Tai Poutini Students Support Local Conservation Efforts

02 July 2024
Development West Coast
Last week, as part of their ecology and conservation studies, Tai Poutini students spent time being educated by conservation experts from the Paparoa Wildlife Trust and the Predator Free Te Kinga project.

Jose Tarasiewicz, a current student studying outdoor education, along with fifty-eight of her classmates were provided with the opportunity to step into the boots of conservation workers for two full days. During the experience, Jose became aware of the enormity of effort being applied to protecting native species, near Greymouth.

“Part of the reason why I chose to complete my tertiary training on the West Coast was because I wanted to experience the region's natural environment. I felt lucky to have the opportunity to learn about conservation efforts and contribute to the work on the ground.”

Each day students travelled to each organisation's operational area.

Based from Iveagh Bay, under the supervision of Predator Free Te Kinga staff, students received training in the use of VHF radio, GPS and the baiting and setting of DOC150 traps. Fresh rabbit as bait was applied generously to each trap before they were strapped onto pack frames ready to be carried onto the forested slopes above.

In addition to the DOC150 traps, the Te Kinga team coached students to notice the browsing habits of various animal pest species. The students were involved in deploying new technology in the form of NZAutoTrap’s AT520AI, a self-resetting trap equipped with Artificial Intelligence technology. The AT520AI trap is so smart that it can decide which species to kill and which species to leave alone.

The trap takes photos when a creature comes within range. The onboard AI system detects the species automatically, and either arms the trap or leaves it disarmed for non-target species. Information is shared by the entire network of traps, allowing the system to continue learning and improving. All traps in the system are solar powered and fully internet connected, allowing for instant notification if predators reinvade the area.

The first goal of Predator Free Te Kinga is to eradicate possums from the 3,700 hectares of Mt Te Kinga, as well as preventing reinvasion by creating barriers on the surrounding 14,000 hectares of farmland. Over the next few months, the full network of AT520AI traps will be positioned on and around the mountain, with the Predator Free Te Kinga team expecting to learn an enormous amount through the use of this innovative technology.

In addition to targeting possums, Predator Free Te Kinga staff are also removing stoats, rats, and pigs from the mountain and surrounding farmland, with the potential to also remove goats and feral cats in the future.

For Jose’s student group day two offered a change in learning content. Hosted by the Paparoa Wildlife Trust (PWT) team the students planted 600 native trees within the Atarau Sanctuary kiwi creche to improve the habitat for young roroa (Great Spotted Kiwi).

The 12-hectare sanctuary currently holds four roroa chicks, these are cared for by PWT staff for 8-9 months until they are over a kilo in weight, they are then released back into the Paparoa Range. The students got a chance to observe a juvenile roroa and benefit from hearing stories from Jo Halley, a PWT trustee who has been involved in the project since 2006.

Jo’s passion for protecting kiwi left a lasting impression on the student group. For Jose the experience inspired her to consider conservation related work in the future. “Jo’s level of knowledge was inspirational. Not only did she provide me with an opportunity to see my first kiwi, but it was also heartening to know our iconic native species are getting the best possible start in life.”

For Jose, gaining an insight to local conservation was incredibly rewarding.

“Experiencing the West Coast’s natural environment through the eyes of a conservation worker provided me with a newfound sense of responsibility to contribute. My interactions with local experts who work tirelessly to restore our natural habitats and protect our native species have encouraged me to find ways to give back to nature. The outdoors provides me with so much enjoyment in life, this week has caused me to realise that preserving it is vital. Giving back is not only the right thing to do, it’s also highly rewarding. I’m looking forward to future opportunities of being involved in supporting the health of the environment.”

“Whilst recreating in nature brings me so much enjoyment, I now realise how important it is to look after our whenua and to give a little bit of my time to a cause much greater than myself.”

Jose Tarasiewicz

Zak Shaw, the Nature Economy Project lead for Development West Coast supported the coordination of industry participation in the student’s educational experience.

“It was great to see the three organisations working in partnership to foster students' interest and skills related to conservation. Not only did the students learn an enormous amount but the Paparoa Wildlife Trust and Predator Free Te Kinga project also got the benefit of having the students complete a massive amount of physical work. From my perspective it looked like win, win, win. One win for the organisations involved, another for protection of native species, and a big win for the students."

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