West Coast seabirds and their habitat are healthy and thriving.
Our Mission is to achieve this through research, education, awareness, advocacy and practical projects, founded on strong science.
Penguins and other seabirds are a treasure or taonga, and we strive to protect and conserve them and their habitat – the wider marine and coastal environment.
Birds We Protect
New book: New Zealand Seabirds – A Natural History
We are thrilled to announce that Kerry-Jayne Wilson's eagerly anticipated book specifically about the seabirds of New Zealand is to be published in October.We are thrilled to announce that Kerry-Jayne Wilson's eagerly anticipated book specifically about the seabirds of New Zealand is to be published in October. This has been a labour of love for Kerry-Jayne, who has had a passion for seabirds for many years, and the new book, being published by Potton & Burton, looks superb with stunning photographs. New Zealand is often described as the seabird capital of the world - rightly so as no other country has so many species of breeding seabirds, while about a third of them are only found here. The book will be an essential companion for anyone who appreciates the wildlife of our coastlines and the oceans beyond. And we know that means you. Find out more about the book, have a sneak preview inside and get your order in for one of the first to come hot off the press here: https://www.pottonandburton.co.nz/product/new-zealand-seabirds/
The Westland Petrel – by Kerry-Jayne Wilson
As part of an occasional series featuring species and their photographers by the team at the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, Kerry-Jayne Wilson was invited to tell the story of the Westland petrel.As part of an occasional series featuring species and their photographers by the team at the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, Kerry-Jayne Wilson was invited to tell the story of the Westland petrel. 'Discovered' in 1945 as a new species, the Westland petrel or taiko has been of interest to ecologist and ornithologist Kerry-Jayne since the 1970s when she discovered it on caving trips around Punakaiki. Here, she tells a bit of their story, using her own and other photos from the DOC Ranger leading the Westland petrel work, Kate Simister. https://www.acap.aq/latest-news/4154-featuring-acap-listed-species-and-their-photographers-the-westland-petrel-by-kerry-jayne-wilson Note: In the photo above, Kerry-Jayne was doing field work and the bird landed close to her. We encourage people to stay away from all wildlife to avoid disturbing them and we do all we can to minimise our own interactions with wildlife in the course of our conservation work. Westland petrel with egg on nest (photo: Reuben Lane)
Stewart Island tawaki survey published
Robin Long's survey of 40km of the rugged north coast of Stewart Island for tawaki has been published in Notornis, the journal of the Ornithological Society of NZ, this month.Robin Long's survey of 40km of the rugged north coast of Stewart Island for tawaki has been published in Notornis, the journal of the Ornithological Society of NZ, this month. Robin, the Trust's new Chair, has been surveying tawaki nests since the age of 14. In recent years, she has extended the search from South Westland to Stewart Island to help better understand the range and size of the tawaki population there. Last year, in 2020, along with Simon Litchwark, she surveyed the coast of Port Pegasus and, the year before, they surveyed a section of the northern coast. The rigorous process of write up and peer review of a report covering the 2019 survey has resulted in the publication of a paper by the pair in the latest edition of Notornis, 68(3): pages 183–187. They conclude that a significant breeding population is present and needs to be considered in future management plans for the species. Also that additional surveys to cover the remaining coastline would be useful. Read the paper here.
Education plays a key part in the West Coast Penguin Trust’s activities. We know that children can develop a lifelong value for nature particularly in the age range 6-10 if they are given the opportunity. Not only that, but they love penguins and share their enthusiasm with their extended family and friends.Education plays a key part in the West Coast Penguin Trust’s activities. We know that children can develop a lifelong value for nature particularly in the age range 6-10 if they are given the opportunity. Not only that, but they love penguins and share their enthusiasm with their extended family and friends.
