Fires at Point England

On the night of the 5th of April 2020 I noticed emergency services lights at Point England. Today I counted three areas of previously un-mowed grass on the south-eastern end that had been burnt and two partially forested areas on the northern end. The fires look like intentional arson to me, with drought conditions over hopefully we wont see any more burning. I’m very disappointed to loose some of the trees I planted. Damage to fences (including an area removed by emergency services) needs to be fixed before the dotterel breeding season begins (Auckland Council reference: 8110308091). I’m grateful to emergency services for managing the fire risk and to the mowers who have kept the tinder dry grass very short.

RSI / OOS arm pain

This is completely off topic but I have to blog it somewhere just incase it helps others.

For the last twenty years I have suffered from Repetitive strain injury (RSI) or Occupational overuse syndrome (OOS). It has always affected how much time I can spend working on the computer. It started in my forearm then eventually moved to my bicep which was quite debilitating.

These are the things I have tried that helped a little:

  • Stretches
  • Ice pack / Heat pack
  • Plunge arm in ice water for 10 mins
  • Home massage (machine)
  • Yoga and posture exercises
  • Work everyday until 5 but do 50% breaks
  • Less coffee
  • Solid pillow
  • Sleeping on my back
  • Standing desk
  • Pain killers/ anti-inflammatories
  • Reverse exercises
  • Left arm for computer
  • Micro pauses

Here are the things I tried that did not work:

  • Physio massage
  • Chiropractor
  • Thai stretching massage
  • Splint
  • Acupuncture
  • Pillow between legs
  • Iron/ vitamin C
  • Magnesium
  • Glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM

I now have it 100% under control and it has very little impact on my life as long as I:

  • Do the stupidest stretch in the world, I just pull my shoulders down (as illustrated above) multiple times a day
  • Go for short (10 minute) runs a couple of times a week
  • Drink more water than my body wants
  • Sleep on my side with the arm I am lying on stretched out under my pillow

These things all help with increasing blood flow to the areas where the pain was coming from. I think lack of blood flow was causing my pain.

Feeding our plastic legacy

It’s nearly one week into the Covid 19 lockdown. Council were not able to retrieve dying and dead birds from the pond at Tahuna Torea. The birds have been dying from avian botulism which paralyse them (its a horrible way to go). I took a pied stilt to the vet but it did not make it and cleaned up other dead and dying geese and mallards.

While I was there I noticed a lot of trash that had become exposed, as the water was the lowest it’s been in at least 10 years. Going back to pick it up I found it was mostly bread bags taken to the pond to feed the birds. I understand the commonly known reasons for not feeding birds. But I had no idea how much plastic goes into the water as byproduct of the practice. Light can not penetrate the dark pond waters and the plastic doesn’t break down. Sediment settles on top and where ever I dug into the dried mud I found plastic.

I’ll spend a few more hours gathering it but I’ll never get it all. I’m sure other ponds are similar if not worse. As long as we keep selling bread in plastic, bird feeding will be contributing to our plastic legacy.

UPDATE: 5 April

After removing three black sacks of dead birds and soft plastics I was rewarded with seeing this secretive bird feeding right where I had been cleaning up 😀

Spotless Crake

UPDATE: 12 April

So far I have retrieved two geese, four mallards, one juvenile black-backed gull and four black sacks full of plastic, mostly bread bags.

Don’t buy a water storage solution from Bailey Tanks.

Bailey Tanks make their water storage tanks from plastic which comes into the business as small pellets. Since August 2017 I have seen these plastic pellets coming out of their business at 36 Ash Rd, Wiri and into the local stream where it flows into the Manuaku Harbour. I have been regularly reporting the pollution to Auckland Council who have been asking the business to clean up their act, they were fined $750 on the in May 2017 however the plastic keeps coming out.

Bailey Tanks stormwater outlet (August 2017)
You can see the small plastic pellets littering their yard from the street (9 Feb 2020 Council job number INR60232011).
Plastic pellets (nurdles) at stormwater pipe exiting the Bailey Tanks (9 May 2019 Council Job number #8260221120).

