Shelley and I arrived in Port Waikato on a busy and exciting day for the small community: The annual Christmas Parade. Upon arriving we were handed paint brushes and blue paint and we got stuck into painting our float. For our ambassadorship we are working with Port Waikato’s Beachcare group. This is a volunteer group that works alongside the Department of Conservation to protect the plants and animals in Port Waikato and neighbouring areas.

The theme for this year’s Beachcare float is “Māui Christmas”. The goal is to raise awareness of Māui dolphins / Popoto and the threats that they face. This critically endangered dolphin is the smallest and rarest dolphin in the world with less than 100 adults remaining. They are a subspecies of the Hector’s dolphin and are only found in one place in the entire world – off the West Coast of the North island of New Zealand! Māui dolphins have a distinct rounded dorsal fin and weigh up to only 50kg and measure 1.7 metres long. It is said that Tangaroa, the guardian of the sea, gave Māui dolphins as a gift / taonga for people to admire.

Unfortunately, Māui dolphins are facing serious problems including getting tangled in fishing nets, being hit by boats and propellers, getting caught in or consuming plastics, being poisoned by pollution and losing habitat due to coastal development and marine mining. Increasing severe weather events such as storms can also lead to calves being separated from their mothers.

Māui dolphins need your help to survive: keep our beaches and waterways clean and free from rubbish, keep boats, kayaks and jet skis well away from dolphins, and keep a lookout for Māui dolphins. If you see some, call the DOC hotline (0800 362 468) and take pictures. These were the messages we were sharing on the day of the Christmas Parade and the coolest thing happened: a pod of Māui dolphins came into the bay of Port Waikato as if to check out the parade! Let’s all be kaitiaki to these precious taonga. Māui Christmas everyone!