Penguin and Seabird Educational ResourceThe Trust has developed a penguin and seabird education resource aligned to the NZ Curriculum especially for the West Coast but it will be of value for educators and children everywhere, particularly coastal areas of New Zealand, and whether at school, home or youth group. (Scroll down for link.) “Blue Penguins & Other Seabirds. Activities for exploration and action for schools and community groups” is aimed at children in the age range 5 to 9 but can be adapted for younger or older children. The goal is for local people to learn about and take action for the wildlife in their own back yard. Research has also shown that children gain essential values for the environment and a lifelong connectedness to nature in this age group. Fun learning activities are included within the education resource, including games and arts and crafts. With all the resources on line, they are readily available to home school parents and students and indeed anyone with an interest in sharing a love for and interest in the coastal environment with children. The project focuses on blue penguins but includes sooty shearwaters (both species are in Gradual Decline, 2005 NZ Threat Classification System), Fiordland Crested Penguins or Tawaki (Nationally Endangered) and Westland Petrels (Range Restricted), all in their natural habitat. The coastal habitat of these species on the West Coast has, as it has around NZ, been modified or disturbed by humans and their activities. We welcome any feedback on the resource and we would also love to receive photographs and stories as you have a go at the various activities. Please send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Download the Education ResourceThe resource is available for download as a PDF, after completing the form below. This web-friendly version is 59 pages – 10.4MB. If you would prefer a higher-resolution PDF and or a hard copy of the resource, please email email@example.com.
LEARNZ VideosThe LEARNZ videos that can be used in conjunction with the resource, can be found here: LEARNZ Videos
Year 10 Ecology CurriculumThe Trust is also keen to connect to senior school teachers and students and has worked with Erica Jar at Buller High School, providing material for her Year 10 ecology curriculum classes. Those notes and lesson plans are available in a zip file, with grateful thanks to Erica: Penguin Ecology Year 10 Lesson Notes (Erica Jar, Buller High School, 2017)
Other ResourcesComing soon... For now, have a look at this great resource to help you identify tracks in the sand at your beach: https://nztracker.org/index.html# And our latest advice about building nest boxes: https://www.westcoastpenguintrust.org.nz/news/blue-penguin-nest-box-design/
Schools taking action
Hokitika Primary School
- Planting day to improve penguin habitat - link coming soon
Fiordland crested penguin predator study
In order to understand whether and if so which predators were contributing to an apparent decline in the numbers of Fiordland crested penguins, the West Coast Penguin Trust embarked on a study using trail cameras in 2014.In order to understand whether and if so which predators were contributing to an apparent decline in the numbers of Fiordland crested penguins, the West Coast Penguin Trust embarked on a four year study using trail cameras in 2014. For the 2019 season, which followed a 'mega-mast' seed event and predicted rat and subsequently stoat population explosions, the Trust established an annual breeding success monitoring programme. In 2020, following a mega mast in Autumn 2019, the Trust has extended the project, with the support of Wellington Zoo and the Birds New Zealand Research Fund, with the aim of better understanding whether breeding success is adversely affected by the presence of stoats, and if so, what is the best means to manage that threat. An overview of the work planned for the 2020 season is available on the Birds NZ website. There were many fewer stoats than expected and predation was low, which was great for the penguins and showed us that there is plenty more to learn about the relationship between beech mast events, stoat populations and predation. Further work is being carried out to analyse camera imagery and interim reports on the 2020 season can be found here (March) and here (June). The Trust's Tawaki Ranger and Trustee, Robin Long, gave this TED type talk in Franz Josef in October 2019, summing up the Trust's work and her experience of tawaki both at home in Gorge River and volunteering with The Tawaki Project. Robin has continued her adventures to survey areas of Stewart Island with a survey of the Port Pegasus coast in September 2020. A report of her mission can be found here. Project Background The Fiordland crested penguin, or tawaki, is in need of our help, being listed as Nationally Vulnerable and one of the least studied and rarest penguins. Tawaki is the only crested penguin to inhabit the main islands and coasts of New Zealand. The 2012 IUCN red list classifies them as Vulnerable. The West Coast Penguin Trust ensures that conservation management is based on good science. Introduction The Trust has set out to establish which predators may be contributing to a decline in the population so that appropriate targeted action can be taken. This follows a technical review of the conservation status of both the species and earlier management actions and a priority action was to determine the effects of