Highlighting our ocean neighbours

Summer rangers (from left) Kai Blackmore, Becky Cameron and Giverny Forbes are employed by the...
Summer rangers (from left) Kai Blackmore, Becky Cameron and Giverny Forbes are employed by the Department of Conservation and Dunedin City Council to look after our beaches and keep watch over the wildlife. PHOTO: JIM FYFE
Welcome to Wild Coast News, a new collaboration between The Star, Department of Conservation and Dunedin City Council, which aims to shine a spotlight on our wonderful coastline and the unique wildlife that inhabits it. As we come into summer, the column will share updates of the sea lion breeding season and will offer advice on how to share the beaches safely and respectfully with these and other precious taonga species who help make Ōtepoti Dunedin the wildlife capital of New Zealand.

We owe a lot to the contribution of Otago Peninsula to Dunedin’s dramatic coastline — not least our claim as "wildlife capital".

This tough remnant of volcano stands stubbornly in the ocean’s swell and currents, stirring up productivity and offering refuge for wildlife of the Southern Ocean.

Rivers of sand from Clutha River/Mata-au and Taieri soften these shores with quartz sand beaches. In the lee of the peninsula, where currents eddy, wildlife can catch up with clusters of prey and find shelter.

For communities from Taieri Mouth to Waikouaiti, this coast enriches existence — there is something primal about sharing this edge with a vast ocean and its inhabitants.

Preparing for summer

For those who enjoy recreation and wildlife breeding, we are so lucky.

The Department of Conservation (Doc) and Dunedin City Council employ three rangers to cover the longer summer evenings, weekends and public holidays that provide more recreational beach time.

Rangers help to share information about the wildlife present and the rules and bylaws in place, helping to keep our native species safe and improving their chances of breeding successfully.

There are courtesies when visiting and sharing coastal spaces.

Find out about wildlife present from locals.

Notice signage asking for extra care.

Give wildlife lots of space.

Keep your dog on a lead until you are sure there is no chance it will disturb wildlife.

Female sea lion Paige is pictured near the road at Brighton. PHOTO: JANET LEDINGHAM
Female sea lion Paige is pictured near the road at Brighton. PHOTO: JANET LEDINGHAM
Feel good about walking. Minimising vehicle use on beaches is an instant win — the beach is a habitat and not a road.

And, please, be nice. The rangers are working to connect communities.

They can help identify how to relieve pressure on habitats and wildlife on a coast facing many challenges, including a rapidly changing climate. Have a chat about your interests.

Celebrating our sea lions — births, deaths, and ... surfing?

January marks 30 years since sea lion Mum’s first pup, Katya, was born at Taieri Mouth.

Katya is survived by daughters Gem, Patti and Huru.

This year, Katya’s family line has 9 potential breeders.

Over the coming months, Doc, the Ōtākou Runaka and New Zealand Sea Lion Trust will share stories about the family.

Sea lion Paige caused a stir around the suburbs of Brighton and Ocean View last year, and now she is believed to be pregnant for the first time — where will she go to pup?

Mother and daughter Patti and Janet are regulars at Aramoana and this branch of the whānau seems to have developed a special interest in the activities of Dive Otago.

Until Christmas (pupping season), pregnant sea lions disperse and hide for quiet time away from the males before pupping.

Let us celebrate these threatened endemic sea lions; neighbours sharing a passion for Dunedin’s coast and establishing their life in the shelter of Otago Peninsula.

By Jim Fyfe
Doc biodiversity ranger
Coastal Otago District