A conservation trust and Canterbury eco-tourism business have welcomed the work done by residents of the Diana Isaac Retirement Village to help safeguard a precious penguin colony on Banks Peninsula.
Both the Helps Pōhatu Conservation Trust and Pōhatu Penguins work closely on removing predators from the peninsula to help maintain a ‘taonga species’ - Little penguin/ Kororā.
The residents from Diana Isaac village in Mairehau, Christchurch have been making the especially-designed wooden trap housings to catch pests, such as stoats and rats. The white-flippered penguins nest in Pōhatu/Flea Bay near Akaroa, where predator control has been ongoing for the last 40 years.
Geraldine Guillemot-Peacock helps maintain the traps on behalf of the trust and Pōhatu Penguins, which runs wildlife and peninsula tours. Recently, a group of residents from Diana Isaac village, including Bruce Gray, Gary Archbold, Norm Reid and Brian Hill handed over 25 traps to Geraldine.
The Helps Pōhatu conservation trust protects Little Penguins at Pōhatu and the wider Banks Peninsula through predator control, rehabilitation of injured birds, weekly monitoring of the colony, surveys and education and advocacy.
The traps have been laid for decades now, so there is a need for replacement for rusted mechanisms and the housings. There were also traps lost during a 2021 floodwater event on the property.
Geraldine says stoats are the worst pest. Other introduced species like rats, hedgehogs, cats, ferrets, unsupervised dogs as well as human disturbances also impact and have led to a decrease in penguin numbers. At one point the colonies around the Banks Peninsula were declining at an alarming rate and some have disappeared altogether.
Geraldine had a smile on her face as she loaded the traps into her work van. She faced plenty of questions from Bruce, Gary, Norm and Brian including ‘what are the most troublesome pests?’. The answer was ‘stoats’, which from a cold climate make multiple kills at once, plus also ferrets.
Her role within a relatively small eco-tourism team is multi-level from the backdrop conservation work to the frontline work with tourists. “I’m a tour guide, I’m involved in the adoption-sponsorship programme, to adopt a penguin, and I’m a trapper,” she says.
There were 182 traps, split across 10 trap lines, within the property that stretches hundreds of metres inland. These traps are checked weekly for the pests as well as for any required maintenance, so damaged traps can be repaired and gaps in the plan can be filled.
“We know, for example, stoats like going near fence lines… Some of the traps are in the bush, higher out of the (immediate) penguin colony, some are within the penguin colony,” Geraldine says.
“It’s always nice to have good traps that work well.”
She welcomed a suggestion from Gary Archbold that the residents’ shed group could also make nesting boxes for the group. “The point is to build up the colony, to have a healthy number.”
Gary also thanked Pōhatu’s Averil Parthonnaud, who last year hosted a slide show and presentation to teach Diana Isaac residents about the penguins and how they need to be protected from such predators. Averil’s Aunt and Uncle, Shireen and Francis Helps, started the eco-tours as a side project to their sheep farm. “Pōhatu was the first marine reserve on the east side of the South Island... The conservation actually started because my aunt and uncle had penguins living under the house. They’ve always had penguins. The first day they moved into the bay the penguins were all around – they heard them – my aunt was like wow these are lovable creatures,” Averil says.
“My aunt and uncle started predator control in the early 90’s, as well as working around penguins, making sure they could all co-exist, building them houses. Shireen would also, if she’d find a wounded chick - rehab it and then send it on its way back to the wild.”
The presentation and slide work reminded Bruce of a series of family holidays that were held at the Akaroa Top 10 Holiday Park and the walks in the bush.
Tourism numbers from overseas have picked up following the opening up of borders, following COVID-19 restrictions, Geraldine says. Pōhatu Penguins specialises in tours including guided sea kayak tours of the Pōhatu Marine reserve, about a 45-minute drive from Akaroa via a 4x4 mini bus to the family farm. The eco-tourism business helping to support the charitable trust in all the conservation needs for the little penguins.
Bruce, Gary, Norm and Brian are thankful of the help they have received from others in a wider project, particularly from a team of builders at Charles Upham village, led by resident Lynn Andrews. Lynn, a former watchmaker, has been helping ensure the wooden trap housings are built to specification for conservation groups.
Given the staged purchase and delivery of wood and other screws and partitions for the traps, the assembly process has been speedy and well executed, Bruce says.