Saturday, April 13, 2024

Solar solution for Tahitai penguins

Wellington City Council will install solar lights with a penguin-friendly amber glow over the next few weeks to provide better visibility on the darkest stretch of Tahitai – the award-winning harbourside walking and bike route.

Thirteen solar lights with charging panels integrated into the lighting poles are being installed to light the paths adjacent to Cobham Drive between the two big roundabouts at Calabar Road and Troy Street.

Council says the new lights will make it safer and easier to use this section – particularly during the winter months when shorter daylight hours often mean people need to use the coastal route after dark or before it gets light.

When no-one is around, the lights will be orangey and dim, but they will brighten up briefly when people walk, run or bike through. 

The lights have smart motion sensors and can be remotely programmed and fine-tuned. They were chosen in part because they can produce light of a colour and type that is unlikely to deter kororā, little blue penguins, which nest and rest in the area. 

Department of Conservation senior ranger biodiversity, Brent Tandy, who was an advisor during planning and construction, says the project us a good example of how things should be done.

“It’s about finding ways to balance the needs of wildlife with those of people, and making shared routes like this accessible for humans and penguins alike,” he said.

Ligman, the company that manufacture the lights, says the amber LED has a narrow long wave-length that is friendlier for nocturnal animals, insects and plant life while still providing enough light for safe movement and orientation.

The light will be directed towards the paths and away from the rock seawall, which was built to help protect the road and paths, but has nooks and crannies between the rocks that provide appealing places for penguins.

Image of Cobham Drive with cyclists and pedestrians using the new connection.

The solar lights were planned as part of the original project and cost around $326,000 including installation.

The solar panels are effectively wrapped around the lighting columns. This helps them to receive light evenly from the sun and sky during daylight hours, even in darker climates and seasons, and means they are good in windy locations.

Contractor, Downer, plans to begin work to install the lights today. Weather permitting, it will take around a month for the lights to be fully installed.

Holes will be dug for the foundations in the garden areas, steel reinforcing cages will then be installed, concreted and allowed to cure before the lighting poles are lifted into position using a crane.

Funded by Wellington City Council in partnership with Waka Kotahi, Council says the redevelopment of the area has been a team effort involving Taranaki Whānui, Downer, Places for Penguins, Predator Free Miramar, the Department of Conservation, the Kaikoura Ocean Research Institute, Greater Wellington, local schools, community groups and organisations, and many others.

The project has won multiple awards including the IPWEA New Zealand best public works project over $5million, a 2021 On the Go runner-up award for cycling built excellence, and a Living Streets Aotearoa Golden Foot walking award last year.

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