A Leopard Seal on a Peninsula Beach has come from Antarctica to enjoy the sun. International visitors of any kind have been rare on the Otago Peninsula since March 2020.
Its been noticeably quiet on the Otago Peninsula with the latest Covid-19 related lockdown and our progression into level two. As we move into spring and the days get longer the Peninsula begins awakening and preparing for summer. Both people and animals begin to shrug off the last vestiges of winter as the lawnmower gets dusted off and birds begin their frantic nest building in garages and trees around our community.
However, one thing that has not been awakened has been the visitor and tourism sector. Since our first lockdown in March 2020 and our second in August 2021 our local tourism industry has been under significant pressure. In 2019, New Zealand’s tourism industry generated $40.9 billion NZD in revenue (nearly 10% to New Zealand’s GDP) and creating nearly 400,000 jobs. This equates to 14.4% of all employment in New Zealand working in a tourism related job (Stats NZ 2019). The Otago Peninsula’s reliance on international visitors is demonstrated by research that conservatively suggests that wildlife alone on the Otago Peninsula generates $100 million NZD annually and creates 800-1000 full-time equivalent jobs in the Dunedin area. With a record drop of 12.2% in GDP the contribution of tourism to the national economy has been keenly felt. The hours worked in the tourism industry has declined from 12%-59% across New Zealand. This has been particularly high in Otago with a 32% decline in hours worked (Stats NZ 2020).
The 1980’s campaign to see more of New Zealand was developed to encourage domestic tourism. In the post Covid-19 climate domestic tourism would need to increase 72% to deal with the loss of international visitors.
After the eventual return to level one in 2020 there was a significant effort to encourage New Zealanders to travel and use local tourist services as domestic travellers. There was certainly some return on that campaign, but economically domestic tourism would need to increase by 72% to completely fill the void left by international tourism. (NZ Tourism, November 2020). Around 60% in tourism-related expenditure is either directly or indirectly generated by domestic tourism. Nationally, only in Auckland and Otago (including the Peninsula) does the international tourism expenditure outstrip domestic travellers. (ASB)
After the 2020 lockdown there was discussion about needing to “reset’ tourism in the wake of the closure of our borders. Certainly, its been a time to contemplate change, but just how much change remains debatable. Until we can open international borders safely and ensure that visitors and the local populace are vaccinated we remain very much in limbo. With the Australian response to the virus so varied and inconsistent it seems doubtful we’ll see one of our major markets open up to the industry for some time. I hope I’m wrong, because Covid-19 has been particularly tough on the visitor sector on the Otago Peninsula. Not too mention the prolonged Level 4 status of Auckland in 2021 which has not made the current conditions any easier. Finding solutions to this issue is not simple and finding the balance between opening up New Zealand’s borders and containing the spread of this deadly virus is a difficult one to navigate. Presently, all we can do is support those local businesses in our area by shopping local, supporting their events and recommending to all in sundry what they have to offer. Next time you meet someone who works in the tourism sector give them a smile and thank them for boxing on in very trying times.
Winter is not my favourite season, I take no joy in the cold and darkness and if I had my way I would hibernate through it like a bear. However, with the arrival of spring my disposition changes and I become energised and optimistic once again. Spring on the Otago Peninsula though has its trials, and is best described by Mark Twain who once wrote “In the spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.” The changeable nature of the season is simply part and parcel of life on the Otago Peninsula.
The spring flowering of puawhananga (native clematis) marks the end of the winter and new beginnings for our wildlife here. The eastern inlets will see the arrival of the kuaka (Bar tailed godwit) from its migration from around the arctic circle in the northern hemisphere. Spring is a busy time on the Otago Peninsula for our wildlife as they begin to give birth and create new generations of their species. Because its not the stork on the roof that beings the pitter patter of tiny feet or flippers to the Peninsula but our sea lions, penguins, albatross and many other native species. It’s also a busy time for many staff and volunteers who devote their time and energy to seeing these species survive and thrive on the Peninsula. To all of you, my thanks.
Dunedin is extremely fortunate as a city to have the wealth of nature at its doorstep. Our ability to interact with wildlife is unique on the national and international stage. It does bring with it responsibilities around behaviour, activities and the nature of our interactions. I’ve recently seen examples of some pretty poor behaviour at Tomahawk and Smaills beaches involving vehicles in both areas. Both examples puts wildlife at extreme risk, not to mention local people using these areas also. The key to wildlife survival is the way in which we as humans behave and act. They are very simple things like, keeping your dog on a lead, not driving on the beach, giving animals space, not lighting fires and actually reading the signs at sites about what you can and can’t do. We welcome visitors to the Otago Peninsula, but your visit comes conditional of respecting our wildlife and landscape. Let’s have a great spring and a safe summer.
