Q&A with Tū Mai Taonga's Operations Manager Chris Giblin
What brought you to Aotea?
Sarah and I moved to Aotea from the Chatham Islands back in 2017 to take up a role as operation managers of Glenfern Sanctuary. We were really excited to move here because of the conservation opportunities, warmer environment and island lifestyle.
For the past few years, our conservation company has focused on feral cat control in the north of Aotea and also on other islands and conservation areas around the country.
We are currently living in a shed while we build a house at Whangaparapara.
Our son Isaac was born four months ago and we have two dogs, Max and Tui.
Are your dogs special?
Max and Tui are both Labrador/collie/huntaway crosses. They are allowed inside the house but are fully trained and certified with the New Zealand Conservation Detection Dogs Programme (feral cats) and are an essential part of our business.
What are you seeing around the island?
The Tū Mai Taonga project is refitting the old DOC headquarters at Akapoua and I’ve also been working from Motairehe marae. I’ve spoken to people who were around when the last two kōkako were found and removed to Hauturu/ Little Barrier in 1992 to prevent rats from wiping them out.
I’ve seen how feral cats and rodents are constantly eating away at populations of native seabirds and threatened species like Pāteke, Niho Taniwha/ Chevron Skink or Pepeketua/ Hochstetter's frog.
But I’m also seeing success - like the Kākāriki/ Parakeets we see around Ōkiwi because of the intensive trapping carried out by the community, the school and at Glenfern Sanctuary, and the Toutouwai/ North Island robins on Hirakimatā, which established from birds reintroduced to Windy Hill and Glenfern.
There is a lot at stake and it’s important that we increase effort and create a more effective, joined-up approach to predator control so we can retain our biodiversity and see it thrive.
Is getting rid of feral cats and rats feasible?
The project commissioned an independent feasibility study last year suggesting it is possible to remove feral cats from the whole island if we coordinate efforts and promote responsible pet ownership.
We need to shift from never-ending spending on predator control to an eradication-focused model.
Rats are going to be more difficult, so we have developed an operational approach that will start on smaller islands, enabling us to learn and adapt ground-based methods and integrate new tools as we go.
We know from community surveys in the north that there is strong support for the project’s restoration goals and many people are already playing their part in predator control on their properties. We’re aiming to provide new confidence and give momentum to the efforts of community groups and landowners across the island.
What makes Tū Mai Taonga different from other efforts on the island?
Funding from the Jobs for Nature programme means we can invest in more field workers, skills training and new tools that will make a difference in bigger areas.
The project is led by Ngāti Rehua Ngātiwai ki Aotea, so the values, Tikanga and relationships with agencies, landowners and community will be different.
Currently, we are talking kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face), seeking advice from the Taumata group (kaumatua and kuia) and meeting on the marae to help increase awareness of the project. I’m looking forward to talking about the developing plans at community meetings and the Pestival over the next couple of months.
The Tū Mai Taonga project will encourage additional investment, coordination, and partnerships over the next five to ten years. Predator Free 2050 Limited, the Department of Conservation and Auckland Council have provided generous funding to get the project up and running.
Can I join the team?
Yes! We have just offered six field personnel contracts, some to those already on the island or with connections here and keen to come home. We’ll also be using on-island companies where they have the capacity to supply labour.
I’m looking forward to putting together a hard-working team that can prepare tracks, put out traps and monitoring equipment and begin field operations this spring. We also need finance and admin support so check out our vacancy page - https://www.tumaitaonga.nz/vacancies
What do you hope the island might be like when your son turns 21?
I like how Opo Ngawaka (Ngāti Rehua Ngātiwai ki Aotea Trust Chair) describes his vision - “our mokopuna able to hear the same birdsong our tupuna once heard in the ngahere.”
Getting rid of feral cats and rats makes a huge difference to native wildlife. On other islands where invasive mammals have been removed, restoration has occurred remarkably quickly.
I’d like Isaac to experience the cacophony of native animals I’ve come across during my conservation career.
I don't want him to have to travel to Hauturu or elsewhere to see and hear burrowing seabirds, parrots, giant land snails, wētā, skinks, and bats. I want him to think encountering them is just a normal part of life on Aotea.
Interviewed by Tim Higham for the Tū Mai Taonga project.