Conservationist takes on grebe project

Wānaka conservationist Petrina Duncan recently took on the role of managing the Lake Wānaka...
Wānaka conservationist Petrina Duncan recently took on the role of managing the Lake Wānaka Grebes Project through her role at Southern Lakes Sanctuary.PHOTO: REGAN HARRIS
Of all the challenges facing a Wānaka conservationist, defining Petrina Duncan’s role in a single sentence would certainly be somewhere on the list.

Ms Duncan primarily works for Southern Lakes Sanctuary (SLS), a consortium of six local conservation groups officially established in 2021.

"So my first role when I started with Southern Lakes Sanctuary was to support Wānaka Backyard Trapping, which is a little local trapping group," she said.

"The following year, it got added to my job to do social media for Southern Lakes Sanctuary. Then in about August this year I dropped that social media for Southern Lakes Sanctuary and took on the grebes [project] ... and then I’m also a member of the Forest & Bird committee.

"So yeah, it’s hard to say exactly what I do."

Ms Duncan said her role, which changes daily and sees her meeting people across the district, was perfectly suited to her and often didn’t feel like work.

"I’ve figured out my thing is to be a connector of people. Someone who is like, ‘oh my God, you need to meet this other guy that I know who knows all about this stuff’.

"You connect people, and it always gives me a real buzz to do that."

The most recent addition to her job will see her gradually taking the reins of The Lake Wānaka Grebes Project, which works to manage the area’s population of the nationally vulnerable Australasian crested grebe (pūteketeke).

Started by retired zoologist John Darby over a decade ago, the volunteer project will now be managed by Ms Duncan through her work at SLS.

An avian enthusiast her entire life, Ms Duncan said she relished the opportunity to learn from someone as skilled as Mr Darby.

"It’s just really cool to have someone so experienced and knowledgeable sharing their knowledge."

She said the challenges faced by SLS in reducing predator numbers in the region were "huge".

"We’ve got few people, almost no money and the most crazy vast area that’s so mountainous and we can’t access most of it.’’

"What Southern Lakes Sanctuary is achieving — by way of supporting local conservation groups — is a fantastic start, but this work needs to continue with far more ongoing financial investment from the local and national government.

"Without that, many bird, lizard and plant species that are already on the brink of localised extinction will disappear completely by 2050."

Despite the many obstacles SLS faces, another aspect of Ms Duncan’s job — educating young children on conservation — gave her hope for the future.

"They’re really interested in these weird animals that they’ve never seen before, like ferrets and stuff. And you say to them, ‘these are walking at night around Wānaka’ and their eyes go wide."

"It’s one thing to educate adults, but actually these little kids are going to be the ones in 20 years doing conservation jobs which are hopefully going to get New Zealand closer to predator free 2050."