Pacific
27 Mar 2017

Lessons from Little Barrier Island

Alanna Matamaru-Smith, from our Cook Islands’ BirdLife Partner Te Ipukarea Society finds out more about seabird conservation during a recent visit to Little Barrier, an island off the northeastern coast of New Zealand's North Island.

Black Petrel chick, Little Barrier Island © Dan Burgin
Black Petrel chick, Little Barrier Island © Dan Burgin
By Alanna Matamaru-Smith

*A version of this story first appeared in Forest & Bird magazine http://bit.ly/2h3SBAu. You can find out more about Forest & Bird, our New Zealand BirdLife Partner, at www.forestandbird.org.nz

Alanna Matamaru-Smith, from our Cook Islands’ BirdLife Partner Te Ipukarea Society finds out more about seabird conservation during a recent visit to Little Barrier Island, off the northeastern coast of New Zealand's North Island.

I’d never been to an island that was solely dedicated to being a nature reserve, but once I landed on Little Barrier Island, known as Hauturu in Māori language, it didn’t take long to realise I was in a Garden of Eden. Straight away I could see kākā and kākāriki flying overhead, tūī and bellbirds trying to out-sing each other, and kōkako bouncing across the ground nearby.

In the Cook Islands the closest we have to a nature reserve is Suwarrow, our national park, which is is 825km north-west of Rarotonga and home to millions of seabirds, thousands of huge coconut crabs, hundreds of sharks, and rare species of turtles. Suwarrow was predator-free until last year when one of the rangers noticed rats on one of the islets (Motu Tou).

A team is to return there this year to complete a rat eradication programme. Back on Hauturu, my first week involved helping Dan Burgin, of Wildlife Management International, and Leigh Joyce, DOC’s assistant ranger on Hauturu, conduct a population survey on the taiko/Black Petrel Procellaria parkinsoni.

I got a real hands-on experience holding these big seabirds and carefully learnt how to direct them in and out of their burrows. After handling the bird, with Dan banding it, we checked its nest for eggs or chicks. My second week involved a New Zealand Storm Petrel project with the Northern New Zealand Seabird Trust.

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Alanna Matamaru-Smith, from Cook Islands’ BirdLife Partner Te Ipukarea Society, helping out in the field © Forest & Bird

It was interesting to see how these birds were caught through the use of high beam lights, mesmerising the small petrel towards the ground. I was told back at home, old mamas on Mauke, one of our outer Cook Islands, used this technique too, but that was for chickens!

I had the job of placing captured birds into their new artificial burrows. Walking by myself in the dark forest to the burrows some 200m away, I saw what I thought was a kiwi but it turned out to be a kākāpō right there in the middle of the track. We both stood still for a good eight seconds before the kākāpō realised I had spotted it and headed off into the nearby bush.

After that, I had a lot more helpers join me on my walks to the burrows! Having arrived back home, I’m looking forward to utilising my skills learnt on Hauturu. For instance (funding dependent), I hope to work on a new project surveying and monitoring the herald petrel population on Rarotonga.

Little is known about this species, which is a major obstacle to developing a conservation plan and starting predator control work. There has been little recent activity in terms of seabird projects being conducted in the Cook Islands. So, with my new passion and drive for seabird conservation, I hope to jump-start a bit more excitement within this area, especially among our young people.

 

BIRDLIFE IN THE PACIFIC

BirdLife International is the world’s largest nature conservation partnership, with 120 partners worldwide. BirdLife’s Pacific Partnership includes national conservation groups from New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Palau, and Australia.

The Pacific has more threatened bird species per unit area of land, or per person, than anywhere else in the world. There are 34 critically endangered bird species in the region that are on the brink of extinction, with many more edging closer to being wiped out every year. Do you want to help? Head to our Support Us page.