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Source: Auckland Council

It’s a big week for conservation around the globe, with World Environment Day on 5 June and World Ocean Day on 8 June. Here in Tāmaki Makaurau, there are many environmental success stories to celebrate during this busy nature-focused week. From wonderful blue-wattled kōkako thriving in the Hūnua Ranges, to conservation efforts protecting nocturnal native freshwater fish, there’s lots of good work to highlight in Auckland right now – and for the rest of the year. Read on to find out how Aucklanders are supporting the environment to help our native plants and animals.

Kōkako numbers are soaring

The Hūnua hills are alive with the sound of kōkako, thanks to the efforts of the team at the Hūnua Kōkako Recovery Project. Population numbers of the endangered songbird have soared to new heights within the Hūnua Kōkako Management Area (KMA), a 1500ha area of protected forest in Hūnua Ranges Regional Park. Within the KMA, kōkako are protected from threats such as rats, mice and stoats thanks to the trapping efforts of Auckland Council rangers and volunteers, as well as aerial 1080 operations.

In a 2022 population count, the number of kōkako in the protected area reached a record high of 259 breeding pairs, making it Aotearoa’s third-largest mainland kōkako population. It’s a world apart from the start of the project in 1994, when there was just one breeding pair and 23 individual birds in Hūnua. This year, kōkako have been spotted further afield, 8km beyond the KMA in the Cossey Dam area. Kōkako are not strong fliers, so the sighting is a sign that recovery efforts are taking off.

Kōkako numbers have reached record highs in the Hūnua Ranges.

Fresh thinking for fish

Tāmaki Makaurau’s freshwater fish are an elusive bunch. Take the threatened shortjaw kōkopu, a secretive fish that hides under the forest-lined boulders in Waitākere Ranges Regional Park. These nocturnal creatures are one of five species traditionally caught in its juvenile stage as whitebait, and they’re pretty shy by nature, evading extensive study. A new report by Auckland Council puts the spotlight on these fascinating fish and other local native species, many of which have threatened conservation status.

The Regional Conservation Status Assessment report identified 31 freshwater fish species in the Auckland region, 13 of which are threatened or at risk of extinction. By understanding where these creatures live, they can be better protected. The team at Auckland Zoo are also working to protect native freshwater fish by breeding the waikaka (black mudfish) with the intention of future release in a suitable habitat. Black mudfish – considered at risk – are unique to Aotearoa and are, at times, literally fish out of water. In summer, when some wetlands dry up, black mudfish can survive by wriggling into mud and absorbing oxygen through their skin until the water returns. It’s easy to see how this fish earned its name waikaka, which translates to ‘cunning in water’.

The waikaka (black mudfish) are a unique endemic species important to wetland environments.

Children are the future at Trees for Survival

Trees for Survival is a charitable trust funded by Auckland Council that helps introduce tamariki to Aotearoa’s conservation journey. The organisation provides schools with special irrigated shade houses where students can learn to grow native plants, which are then planted within the community. The organisation started in 1991 working with a few schools in Pakuranga, and is now working with 186 schools across the country, with a total of two million native trees planted. In 2023, 146,280 natives and 12km of waterways were planted – this is known as riparian planting and helps to filter and slow the flow of water, reducing erosion.

Students from Lynfield College plant native trees as part of conservation work with Trees for Survival.

Changing tides in Hauraki Gulf Marine Park

The findings of the 2023 State of the Gulf report show the health of marine life in Hauraki Gulf / Tīkapa Moana has been cause for concern for decades. But there is lots of good work happening within Hauraki Gulf Marine Park – which stretches from Te Ārai in the north to Waihi in the south – as volunteers, environmental groups, mana whenua and Eke Panuku strive to improve the cleanliness and biodiversity in Tāmaki Makaurau’s waters. From beach clean-up groups such as Sustainable Coastlines and ocean litter collection organisation Sea Cleaners, to a clever barnacle-shaped innovation at Te Waitematā, Aucklanders strive to improve our ocean’s health and protect marine life.

At Westhaven Marina, Eke Panuku are working alongside mana whenua to trial new marine modules for use on an upgrade to the Westhaven sea wall. The 3D-printed modules were created by a design team comprising LandLAB, Beca and marine ecologist Dr. Jarrod Walker of Tātaki Ltd. The modules are made from a mixture of seabed mud and concrete, and shaped like large ngākihi (limpets) and werewere (barnacles). When placed in the water, they create a rockpool effect to help support marine life by growing seaweed and providing shelter.

The work is a similar innovation to the textured walls at Te Wānanga, which have been designed to encourage the attachment of seaweed, barnacles and periwinkles. Mussel lines at Te Wānanga are designed to improve the mauri (lifeforce) of the harbour, and each mature mussel will filter 150-200 litres of seawater.

Workers install mussel lines at Te Wānanga, each mature mussel will filter 150-200 litres of seawater.

Casting our eyes further ahead, a fictional State of the Hauraki Gulf 2173 report by Professor Simon Thrush (University of Auckland) and Professor Conrad Pilditch (University of Waikato) imagines an optimistic future for Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, with abundant kaimoana (seafood), marine life, sea birds and a blue economy. The report offers a pathway to recovery for legislators in the marine park based on science-based projections that offer a hopeful future for this coastal treasure.