introduced predators on the breeding success of tawaki. A funding bid for a pre-predator control project to the Department of Conservation in 2014 was successful and motion activated cameras were purchased with sponsorship from local businessman, Geoff Robson of Greenstone Helicopters. Cameras are a low impact method of obtaining the information and these were installed at two colonies at Jackson Head and Gorge River in South Westland, in late August for the four breeding seasons 2014-2017. This work will ensure that any predator control targets the appropriate species in the most effective way, thus saving money and contributing to the conservation of the species in the longer term. Four-year study Our study coincided with a five-year study into the ecology and particularly the foraging ecology of tawaki by Dr Thomas Mattern and The Tawaki Project. We were able to share both resources and findings and the projects complemented each other extremely well at the Jackson Head site. In the second year of the study, 2015, El Niño conditions off the West Coast resulted in almost complete nest failure at Jackson Head as chicks starved and adults swam up to 100km for little food and poor nutrition. In the third year, 2016, stoats, which had been scarce, appeared in large number at the Jackson Head site and both eggs and chicks were lost to predation. A fourth year in 2017 found breeding back to 'normal' levels, without El Niño conditions and with barely any stoats visible on camera footage. Link to study report after 2017 season With two abnormal years in the four-year study, but it appears that the large numbers of stoats and the loss of chicks was a direct result of an earlier beech seed mast event close by. These events, when trees produce massive amounts of seed every 2- 6 years, result in explosions in mice and rat populations, followed by stoats. As the food source for stoats runs out - as the seeds rot and germinate and rodent numbers reduce - stoats are likely to spread out in search of food. We believe they spread to Jackson Head in 2016. The report at the end of the fourth year is here: WCPT Tawaki report 2018 Final What happens next The Trust has shared its findings with the Department of Conservation and is recommending that landscape predator control operations be managed to take tawaki into account. They have traditionally been focused on species such as kaka and mohua, and ensuring tawaki nesting areas are included is a tiny step to take as treatment areas are already including or could include such colonies. In order to gain a better understanding of the situation, the Trust started an annual breeding success survey of nests in the three areas of our study in the 2019 season and, in addition for the 2020 season, carried out trail camera and tracking tunnel monitoring (overview here). A variety of both research and management priorities have been identified for tawaki and it's likely that the West Coast Penguin Trust will be involved in progressing those priorities for the benefit of the species, working with both the NZ Penguin Initiative and The Tawaki Project. Have a look at The Tawaki Project site for up to date blogs and news of their project, now focused in Milford Sound and check out http://pengu.cam/ for some extraordinary video footage, recorded under water from the back of a penguin.
Blue Penguins – monitor and review
The Trust started life in 2004 as the Blue Penguin Group, a group of concerned residents in the Greymouth/Charleston area who had noticed that blue penguin numbers were declining. The Trust has been monitoring penguin breeding success in a number of colonies ever since and using the lessons leaned to improve conservation management for these penguins on the West Coast.
Science is at the heart of our workUnder the direction of former Lincoln University ecologist, Trust Scientist and former Chair, Kerry-Jayne Wilson MNZM, science underlies all the the Trust does. The Trust began by determining the role of stoat predation on the apparent decline of blue penguins in the Buller area. Stoat traplines were established around three colonies, while two others were left un-trapped, and then nests were monitored for breeding success. After five years, it was clear that the breeding success was not improved by stoat trapping and just a couple of incidents of predation by a stoat were recorded. At the same time, working with the Department of Conservation, a blue penguin mortality database was established. This showed that the vast majority of dead blue penguins reported to the Trust or to DOC, around 60-70% depending on location, were being killed on roads close to the coast. The second largest killer of penguins on land was dogs. This was compelling evidence to focus our efforts on preventing penguins being killed on the roads and by dogs. Read more about the penguin protection fence project here. Ensuring that penguins are safe from dogs is an on-going challenge, one that the Trust has attempted to address in a variety of ways, and work is continuing in collaboration with the Department of Conservation and the three District Councils. In the meantime, monitoring of penguin colonies was expanded to include other sites in the Buller area and we now maintain the monitoring of two colonies on a fortnightly basis throughout the breeding season and twice yearly for the other colonies. Long term data is invaluable for improved understanding of the species and could alert us to major issues.
