Aotea/Great Barrier Island

I have been working with Destination Great Barrier Island and the Great Barrier Island Local Board to create a new brand and website for Aotea/Great Barrier Island. The project leverages the Island’s new status as a Dark Sky Sanctuary (one of only three in the world). I spent a lot of time on the Island photographing places, nature and the night sky. I have been really inspired by the people, there are many environment advantages to small communities. Isolation and sustainability go hand-in-hand to create a more resilient system. The Island is already leading the way for how to live off-the-grid and as ecotourism grows I expect to see more green growth leadership on the Island.

Pray mantis identification

New Zealand has two praying mantises, the invasive South African praying mantis and the native New Zealand praying mantis. The easiest way to tell the two species apart is the shape of the head. The thorax (bit that connects their heads to their abdomens) is much wider on a New Zealand mantis so by comparison the South Africans look like hammerheads.

Point England Development Enabling Bill Submission

Today I presented to the Local Government and Environment select committee on the Point England Development Enabling Bill. Link to submission below.

Things I learnt:

  • Committee members will not read your submission before hand so make sure you spend most of your time covering your key points.
  • You may only have 5 minutes but double if you are an organisation.
  • Try and say something unique but the committee definitely needs to hear the same points made twice before they sink in.
  • Ask for Powerpoint facilities before the hearing is scheduled.

Ngāti Paoa have been great and let me talk to Morphum who are doing an Environmental Assessment for consenting purposes. No one has made any promises and I am anxious the developers are not incentivised to do right thing for the birds, but I am optimistic. Note the logo on the development website above.

Natural mussel recruitment

After more than half a century Green Lipped mussels have not returned to the soft seafloor of the Hauraki Gulf. However only 100km north at the mouth of the Whangarei Harbour something magic happened. Out of nowhere a huge bed of mussels appeared. I was slow to document it but here are some photos by Dr. Mary A. Sewell in April 2016.

The bed was quickly consumed. Locals could park their cars a few meters from the beds. There were reports of people turning up with wheel barrows and of cars and boats being confiscated for those who exceeded their limits. The beds have now been decimated, (An MPI officer thinks the beds did not disappear but were greatly reduced in their first season, I did not find the original bed on my first trip). I turned up eight months later at low tide and followed some locals to the remaining beds. They looked like this:

Green lipped mussel bed with eleven armed starfish triple fins and fishing line. DEC 2016
Green lipped mussel bed with triple fins and red filamentous algae. DEC 2016
Green lipped mussel bed with alga and octopus. DEC 2016
Green lipped mussel bed showing algae diversity. DEC 2016
Destroyed green lipped mussel bed. DEC 2016

The remaining bed ran along the edge of the drop off about 4m at low tide and supported a wide range of marine life. On my way back to the beach I wondered what conditions bought about this beautiful natural phenomena? There may well have been sufficient spat from mussels growing on the refinery wharf, but did a closure of the cockle beds promote natural the recovery? Could the neighbouring marine reserve have played a part? Was this a once off or part of the recovery of the Whangarei harbour since the Firth cement works has cleaned up its act? Then I spotted these:

Juvenile green lipped mussels. DEC 2016
Juvenile green lipped mussel. DEC 2016
Juvenile green lipped mussels. DEC 2016

It seems the cockle and pipi shells have created a firm substrate for the juvenile mussels to attach to. Is this how the bed started of? No hydroids or red filamentous algae to attach to, just green algae and shell? If so this is a recipe worth exploring for aided restoration elsewhere in New Zealand. Local iwi (Patuharakeke Te Iwi Trust Board) have proposed a 2-year temporary closure to the take of all shellfish at Mair Bank and Marsden Bank, Whangarei.

I dived around the other side of the channel where there was tonnes of algae of every sort but no mussels. Not even on the rocks. It is possible that the mussels did their 1st settlement on this algae then drifted to the bank. It would be interesting to dive a similar distance in the opposite tidal direction to look for recruitment.

Note there was a large pipi & cockle die off on the shell bank where mussels appeared.

UPDATE: Nov 2017
There are isolated individuals ranging for a hundred meters or so west of the main bed. Most mussels were around 6-8cm long. I could not find blue mussels in the bed, I did however see fish eggs, octopus, crabs, evidence of fish feeding on the mussels, triplefins and many shorebirds enjoying the exposed reef. The mussels were also growing in smaller patches off the edge of the sand bank into the channel where I found the remnants in Dec 16.