Today (22 February 2020) I thought I would go and see if the rain would increase the amount of plastic washing to the stream. Pallets were coming but I was horrified to see the surface of the water covered in a fine plastic powder which they also use to make their products. Council job number 8260232660.

I took a sample home to have a better look at these micro plastics close up.
This is the path the pollution takes from the stormwater outlet to Puhinui Creek and then the Manukau Harbour. Map constructed using data from Auckland Councils Geomaps service.

Industrial pollution is usually event based, where a business has accidentally spills something and creates a pollution incident. This kind of slow leak is much worse, I hate to think how much plastic this company has dumped into the Manukau Harbour where it poisons our wildlife.

Newsroom reporter Farah Hancock investigated the site after the February 2020 incident and reported on it.

UPDATE: 24 May 2020

A new pipe has been installed upstream and was flowing clear when I visited at 3pm today.
But the old pipe continues to leak plastic. It took 20 minutes to log the incident with Auckland Council (Job number 8100624496) during which time I counted 18 plastic pellets exiting the pipe. I said I would wait for the officer (to show them the pollution) but I got a text back saying they will not visit until tomorrow.

UPDATE 12 JUNE 2020
I followed up on the the job number above (8100624496) to find out that officers did not visit the site to investigate the incident. I have requested a site visit with officers.

Bycatch

In October 2019 I was discussing bycatch (animals killed by fishers that they can’t sell) and was referred to this website http://psc.dragonfly.co.nz/ which maps threatened seabirds, marine mammals, and turtles that are caught during commercial fishing operations. Some of the data mentions photos so I requested recent ones in the Hauraki Gulf (where I spend most of my time) from the Ministry of Fisheries. They could not just send me all the photos so I did a more detailed request, 77 days later I got the photos, they are very low resolution and have been heavily edited but it gives you a sense for how commercial fishing impacts species that are threatened with extinction.

Here is the full (and detailed) response from Fisheries New Zealand. I have uploaded the photos including fishing method to Inaturalist.nz

The mussel line

Marine restoration is a lazy business. All you have to do is stop fishing an area and marine ecosystems heal themselves. However this is not the case with green-lipped mussels in New Zealand.

100’s of square kilometres of sub-tidal mussel beds were fished to extinction in each harbour around New Zealand.

The industry collapsed and more than half a century later they have not returned. In the Hauraki Gulf there are a few places you can still find Green-lipped mussels. You would think that these places would be deep under the ocean (Green-lipped mussels have been found at 50m deep), but they are not.

Most are in the intertidal zone on rocky shores. Here there is usually a gradient with mussels thin higher up and getting thicker towards the low tide mark where the abruptly stop. I have asked several local experts and no one has a solid answer why they stop so abruptly.

As we spend 100’s of thousands of dollars restoring sub-tidal beds maybe the key to unlocking a lazier (and cheaper) solution is staring us in the face. Here are some thoughts on why the line exists:

Mussel predation
  1. Avian predation. Every exposed mussel bed has at least one pair of Variable oystercatcher eating the smaller mussels every low tide. So living in the subtidal zone would be of some advantage but we are more likely to see juveniles higher up. This suggests there is even more predation from below.
  2. Starfish predation. Eleven-armed star fish were a big problem in the first beds put down by Revive our Gulf. However starfish do okay in the intertidal zone and are not particularly abundant in intertidal beds. We don’t see lots of them waiting below the low tide mark next to intertidal mussel reefs.
  3. Fish predation. This seems like the most obvious cause but surely it can’t be Snapper as they have been fished down to 20% of their natural biomass. Rays are a possibility but I thought I would see more of them in the shallows if this was the case. This southern study looked at predation and found it to be largely subtidal and nocturnal, by fish and large crabs.
  4. Octopus predation. They are nearly invisible and love eating mussels so at first this is a good fit. But octopus leave the shells, I will look for evidence on the next intertidal bed I explore. None of the predation theories show why the line is so strong.
  5. Food. Mussels eat phytoplankton and algae. I am sure there will be more of this close to the surface. I am pretty sure this is why mussel farmers grow their mussels high in the water column. Wild mussels might also benefit from wave action on the rocks as it would increase the oxygen in the water. However I would have thought that these benefits would be offset by the fact they can’t feed while they are exposed to the air.
  6. Sediment. If there is some other benefit to being exposed to the air maybe it’s that the water in the Gulf just has too much stuff in it. Mussels have to work hard sorting out the food from the dirt, maybe mussels are not good at taking a break and being forced to is good for them. Comparing the condition of intertidal and sub-tidal mussels would help dismiss this idea.