Our first experiences of the environment and biodiversity usually come from our early explorations as children in our backyard and local community. It’s the beginning of our awareness of the natural world and an important step into our understanding of the world around us. The Dunedin City Council has recently presented Te Ao Turoa – The Natural World as a draft environmental strategy for the City. The proposed strategy lo sets out themes, objectives and priorities for the management of the Dunedin Environment.
I was asked to write a submission on the proposed strategy on behalf of the Otago Peninsula Community Board. Strategy documents like this one are highly aspirational, they aspire to high level objectives and priorities. There’s nothing wrong with this as it’s designed to give some direction in a very complicated issue, but the real test of these kinds of documents lies in how they are going to be implemented and funded. The other part of that test is whether the organisation that develops the strategy can ensure that it becomes part of the broader corporate culture of that organisation at all levels. This is a particularly critical aspect for its success.
My submission on behalf of the Community Board dealt specifically with the effects of the strategy on the Otago Peninsula. Implementation, communication and the ability of the strategy to be assimilated into the contractual, legal and policy landscape were major themes of that submission. The other aspect of the submission was the acknowledgement of community, business and human resources in the management and conservation of the environment needs deeper consideration. This is directly relevant to the Peninsula as our landscape and environment is so highly reliant on people who act as guardians and stewards of this unique place. It’s always difficult to synthesize such a daunting topic as the environment in a few succinct pages of a submission. The scale of the topic and its complexities means that you always feel as though there’s something you’ve missed out. I imagine that the strategy process will be an evolutionary one as submissions come in from a wide range of people around the city with widely different views.
The Banana passion-fruit vine (Passiflora mollissima) has become a problem plant for the Otago Peninsula over recent years and has continued to occupy significant areas of roadside in Portobello and Harington Point Roads. Given its highly invasive nature and need for high light levels passion-fruit has begun to choke the life out of many areas around the Peninsula. Its prolific fruit production has also been shown to be a suitable source of food for possums and birds distributing viable seed from the gut that can germinate. The other issue is if this plant remains widespread on roadside areas it will eventually be problematic to conservation groups and agencies as well as private landowners who manage bush remnants on the Peninsula.
I have raised the issue of passion-fruit at our Community Board meetings and through The Star to highlight the need to look at a multi-agency approach to management of passion-fruit. That includes both the Dunedin City Council and Otago Regional Council. As a land manager one of the issues for the City Council is understanding the extent of the problem and how to tackle it on the roadside areas. With in mind Moira Parker and myself have completed a map of the roadside areas on the Peninsula using GPS waypoints. The extent of the spread of passion-fruit surprised me with 220 sites identified and mapped. This mapping exercise now gives the City Council some hard data to develop a programme of suitable control, but it won’t be easy. This has to be looked at as a long-term and constant project over the course of 6-7 years and discussions with the Council will be ongoing. In the mean time one of the most simplest things people on the Peninsula can do is eat more passion-fruit! By harvesting the fruit it reduces the opportunity for further seed dispersal. If you are eating the fruit or preparing it just remember to dispose of seed and vine material in your refuse, not your compost!
The map below shows the 220 sites identified predominantly on roadside areas. You can navigate around it within the frame by using your mouse. Click on one of the markers and you’ll see a photograph of the site. You can also view the map in a full screen view by clicking on the box icon on the top right corner.
One of the great things about living on the Otago Peninsula and having children at a local school is you get to do some of the cool things that they do as well. I was one of two parents who took a group of children from Portobello School to Okia Reserve for “World Ranger Day” with the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust. Getting children out of the classroom and providing a genuine ranger experience was a great concept, but having pupils from the three Peninsula schools was pure genius. Like it or not there is a need for conservation groups to be prepared to pass on the mantle of stewardship onto a younger generation, and the earlier we do this the better. Peninsula kids are very fortunate that they grow up in a landscape inhabited by iconic wildlife species. We can only hope that this experience and their own inquiry will develop either empathetic citizens or active conservationists.
What I really enjoyed about the ranger day was the hands on activities that provided a genuine wildlife management experience. From exercises in measuring and identifying birds, to pest control and habitat creation, each activity was designed to show what really needs to be done in wildlife conservation. So much of what actually goes on in the field is unknown to the public, and to be able to provide that experience for our school children was a great experience. I’m sure many of the pupils will share their experience with their parents and family.
After events like this there’s always time to pause and reflect on some of the things that you take away from them. One of the big issues that stands out for me is how much the Peninsula relies on voluntary organisations and citizen conservationists to protect and advocate for our wildlife and landscape. The voluntary hours, fundraising and hard work put into places like Okia is quite staggering, and that is both comforting and concerning at the same time. It also highlights my view that the Peninsula Community Board has an important role to act as advocates and supporters for conservation groups in our district. That means using policy, planning and financial forums to ensure this critical work can continue on the Peninsula. After my experience at Okia it’s not difficult to understand just how important that role is and how rewarding it can be for our children today and in the future.