BurrowscopesMonitoring is undertaken using burrowscopes. These are small cameras on the end of a 2m flexible tube, sending images back to a monitor. The camera can be gently inserted into a burrow, often quite deep underground, to establish whether eggs or chicks are present with minimal disturbance for the penguins. In addition to the Buller monitoring, the Trust has carried out surveys of Okarito penguins in 2008, 2013 and again in October 2018. The colony south of Okarito is generally well away from human disturbance and numbers appear to be steady.
What's happening nowMasters student Luisa Salis-Soglio is currently reviewing all the data monitoring date to and including 2019, aiming to establish any trends, as well as any links to knowledge of foraging patterns established through our GPS study. The New Zealand Penguin Initiative is working to support community groups achieve consistency in their collection, storage and presentation of data and has established a platform for our monitoring results. The new site enables us to discover the breeding success rates for the two study colonies and much more detailed information. After a disappointing breeding season in 2019 with chicks lost to starvation, the 2020 season has been far better, with breeding success at 66.7% at one site (numbers of chicks fledged from eggs laid) and an excellent 89.6% at the other.
Nest box designIn areas where weka are present, they will try to predate penguin chicks. Nest box design is critical and we have provided a design that aims to minimise the risk of predation by weka. Read more and find the design here.
Cape Foulwind and Wall Island
Cape Foulwind is a wonderful place to visit at any time and we're hoping to add to that experience by carrying out predator control for sooty shearwaters. 'Sooties' can be seen between November and May as they fly back to their burrows over the wooden section of Cape Foulwind Walkway.
Sooty ShearwatersAlthough the population of sooty shearwaters is in the millions, they are in decline, surviving on islands, particularly around the southern South Island. A handful of 'sooties' nest on the mainland at Cape Foulwind and the Trust has been encouraging more to nest here and protecting those that do. A solar powered sound system is used to play calls to attract the birds as they prepare to nest in October and November, and a trap network is maintained on the headland. Over the past few years, numbers nesting at this site have increased, but the colony remains small and as yet no chicks have fledged. These large black birds are consummate seabirds, flying up to 2000 km from home on foraging trips and have been recorded diving more than 60 m. They return to their nests around dusk, so simply standing on the Wall Island lookout of the Cape Foulwind Walkway should reward you with the sight of these birds during their breeding season, from November to around May. They are usually silent at sea; most calls are given by birds at night on the breeding colonies, though occasional calls are given by birds flying over breeding colonies at night. The main call is a loud, rhythmically repeated slightly hysterical coo-roo-ah generally made by duetting birds from within burrows or on the surface. The Trust has started to monitor sooty shearwater nests using trail cameras to better understand the threats posed by predators but also to learn about these amazing birds. Here's a video of a noisy pair of 'sooties' at Cape Foulwind.
Blue PenguinsThere are only a few blue penguins nesting at Cape Foulwind, despite the sound system mentioned above also being used to play calls to encourage them into this site. These sounds are played between June and August, as the breeding season gets underway. In time, the Trust hopes to establish a small viewing opportunity, perhaps with a discrete nest cam.
Fairy PrionsFairy prions are beautiful small petrels, also known as dove prions as they are pale grey blue in colour. Only 25cm long, they are very vulnerable to prolonged stormy weather, often succumbing and being washed up on west coast beaches in vast numbers. The Trust discovered that Wall Island, the rocky island some 250m off shore from the Cape Foulwind seal colony, has more seabirds than any other island between Cook Strait and Stewart Island. Every scrap of soil on this rocky outcrop has been used for a seabird burrow, predominantly fairy prions. The island is currently predator free, and the Trust maintains a trap line on the nearby coast to ensure it remains that way. We also check the island every couple of years or so to ensure that prions are surviving. Any presence of predators would mean that the prion population would crash.