Or maybe like a lot of things in biology it’s a mixture of the above factors. As we are slowly losing our intertidal mussel beds it might be wise to set up a long-term monitoring project that might solve this mystery and inspire lazier restoration methods.

Indigenous biodiversity

I have 1,612 verified observations on iNaturalist between Auckland and Whangarei documenting 552 species (mostly invertebrates) covering forest, freshwater, intertidal and marine habitats. I don’t take many photographs of plants. Of these observation 96 or 17% of species were introduced. Here is a break down showing areas where I have found more or less introduced species:

Hauturu Aotea Tawharanui East Auckland Waitakeres Hunua Ranges Rangitoto / Motutapu / Motuihe Motukorea Mungatapere
Observations 206 149 141 197 77 94 71 33 159
Species 86 84 86 120 57 64 52 25 83
Introduced 6 12 8 35 1 4 11 4 9
Percent introduced 7 14 9 29 2 6 21 16 11

I expected the restored and protected islands in the Hauraki Gulf to have a smaller percent of introduced species. I think the high number of introduced species (compared to the Waitakeres and the Hunua Ranges) reflects the islands farmed history with islands like Motukorea and Motutapu still dominated by kikuyu. The larger and older the forest the more indigenous biodiversity.

Tracking footprints

I teamed up with computer and environmental scientist Jordi Tablada to build a website for identifying New Zealand animal sign. I met Jordi through the New Zealand Dotterel Forum as he looks after dotterel at Piha. We had overlapping skills and were looking for a project to collaborate on. He came to me with the idea inspired by some materials produced by another dotterel minder Emily Roberts.

Now when I spot tracks in the sand and wonder what made them I load up the website and check them against the examples. It’s working really well and I hope to expand it to include other animal sign and more species. Others are using it too, mostly due to some great press. It was inspiring to see another citizen science identification guide go live this morning which will also help on beaches. This one is for shells.

These guides join others produced by organisations like nzbirdsonline.org.nz and help users of tools like eBird and iNaturalist.nz map the diversity and abundance of New Zealand flora and fauna.

Probe holes

With a lot more mowing at Point England this Winter the flocks of South Island pied oystercatcher are leaving a visible sign in the paddock. The probe holes are very dense right to the edges of the paddocks which means that I am also seeing holes from other species like White-faced heron and Pukeko. Casual counts put the number of little holes at around 100 per square meter.

Roost heights at Tahuna Torea

Today I took photos of the shorebird roosts at Tahuna Torea when the tide had just covered the main spit roost. The tide height was predicted to be very high today (3 August 2019) at 3.4M Westhaven 8:53am. Conditions were relatively calm and the tide had not (yet) hit the high tide line on the Little spit.

Names and locations of roosts
The tide was about 20cm (in height) from the high tide line.
Pathway
And the pathway which is sometimes flooded was about 20cm above the water.
The spit had just been compromised with just a few Black-back gulls and one Caspian tern remaining
Little spit was about 50cm above the tide
Little Godwit Island was about 60cm above the tide
South Godwit Island was about 75cm above the tide
North Godwit Island had about 40cm above the tide
The Southern end of Lockley Island had about 40cm above the tide
The Northern end of Lockley Island had about 40cm above the tide

I have seen tidal debris in the mangroves around Lockley Island that were above the height of the island (indicating that it sometimes gets swamped) but I think it would have made an ok roost today.