Absence data

Yesterday I checked about 10km of beach for kekeno / New Zealand fur seals in Mercury Bay , Coromandel including Wharekaho, Kuaotunu, Otama, Opito, Matapaua. I did not find any alive or dead. The beaches were largely empty but I did ask five locals to keep an eye out and report them as part of a study I am helping DOC with in the area. One person was aware of the study.

I noticed a few bits of fishing line washed up on the high tide line left by dirty fishers at Wharekaho / Simpsons Beach. I picked up all the bits I could find for 1km East of Stormont Lane. I counted 57 bits of rubbish, many were tangled knots of nylon which pose a danger to shorebirds who can get their toes caught in it (see photo above).

Dotterel counts for the above beaches logged on iNaturalist.nz

Stream Health Monitoring guides

As communities get increasingly worried about the declining quality of their waterways there is more interest stream health assessments. I am a huge fan of the Waicare Invertebrate Monitoring Protocol (WIMP) which is simple enough that school students can use it. However the Waicare programme has been largely defunded by Auckland Council and there is no way for the public to share WIMP data. NIWA and Federated Farmers of New Zealand have put together https://nzwatercitizens.co.nz/ based on the New Zealand Stream Health Monitoring and Assessment Kit (SHMAK). It is great but incredibly hard to use, the manual is horrific. I believe this is being addressed but will take years. To help, the science learning hub has made this great guide for teachers and students. NIWA have put together some videos. They are not published together anywhere online so I have posted the list below:

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.


I had a great day out yesterday with Seacleaners (sponsored by Watercare in Auckland) and Wilkinson Environmental.

Plastic Pellets
Simon took a lot of photos of small plastic pellets (used in the manufacture of plastic products) that littered the foreshore. Unfortunately we could not clean these up.

Full boat
We loaded up most of the boat in less than an hour or two, we had to stack up the back of the boat to balance the load.

Bottle with black bottom section
I remember these bottles from my childhood, amazing how long it takes for plastic to breakdown.

Ambiance Impex

This is so gross – documented here for Auckland Councils Pollution Response Team.


Please click on the thumbnails to see the full image.

The front of the building
The front of the building.

Shows how they have to exit to do the dumping
Shows how they have to exit to do the dumping.

View from the dump site down into the stream
View from the dump site down into the stream

Paradise brand name clearly visible
Paradise brand name clearly visible

Organic waste – it smelt so bad
Organic waste – it smelt so bad.

View from the opposite side of the stream
View from the opposite side of the stream.

There  are also a lot of tires upstream
There are also a lot of tires upstream.

The Ambiance Impex brands dumped into the stream are all branded Paradise.

impexWhen I first noticed the dumping in March and reported it to council the dumping was not so bad.

I wonder if the tires are from this dodgy looking bridge which is no longer there but is still visible in the council satellite imagery.
I wonder if the tires are from this dodgy looking bridge which is no longer there but is still visible in the council satellite imagery.

Even tho this site 120m from the Manukau (West coast of NZ) it flows through the Tamaki Estuary to the Hauraki Gulf (East coast of NZ).

UPDATE: 27 November.
Eight months later and the site is still sending plastic like these Paradise branded ‘cut green beans’ into the harbour. I am giving the council regular updates on the site but I don’t know how much (if any) is being cleaned up by Ambiance Impex or if its just getting washed into the ocean.


UPDATE: 23 Feburary.
Ambiance Impex still show little regard for the environment sending further plastic into the stream.

UPDATE: January 2018.

Happy to report that after constant reporting the business has finally cleaned up their act.

Pure New Zealand

James Cameron

I love James Cameron’s 2010 TED talk which has been used in the latest 100% Pure New Zealand campaign.

Like Cameron, I too grew up reading and drawing science fiction and exploring nature. This year my ‘journey of discovery’ took me deep into the Waitakeres for my own Avatar experience.

Bioluminescence Avatar

There, in the moonlight, I crouched in the middle of a small stream prodding and splashing away like a child. Like Jake Sully I was enchanted with tiny animals that (unlike glowworms who glow for hours) release a bright burst of bioluminescence. The limpets I was teasing are called Latia and they release bioluminescent slime as a defensive mechanism.

You won’t find these alien limpets anywhere else in the world and you also will no longer find them in most New Zealand streams. They need clean water, and we have filled our lakes and rivers with too much sediment for them to survive. Our waterways are far from 100% pure. Most of the rivers that are pristine are high in the South Island where it is too cold for Latia to survive.

Our government wants to treat our streams and rivers like drains. The legislation they have proposed sets extremely low standards for our waterways. I agree with the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment – sediment is one of the three big issues affecting our waterways. Yet our Government has not included sediment as an attribute in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, and we can’t manage that which we do not measure.

In the 100% Pure ad James Cameron tells us that ‘curiosity is the most powerful thing we own’. My curiosity has changed the way I see the New Zealand environment. It has altered my enjoyment of the New Zealand wilderness. Where before I just saw bush, now see invasive plants. Having heard the morning chorus in our wildlife sanctuaries I am let down by our silent mainland forests.

So a few years ago I started a personal project about the positive stuff – the things that make New Zealand unique. MostNZ.com is a website showcasing what we can celebrate about New Zealand, how to experience those things and most importantly how to keep them. It’s a lot more honest than the 100% campaign but it’s still advertises New Zealand.

We can grow tourism and the economy by growing, protecting and restoring our wilderness. But to do it we need more, James Cameron; more curiosity, more imagination, more vision.

Let’s at least try for 50% pure. Let’s focus on the quality not the quantity of our exports. Let’s start doing restoration at an industrial scale and let’s really invest in our scientists who dream of a predator free New Zealand.

Like the narrative arc of James Cameron’s blockbusters we have tasks to master, battles to win and transformations to witness. The New Zealand story must have our unique environment at its heart.
James Cameron ends his Ted Talk with ‘‘No important endeavour that required innovation was done without risk.” – “Failure is an option, but fear is not.”

How to be wild and free

“No!” This is how we teach restraint, over time the child masters the rules and becomes a functioning member of society. But he finds pleasure in the quiet places where no one can yell “No” at him, places where the rules don’t apply, where he can be wild and free.

There is a huge psychological transformation that occurs when you’re outdoors and find that you are no longer alone. Every imaginable cultural judgement can be projected in just a single person. They are not just changing our behaviour they are changing how we think, making us self conscious.

Some people feel this more than others, but perhaps this is why humans bleat and stomp about environmental rules. Because when we are in the wild with all those wild things, we feel wild too. We feel free from all those rules and judgements, those “No”s. So we fight those that tell us “don’t go there”, “don’t kill that” or “leave that alone”. Because they are reducing our freedom, which is true. But unfortunately we live in a world of human expansion and decreasing environmental resilience, our choices now have a greater cost than those of previous generations. We are slowly learning we can longer afford to be wild, we have to share our freedoms, not just with this generation but the next one too.

The reason the human population has grown so fast is because we are so adaptable and culture (our behaviours and technology) has evolved and will continue to evolve much faster than our genes. Those that are following the rules, participating in restoration, conservation, trash removal, pest eradication, citizen science and moving from eating to recording wildlife are developling a new culture. This new culture is already growing fast and with it some of our wilderness is coming back, building resilience and expanding our freedoms. We are finding a new way to be wild and free.