Volunteer Pat Dean with the extra sign she is putting up on Sandfly Bay after a run-in with a camping German tourist. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Discovering a tourist had lit a campfire in the dunes at
Sandfly Bay right next to a threatened yellow-eyed penguin
colony was the last straw for volunteer Pat Dean.
With what had killed at least 56 yellow-eyed penguin adults
along Otago Peninsula beaches still a mystery, the
possibility a fire could get out of control and whip through
the colony angered the Department of Conservation and its
''What an idiot, he could have burnt the whole place down ...
especially given the rough trot we've had,'' Ms Dean said.
Doc ranger Mel Young said the fire risk was high along the
coast especially with a westerly on-shore wind. A fire in a
penguin colony further south in 1995 wiped it out.
''Given we've had to take six breeding adults out of there
[Sandfly Bay] dead recently, I can't believe it.''
Ms Dean (64), who has volunteered for six summers at Sandfly
Bay, said she approached the German tourist when she saw
smoke billowing up from the dunes where the public were asked
not to go.
''I shot up the dunes yelling for him to put it out. He had
his tent up and a sturdy fire going under the shelter of
She kicked sand on the fire and dragged the main log down the
beach to the water.
''Any sparks could have set it off and decimated the place.''
The tourist, who had walked to the beach, was urged to leave
and catch a ride with a fellow tourist.
Ms Young said it was not the only unthinking behaviour to
happen recently, as she had seen surfers go on to the Boulder
Beach reserve, which was closed, even after being told by Doc
of the ''mass mortality'' event.
Doc biodiversity programme manager Dave Agnew said it was
another stress those working with the yellow-eyed penguins
did not need after having to rescue underweight chicks and
pick up their dead parents.
''The past week we have had so much support from volunteers
and the community.''
Tests at the Cawthron Institute to see if a marine biotoxin
had caused the deaths had come back negative so environmental
testing, including deep water testing in known foraging
sites, would take place next week. On the positive side, no
dead penguins had been found in the past three days, he said.
Volunteers, Doc staff, the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust and tour
operators would continue to scour the beaches during the next
week. Any assistance would be welcomed for those searches or
regular volunteering at Sandfly Bay, Mr Agnew said.