Monday, July 15, 2024

Lizards hold up Coastcare projects

The start of the 2024 Coastcare Waikato planting season has played out a little differently this year, thanks to the pitter patter of tiny feet.

Last year, East Coast Coastcare co-ordinator, Andrea Whitehead, who is employed by Thames-Coromandel District Council, started noticing a lot of lizards around.

“While I was catching up with one of our long-term volunteers, I even noticed a big fat pregnant skink basking next to us in the dunes,” says Ms Whitehead.

“And I said don’t move, check this out!”

Native lizards and other native fauna are either threatened or at risk of extinction and are fully protected by the Wildlife Act (1953), which means they cannot be harmed or disturbed without a permit from the Department of Conservation (DOC).

While Coastcare’s work helps these species by creating and restoring habitat, this means extra care needs to be taken not to harm or disturb them during the restoration process, said Ms Whitehead.

A Waikato Regional Council biodiversity team was called in to set up a monitoring programme to assess the lizard situation at beaches earmarked for restoration.

Coastcare Waikato also got in touch with the Department of Conservation (DOC) to inform them of these discoveries.

“The outcome of the tracking tunnels was that as well as lizard footprints, we also discovered we had loads of mice and rats,” said Ms Whitehead.

A decision was made to leave earthworks out of this year’s restoration season until more investigations have been carried out: “We’ll also be doing lots of physical hand weeding, which is not fun or easy for our team or our volunteers.”

What is positive, however, is a heightened focus on coastal restoration to protect native wildlife and their habitats, says Andrea.

“And that is actually what Coastcare is about – we’re about protecting what lives here as well as growing plants for dune resilience!”

In addition to lizards, dunes across New Zealand support native birdlife and threatened invertebrates, including the amber dune snail (Succinea archeyi) and the katipō spider (Latrodectus katipo). Many of these native species live only at the coast and may become further threatened or extinct if their habitat is lost.

“We’ll be putting in more traps now, to support what we’re already doing, and to help protect all our native species.”

Coastcare is continuing to work with DOC and local councils to determine the best course of action for all its restoration sites.

Waikato Regional Council Biodiversity Officer, Andrew Anderson, who manages Coastcare Waikato, says the fact that taonga species still have strongholds in developed coastal areas is a real testament to the hard work of community groups.

“Trapping predators, planting native coastal species and removing exotic weeds all help these creatures to thrive. As habitat loss is one of the most serious threats to all these species, it’s more important than ever that we continue the mahi of restoring our dunes.”

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