island reserve were lower than when it was established in 1975 and less than a quarter of their 1990s peak.
Dr Shears attributes the decline to fishing pressure on reserve boundaries, a lack of recruitment and high fishing pressure in the CRA2 fishery.
He has advocated a case for extending the offshore boundary of the reserves to protect resident animals throughout their home range.
It will set up a new public-private partnership company by 2017 to help fund large-scale predator eradication programmes.
Predator Free New Zealand Limited will have a board of directors made up of government, private sector, and scientific players. The board’s job will be to work on regional projects with iwi and community conservation groups and attract $2 of private sector and local government funding for every $1 of government funding.
The Biological Heritage National Science Challenge will have an important role in achieving the predator free goal, as not all the technology to get rid of possums, rats and stoats exists.
Auckland University of Technology researchers have used drones to capture footage of whales feeding in the Gulf.
Post-graduate students Ticiana Fetterman and Lorenzo Fiori used a custom-built multi-rotor drone to film a Bryde’s whale lunging after prey, accompanied by a young calf.
Dr Barbara Bollard Breen, the students’ supervisor, says “drones could be a useful addition to boat surveys, for scientists who are studying the foraging behaviour of this critically threatened species.”
Around 50 Bryde’s whales are resident in the Gulf.
Snapper longline fishers in northern New Zealand want to show the public that their operations are not putting seabirds at risk and have recently taken part in the trial of on-board cameras, which they hope will help them prove this.
A recent trial on a vessel that fishes for Aotearoa Fisheries found that cameras can detect around 90% of seabirds caught on snapper longline hooks.
The video trial, which used woven flax seabirds attached to the fishing line, was funded by Department of Conservation.
The Black Petrel Working Group, facilitated by Southern Seabirds Solutions Trust, is developing a proposal for Government to enable the trial to be expanded to a larger pilot programme.
Monitoring at Goat Island Marine Reserve shows that numbers of crayfish and snapper are now lower than when the reserve was established in 1975.
Following the creation of the reserve, numbers of crayfish recovered quickly, increasing four-fold in number by the 1990s with snapper also becoming bigger and more common.
Leigh Marine Laboratory’s Dr Nick Shears attributed the decline to fishing on the reserve boundaries and the state of the wider fishery and said the pattern is similar at marine reserves at Tawharanui and Hahei.
He said that the reserve boundaries needed to be extended seaward to protect resident animals and to safeguard the scientific and recreational values of the marine reserves.
Marine conservation pioneer Dr Bill Ballantine passed away in November.
Forum Chairman John Tregidga said “Bill was instrumental in creating our marine reserves legislation and one of the world’s first marine reserves at Leigh, where he lived, despite considerable opposition at the time. His legacy is
a much greater understanding and appreciation of the importance, functioning and vulnerability of
our marine environment.”
He attended the announcement of the Kermadec Sanctuary and the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Seminar in the weeks prior to his death. He was 78.
Water quality and ecosystem health in the Firth of Thames is examined in a new report commissioned by Waikato Regional Council and Dairy NZ.
The NIWA report concludes that the Firth has shifted trophic state – from oligotrophic to mesotrophic – since deforestation of the Coromandel ranges and drainage of the Hauraki Plains over the last century and a half and is vulnerable to nutrient enrichment.
Riverine nitrogen inputs are stable or have increased slowly over the past 20 years, but measurements of dissolved inorganic nitrogen in the middle of the Gulf have increased by 5.1 percent per year over the same period, suggesting changes to inputs or nitrogen cycling in the system.
Mud flats are extending ten times faster than other North Island estuaries. About 40 percent of the sediment is from rivers; the rest re-deposited sediment created by historical disturbance.
The report, and new research and monitoring resulting from it, will help inform proposed plan changes over the next few years.