Over the past 24 years one family has been quietly
going about setting things right on Dunedin's coastline. The
Star reporter Dan Hutchinson takes a look at the work being
done to restore Moturata/Taieri Island to its former glory.
Martin Palmer and his daughter Robyn Ashton stand in front
of Moturata/Taieri Island. They have been working to
restore the island's ecology for 30 years. Photo by Dan
3A Taieri Mouth family is going to extreme lengths to restore
a ''red beacon'' of rata forest to Moturata/Taieri Island.
The island is in a tough spot - at the mouth of the Taieri
River - but that has not stopped Martin Palmer (83) and his
daughter Robyn Ashton persevering for more than two decades.
The island was covered in rata trees before humans, rabbits
and erosion stripped it clean of vegetation.
''In the old days, for some of the old explorers or
missionaries who came past, it was known to be like a red
beacon,'' Mrs Ashton said, referring to the colour of the
rata's summer flowers.
The island holds a special place in the pair's history - they
are descendants and members of the Moturata Taieri Whanau - a
Kai Tahu hapu affiliated with Te Runanga o Otakou.
The island was a pre-European fishing village, a whaling
station in the 1830s and a pilot station assisting river
traffic during the gold rush era.
Bringing it back to its former beauty is a big job and 23
years of ground work is just starting to bear fruit.
Mr Palmer was a driving force when the project started -
arranging lottery funds for loads of manuka slash (branches
with ripe seed) to be ferried to the island by helicopter, to
stabilise the soil and allow regrowth.
Trips were made up the Taieri River to collect soil and
seeds, which were grown at Taieri Beach School and then
planted on the island.
Some of those plants survived but all early attempts to grow
rata failed because of the lack of shelter and water.
An attempt to plant 50 rata in 2010 was more successful and
30 were still alive. Fifty trees were planted last year and
only 10 have perished.
Mrs Ashton said they can walk out to the island at low tide
during certain phases of the moon and get two or three hours
of work in before the tide sweeps back over the 1.5km long
''Sometimes you only get 20 minutes [on the island], so it
makes it a little bit exciting.''
A holidaying family was lucky to escape earlier this year,
after getting caught in the tide as the sun was setting.
''It was really lucky that the first-response people, like my
neighbours just above, were actually watching them ... that
was really close.''
Knowing the dangers and with help from volunteers, loaded
with soft drink bottles full of water, they have been able to
keep trees alive and plant more.
''You can get about 18 litres on [each person] with a front
pack and a back pack. There is a wee cliff, so you have got
to be really careful and you climb up about 25m above sea
Possums made an appearance last winter - ''attacking and
stripping'' some of the young rata trees. Five possums were
The 7ha island is home to yellow-eyed penguins and royal
spoonbills, so care has to be taken not to disturb their
Mrs Ashton and Mr Palmer know it will take a long time to
cover the island in rata again.
''We really want to see it from the mainland glowing red when
Half the island is owned by the Department of Conservation
and the other half by Moturata Taieri Whanau.
Project Crimson - a group that helps restore coastal rata and
pohutakawa - has been instrumental in providing the right
trees. It is one of the southernmost sites where rata can be