West Coast Blue Penguin Count
An annual count of blue penguin sign on West Coast beaches in October, but we'd love to hear from you anytime. It's a great opportunity to discover your beach and to be involved in a project!This is an annual event in October, but we invite observations at any time of year. Are there penguins on your local beach? We’d love you to find out and let us know! An early morning walk in the spring will help you rediscover the beauty of your local coastline, discover whether penguins are using the beach and help us build a clearer picture of where blue penguins are on the West Coast. We have selected these dates when the tide will be low early in the morning to keep you safe and to offer the best chance of seeing penguin tracks crossing the freshly washed sand. You can add your observations any time, but always pay special attention to tide times and conditions. To make it easy for you, useful for us and accurate, we’re asking you to record any penguin observations – probably mostly penguin tracks but perhaps a live penguin or penguin sounds – using the i-Naturalist app on your smart phone or tablet not only this week, when blue penguins are likely to be busy feeding chicks and the tides are just right, but any time that you come across them. iNaturalist has been around for a few years, is ‘the online place for Kiwi nature watchers’, and you can add any nature observation at any time. It may take a few minutes to install and familiarise yourself with it, but then it’s a piece of cake to add your records, including your photos if you wish. At home, create a login and then find The Great Annual Blue Penguin Count under ‘Projects’, and join our project. Link to the Great Blue Penguin Count October 2021 project Then, click on ‘Add Observations’ and start entering your record or records! You just zoom into the map and click on the location of the observation and add details, comments and photos following the prompts. For your mobile devices, open the iNaturalist webpage, scroll to the bottom of the page and get the Android or iphone app or find the iNaturalist app in your app store. Then the same applies – create a login if you haven’t already, find and join our project, and then record your observation. Enable GPS so that the app finds your location, then you can add a note, a photo if you wish and the few details for our project and move on to the next observation, perhaps more penguin tracks, as you walk along the beach. What to look for: We have put together some information here: Penguin and other footprints. And as an aside, if you like being a detective at the beach, have a look at this excellent footprint identification resource from NZ Tracker. The key thing to look for is fairly straight lines of footprints heading from the dunes to the sea early morning from those penguins that have left early. They will be foraging at sea all day and returning after dark to feed chicks at this time of year. The three toes make an angle of less than 90 degrees, nearer 70 degrees, whereas many other seabirds have their toes spread wider than a right angle. They are also a little turned in, or 'pigeon toed'! (We can rename it penguin toed!) HANDY TIP From previous experience, where there are lots of tracks, or even just a few, it’s simplest to open the app on your phone or tablet, ensure GPS is enabled, then record each observation as you see it, with or without a photo, then, back at home, open iNaturalist on your computer, go to “Your observations” and then click on the “Batch edit” button. You then tick all the observations you have just made and complete the fields for each in one go, e.g. penguin tracks or live penguin etc, rather than entering them as you go. Saves heaps of time and effort! You can also look at our project to see where others have recorded observations. There is plenty of help in the iNaturalist help section, so give it a go – have a play and use it for penguin tracks for us, but also native birds, spiders, fungi, plants ...! And don’t forget, iNaturalist is for all nature observations, so you can add other encounters, perhaps oystercatchers, dotterels, shags, seals, skinks, or a curious fungus or seashell any time! I added what I thought was a washed up small ray, and it was subsequently identified as a New Zealand Rough Skate. Have fun! Alternatively, keep some notes, including when you checked, the area you walked and roughly where any tracks were seen, and email us your results on firstname.lastname@example.org. Please think safety before you venture out. Walking on our wonderful beaches soon after sunrise is often a magical experience but there are a few safety messages. Check the tides before you go and remember to watch out for the waves – never turn your back on them, and if you come across a seal, give them a wide berth of at least 20 metres if possible. Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back.