Isolated mussels. NOV 2017.
Isolated mussels. NOV 2017.
Isolated mussels. NOV 2017.
Isolated mussels. NOV 2017.
Soft sediment intertidal green-lipped mussel bed. NOV 2017.
Soft sediment intertidal green-lipped mussel bed. NOV 2017.
 I saw five octopus in half an hour. NOV 2017.
I saw five octopus in half an hour. NOV 2017.
Green-lipped mussels Marsden Point. NOV 2017.
Green-lipped mussels Marsden Point. NOV 2017.
Humans and variable oysetercatcher consuming mussels. NOV 2017.
Humans and variable oysetercatcher consuming mussels. NOV 2017.

Hopefully this bed continues to regenerate despite the massive human harvesting effort. Identifying and protecting the seed stock would go a long way towards this.

The current here is very strong, here is a short video of 1,000s of young pipi swept in current. They seem to be regenerating.

UPDATE: Jan 2018
Two insights after talking to locals.

  1. Mair Bank was once covered in a thick carpet of large mussels with live pipi underneath.
  2. In the late 1950s / early 1960s (1963?) there was a commercial operation that dredged the whole bank, taking out all the mussels.
  3. The pipi die off could have helped the mussel bed by providing a settlement substrate. The pipi could have consumed mussel spat that may have perviously tried to settle the bed.

Also the beds look choice at high tide, I saw sea hares and piper fish. Look how many species in this photo:

Triplefin, spotty, goby, green-lipped mussel, whelks, common Sydney octopus and algae.
The water clarity is excellent, its just hard to shoot because of the current.

UPDATE: Feb 2018

I managed to track down a report which mapped the bed in Feb 2016. They worked out that the mussel bed then covered an area of approximately 12,800m2 and had an average coverage 38.3%.

Te Tauoma – Point England concept plan

Images have been released of the Point England concept plan.

Although it looks pretty and I welcome the Omaru creek enhancements (that Watercare have been working on) and the walkway upgrades (that Auckland Council have been working on) there are some major problems:

  1. 50% of the existing dotterel nesting ground will be replaced with houses (click on the map below).
  2. Northern New Zealand dotterel don’t use wetlands or go near trees, they need open space. However the proposed wetland will be great for the pukeko and spur-winged plover which predate the dotterel.
  3. The houses and pathways will bring people cats and dogs into the area destroying the bird roost. The Tamaki Estuary will loose 50-90% of its remaining shorebirds (mostly South Island pied oyster catchers).

But lets not take my word for it (I am not a ecological scientist). We need an independent ecological impact assessment done before the bill is passed.

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Will the Tāmaki Estuary lose the last of its shorebirds?

After surveyors interrupted the start of the breeding season at Point England I was worried about what someone might be planning. With fantastic support from Auckland Council we have been looking after the endangered New Zealand Dotterel that nest in the paddock for several years now.

It’s been hard work but the dog walkers in particular have been awesome, and we have had some real highs like the fledging of our first dotterel chick and regular visits from one of New Zealand most critically endangered birds the shore plover.

The paddocks have cows which keep the grass short, but the birds do not come for the grass. Migratory birds like bar-tailed godwits fly from the other side of the world to feed in the expansive mud flats of the Tamaki Estuary. When the tide comes in all the wading birds seek refuge above the high tide line. But if you look on Google you will see there are no roosting areas along the margins of the Tamaki. There is some green but it comes with trees, dogs or rugby balls. So the majority of the white faced herons, royal spoonbill, South Island oystercatchers, variable oystercatchers, New Zealand dotterel, banded dotterel and pied stilts all make there way to the paddocks. For most of the year there are small ponds in the paddock so when a harrier flies over and sends hundreds of birds into the air its like your’e in a David Attenborough documentary.

So this was released today. A bill to turn 11.7ha of the 48ha reserve into 300 houses will be introduced to Parliament tomorrow. It doesn’t mention any wildlife whatsoever.

Here is my map of the area which shows where nationally vulnerable dotterel have nested in the past (this will now be houses).

I asked Auckland Council about the surveyors and was told they could tell me nothing. I have lots of signage in the area and yet no one has consulted with me or anyone who works with the birds.

When the houses, people dogs and cats come, where will the Tāmaki birds go? For those of you who know Tahuna Torea its a beautiful place but its not suitable habitat for wading birds. Dotterel have never bred there and with the mangroves, trees and people it is no longer the primary resting place of Torea (Oystercatcher). That job has been Point Englands for decades. Data here.

So with this last development will the Tāmaki Estuary lose the last of its shorebirds?

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