Get hands on with penguin conservation in Dunedin.

New Penguin Tautoko Kaitiaki a world first

Blue Penguins Pukekura has launched an exclusive new experience where visitors can get hands on with penguin conservation work. Small groups of visitors are invited to lend their support and work with a dedicated penguin scientist to care for the little blue penguins and their environment.

Otago Peninsula Trust Ecotourism Manager Hoani Langsbury says “People are always curious to find out what goes on behind the scenes with penguin management, so we’ve designed a world first experience where visitors can accompany one of our scientists on their rounds and help them care for the penguins. According to the time of year they could help check the birds for RFID transponders, assist with weighing and if a penguin is unmarked they could hold them for microchipping. Hands on habitat work in our regenerating reserve could involve planting new trees and grasses, protecting new plants from rabbits, nest box repairs and beach clean ups.”

Hoani adds “The new experience allows visitors an in-depth chance to share in and understand our work with the little blue penguins.  This area is so precious to our whānau, and through sharing this experience we hope to inspire many more people to care for te taiao (our environment). Numbers are limited to four people per day to ensure minimal disturbance to the penguins.”

Enterprise Dunedin Director John Christie says “We’re excited to help present this new experience to the world which is a great hands-on addition to Dunedin’s visitor attractions. Dunedin is well known as the Wildlife Capital of New Zealand, the Seabird Capital of the World. Tautoko Kaitiaki is a great showcase for all the fantastic work being done for wildlife conservation in our city.”

Otago Peninsula Trust CEO Robyn McDonald comments “Our Trust has a proud 50 plus years of preserving and enhancing Otago Peninsula, especially through partnerships. Our collaboration with the Korako Karetai Trust is a great example of how mana whēnua, conservation and tourism can work together to produce positive outcomes for everyone and contribute hugely to the revitalisation of a significant area.”

Visitors are able to book the experience through the Royal Albatross Centre. Funds from the Tautoko Kaitiaki project go towards resourcing the kaitiakitanga at Pukekura.

What you need to know:

  • Join our penguin scientist on their rounds
  • Cost $500.00 (1 to 4 people)
  • Duration – 3 hours from 8.30/9am
  • One booking only per day, early morning. subject to availability
  • Book direct | reservations@albatross.org.nz

BACKGROUND

Since 2012 a guardianship and tourism partnership, Blue Penguins Pukekura, jointly managed by the Royal Albatross Centre and the Pukekura Trust has seen breeding success at Takiharuru-Pilots Beach on Otago Peninsula, Dunedin. Blue Penguins Pukekura is the resource generation arm of the Pukekura Trust, which was established to look after the land at Takiharuru-Pilots Beach and the species that live there.

The partnership has seen the penguin population increase exponentially to approximately 200 breeding pairs within the reserve. The summer of 2018/19 saw 270 chicks successfully fledged.

Key factors in keeping these little blue penguins safe, and supporting their breeding, are preventing them from getting onto the road and into the carpark, protecting them from introduced predators (rats, feral cats, stoats and dogs), planting native trees and shrubs to give shelter, providing them with ready-made nests where they can incubate their eggs and raise their chicks (large enclosed wooden nesting boxes that are half buried), and strictly managing people’s access into the area.

The tourism operation, where up to 90 visitors per night learn about the penguins, then watch them from a platform as they emerge from the sea at dusk and scurry up the beach and into the bushes to their nests, has generated revenue which supports the penguins in the best way possible as Hoani explains. “The visitors’ financial contribution goes directly towards penguin welfare and habitat restoration. This includes revegetation of the area, with over 15,000 plants established, more than 300 nest boxes built, over 700 pests destroyed, and for the last three breeding seasons we’ve had a dedicated penguin scientist monitoring their welfare.”

School children from Otago have been involved with weeding, replanting and installing nest boxes. This provides a wonderful opportunity for hands-on-science and an understanding of ecology.

The management of the penguins at Pukekura has happened  in stages. Firstly enclosing the nesting area, next controlling the introduced predators, then the enhancement of  their habitat, and alongside all of this, educating the visitors. Things have shifted up a notch over the last two summers with the introduction of radiofrequency identification (RFID). Scientist Dr Hiltrun Ratz and volunteers have microchipped 1320 little blue penguins at the colony. The data from these chips provides vital information on many aspects of the penguins’ comings and goings.

In 2018 there was another special ‘first’ at Blue Penguins Pukekura. “In 2018 we supplementary fed 29 chicks that had been abandoned by their parents, 2019 saw 63 chicks hand fed, with 62 successfully fledging,” explains Hoani.

Mana whēnua, consider Kororā or little blue penguins to be a taonga species (treasured).

Visitors to Blue Penguins Pukekura experience a cultural ecotourism venture which is a true community partnership, where a Charitable conservation trust,  Mana whēnua and scientists are all working together to make a secure future for the little blue penguins of Pukekura.