Students Champion Penguin Conservation Efforts

27 May 2024
West Coast Penguin Trust
Close ties between the West Coast Penguin Trust and Westland High School are bringing benefits for penguins and students.

Conservation Class is a relatively new concept for high schools and it has been embraced by Westland High School and Deputy Principal, Peter Brailsford, with years 9 and 10 students.

Their Conservation Class comprises three key areas: flora restoration, predator control and species protection. The latter is where the relationship has grown between the West Coast Penguin Trust and WHS.

Although the education focus for West Coast Penguin Trust Ranger, Lucy Waller, has been supporting primary schools to use the Trust’s resource book and developing an education programme since 2016, her work with high schools is growing.

The Trust first worked with Buller High School to develop Year 10 ecology lesson notes and demonstrate penguin dissection, making the biology and threats to local little penguins – kororā - real and relevant. This led to further dissection classes with senior biology students at other high schools and then working with conservation class students at Grey High School a couple of years ago and more recently with the conservation class at Westland High School.

Before taking action, it is important to understand the problem so that resources are not wasted. The Trust has operated in this way since it began back in 2006, establishing that key threats to kororā were vehicles on coast roads, loose dogs and loss of habitat.

The students first needed to learn about kororā, their biology and niche in their ecosystem including on land and at sea, and then understand the local situation, establishing where there may be risks and threats to penguins.

Working with Lucy, Mr Brailsford’s conservation class found two issues that they wanted to address.

Firstly, with erosion of the beach near Hokitika preventing usual access for penguins between sea and land, they wanted to come up with a ramp design that would withstand stormy seas and further erosion. They wanted to allow penguins to get up and down safely without having to walk for hundreds of metres to find a way up the bank.

This exciting project is work in progress and early trials have been undertaken.


The next area the students wanted to help with was to build and install nest boxes. Over many years, erosion has also removed coastal scrub habitat south of Greymouth and penguins have had to effectively move further inland to find safe nesting areas. The Guardians of Taramakau and Paroa Coastal Area Trust installed nest boxes years ago and the students decided to help replace some that were getting a bit old as well as install more.

The West Coast Penguin Trust is delighted with this plan as they will be doing more research and monitoring of penguins in this area. Although penguins will dig their own burrows, where there may not be suitable sites, they are often happy to have the safety of a nest box and possibly even dig in further beneath it.

Fun fact, kororā are fossorial birds! A fossorial animal (from Latin fossor 'digger') is one that is adapted to digging and which lives primarily (but not solely) underground.

Ranger Lucy Waller said: “Having passionate, hardworking and diligent teachers on board, such as Peter Brailsford, and other teachers I have worked with so far on the Coast, is an absolute must for these projects to succeed. We are always ever so grateful for the collaboration.”

WHS Conservation Class has a programme of field work for the year, including the recent installation of nest boxes in the Camerons coastal area. It was a perfect day for getting out to the beach and the team were able to install several nest boxes with careful instructions from Lucy.

The Trust has provided information about building and installing nest boxes that will protect penguin chicks from weka as well as water and disturbance.

“it is wonderful to have conservation available as a topic for students and even better that we are working together to find solutions that will help our kororā. This is a fabulous opportunity for students to understand the local wildlife and nature generally, and then to be creative as they take action to protect indigenous species. Students gain valuable life skills and our kororā are better off – win win!”

West Coast Penguin Trust Ranger, Lucy Waller
WHS Penguin boxes Camerons image zak shaw photography

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