GPS Foraging Study of Blue Penguins
The Trust had focused on establishing and addressing the land based threats to blue penguins for several years and, in the last few years, has sought to understand the marine ecology.Tiny GPS units were applied to blue penguins during the 2015, 2016 and 2017 chick rearing seasons and the Trust collaborated with the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in a wider study to better understand the foraging patterns that were discovered. A report was published in the NZ Journal of Zoology in April 2017, led by Tim Poupart and Dr Susan Waugh of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and included data from three sites, Wellington, Motuara Island (Marlborough) and our West Coast study. Data has been collected for five years and, for three of those years, the West Coast Penguin Trust carried out the field work at Charleston and Cape Foulwind. Altogether the study includes tracks gathered on 68 individuals in three regions of central New Zealand between 2011 and 2016. Foraging patterns varied between sites and between years. Tracks revealed that penguins can rely on distant foraging areas while incubating, with nesting birds from Motuara Island travelling up to 214 km to feed. Isotope analyses of blood samples showed that this distant food from deep waters (0–200 m deep) is likely to be squid dominated, which has a low nutrition value. During the chick rearing period, birds undertook a diet shift to a higher trophic level while foraging closer to their colony, and possibly near river plumes. These findings highlight the need to consider much larger potential foraging ranges when assessing and managing threats to the penguins. The research team, including the Trust’s Kerry-Jayne Wilson and Reuben Lane, advise that conservation efforts need to take this variation into account to protect these penguins, which are currently in decline across New Zealand. The Trust continued the project in 2019 with the support of the New Zealand Penguin Initiative. The NZPI was able to supply GPS trackers that also measured dive depths and although only two tracks were obtained, the information was very interesting and useful. Read more here. The study continued in 2020 with greater success and 11 tracks obtained. The NZPI have created a new platform to store and share data for each group undertaking penguin research in New Zealand. The results of the 2020 season tracking can be viewed here and read more about the project in our news story, largely from NZPI. We expect additional analysis of foraging areas in relation to other marine influences including currents, climate events and commercial fishing, to follow at some point, and for now, we'll be focusing on ensuring consistency of process to collect data annually and contribute to an understanding of the foraging activity of blue penguins on the West Coast through the four key stages of the annual life cycle, namely incubation, chick rearing, pre and post moult. We’d like to thank the JS Watson Trust (managed by Forest & Bird) for their support, Te Papa for their collaboration and the New Zealand Penguin Initiative for coming on board with their help and expertise.
Pahautane Penguin Fence
3000m of fencing to protect penguins and prevent them being killed on SH6 - The Coast Road. It's saving the lives of several penguins every year and mortality has reduced to zero in these areas.Why build a penguin fence? Where the Coast Road is close to the sea, penguins may choose to nest on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. Both parents will feed penguin chicks and they often go to sea to forage every day, leaving around dawn and returning after dark. These small birds don’t stand a chance against vehicles and large numbers of birds have been killed on some sections of the road. A fence on the sea side of the road was the obvious solution as it restricts the penguins to nesting habitat below the road, preventing them nesting and therefore crossing to the other side of the road. Why build it here? The West Coast Penguin Trust has been recording penguin mortality since its inception in 2006. A few sites along the Coast Road have been found to be hotspots for road kill. Three locations on the Coast Road (SH6) have claimed the lives of over 100 penguins in five years. They are the McCarthy Creek area, the south side of the Fox River Bridge, and Pahautane Beach to Hatters Bay. The annual penguin census, along with scientific studies, suggest that blue penguin numbers on the West Coast are continuing to decline. In March 2012, the Trust and Conservation Volunteers erected a trial 100 metre long penguin fence south of Punakaiki, which proved very successful and the design was used for the new fences. The Trust talked to OPUS, NZTA and DOC about building a $40,000 penguin protection fence along 2.6km of coastal highway, stretching from just north of Meybille Bay through to Limestone Creek since 2009. On 22nd August 2014, the last gate in the new fence was officially closed by Buller Mayor, Garry Howard. A year later, and ahead of the 2015 breeding season, the Trust completed another 300m of fencing along the coast highway near Seal Island, another location where road kills have been recorded. These fences have cut road kills in the area from 7 birds annually to zero. We’re very grateful to the local teams from Fulton Hogan and WestReef, who, with annual support from the NZ Transport Agency, carry out weed spraying and maintenance. The former ensures that the vegetation does not become too abundant and heavy, which could damage the fence. The fence is a deceptively simple black geosynthetic mesh that will prevent penguins straying on to the road. Driveway and beach access has been retained, and the Trust has installed spring-loaded gates. A similar fence erected by the Friends of Lillico Penguins in Tasmania along a major highway, has been very successful in bringing down the numbers of penguins killed on the road and increasing the penguin population.
How can you help?The completed fence requires occasional maintenance and costs will be ongoing. Your donation will help to keep the penguin protection fence working as designed and you can donate via our Givealittle page. Also, if you're driving past the fence and notice any issues, perhaps a gate wedged open or some damage, please close the gate or let us know so that problems can be fixed immediately. Thank you.