On the 8th February, I made my way to the Sir Peter Blake Trust centre at the viaduct in Auckland. There I was greeted by Jemma Welch – my buddy to be for the trip! Jemma was sort of the expert ambassador on the trip; she had done her masters in studying grey-faced petrels, and had since been doing a lot of other sea bird and conservation work, a lot more experienced than me to say the least! Our boat over to Aotea/Great Barrier Island was to leave at Sandspit, and on our way, we picked up Jane from the Warkworth DOC office nearby. Jane was sort of our chaperon from DOC for the trip, as the project was mostly being carried out by Wildlife Management International Limited (WMIL) one of New Zealand’s awesome ecological consultancy companies. The trip was also to be an adventure for Jane who was a trainee-ranger, originally from Australia and had never been to Great Barrier Island either. At Sandspit we met up with Nikki from WMIL who was our team leader for the trip, and Jo (DabChickNZ) who works with Rua the conservation dog. On our way to Great Barrier Island, we made a pit-stop at Hauturu/Little Barrier Island to pick up Dan, the last member of our black petrel team who also worked for WMIL.
Once we arrived on the island we set up camp and did a debrief of the work we would be doing on the trip. The project had been set up to study the black petrels, one of New Zealand’s many endemic, but threatened sea birds. Turns out that almost 90% of the black petrel breeding population was found on Great Barrier Island, which is why the project was set up here. A small population is also found on Little Barrier Island – which is why Dan had been there before we picked him up. Despite my limited knowledge about the birds and conservation work, Nikki and Dan soon taught me the ins and outs of the work that WMIL and others were doing to protect these awesome birds. Over the next couple of days I quickly learnt that Nikki and Dan were just two of what seems to be many amazing and fantastic people in NZ who were working their hearts out to protect the native wildlife that our country has been blessed with.
One of the best opportunities that the trip had provided me was the chance to meet people like Nikki and Dan and learn a bit about their background and how their passions had got them to where they were today. Before working for WMIL, Nikki had done a lot local governance in the Wellington region, and as someone interested in policy, it was interesting to hear about the kind of work he engaged in and how important it was for scientists to be a part of decision making processes. While not working in this capacity anymore, Nikki remains in contact with a lot of community stakeholders who sought his advice on a range of different conservation issues. As ecologists for WMIL, Nikki and Dan’s job not only covered field work and data collection (which our trip was about), but also academic writing and publishing, consultancy work in providing recommendations and advice, and advocacy to other groups and general members of the public. As we continued to do our monitoring work, the in-depth knowledge and care that they had not only about the black petrels, but about other birds, animals and the environment was humbling in a sense.
As I began to become more familiar with my surroundings and the environment on Great Barrier Island, I was incredibly thankful to Nikki, with whom I did most of my work with in the first week. He would take the time to teach me different facts about a tree we would walk by, or the historical background to how something was named, or the different environmental and ecological considerations that needed to be made behind a policy decision.
Slightly different to Nikki, Dan was from the UK and was doing some short-term work with WMIL. Before coming to NZ, he had done some conservation work in several different places including Costa Rica. While I didn’t do as much work with Dan at the start of our trip, from chatting to him it was awesome to see how he had mixed his passion for conservation and travel. He illustrated to me how there is a whole bunch of people out there, not only in NZ, but internationally, who have the world view for caring protecting the world we live in.
BLAKE DOC Ambassador 2016