David: Hello everyone. Welcome along to Live
On Air this Sunday evening. I’ve got with me Dr Hester Cooper, and we’re going to be
talking about conservation, community and in particular the Hauraki Gulf island, Tiritiri
Matangi. Before we talk about Tiritiri, Hester tell us a little bit about yourself and your
background. Hester: Okay, 40 years a researcher, and still
a researcher. My background was under-graduate. I did home science, and got interested in
people and products, and I did a masters in consumer studies in Canada and then ended
up doing my PhD when I was actually working in Palmerston North, at Massey. Field is what’s
called sensory evaluation, which is how people interact with products through the senses,
and apart from being curious about what consumers feel and do, I guess it teaches you a lot
about experimental design and a lot about statistics. So that’s where I come from.
David: A most fascinating background. Hester and I have known each other since the early
1990s. We were part of the same church group, and when I first found out about Hester’s
background I was very interested to try to understand what it was that researchers would
ask about sensory things. I remember making the most terrible faux pas with Hester; I
said something like, oh I’m immune to advertising. She just laughed and said, no you’re not.
Subsequently I found out, Hester that you are absolutely right; I’m not immune to messages
that come in all sorts of ways. Your research takes you into fascinating areas about the
human psychology and response, but specifically about how you got interested personally in
the Tiritiri Matangi and the conservation. Hester: Okay, so I first visited Tiritiri
Matangi in the early ’90s, and I did a few visits. I really liked it. I was interested
in wildlife – particularly birds, and then in the mid �90s I sort of got shoulder-tapped
by Barbara Walter who organised the guides at that stage, and she was needing guides
for the mid-week. These days we have some pretty [2:30] teams that come over during
the week, but at that time she was a little bit short, and she said, would I become a
guide. I said, well yes I’d love to – the birds will be fine, but I think I’m going
to have to do some work on the trees, Barbara. So I started guiding fairly regularly for
Barbara at that stage, and around that time, the biodiversity subcommittee of the society
heard that I was a researcher, so they thought that maybe I could help them as a research
advisor for applications for funding for research on Tiritiri. So, that’s when I started to
get involved, and then gradually I got involved in the biodiversity subcommittee itself, and
then I actually chaired that for seven years and then I became involved in the main committee,
and I’ve rolled on since then on both the biodiversity sub-committee and on the main
committee. David: Wow, so that’s a very extensive, very
long-term volunteer input into Tiritiri itself. You must enjoy the island immensely to keep
that up. Hester: Yes, and I’m not a real old-stager;
there are people who have been with the supporters since its inception, and it started in 1988,
so we still have people who joined in 1988, and are still going, and then we have a couple
of volunteers who come over regularly, probably almost once a week who are 90. So we have
long-terms; they obviously get something from the island – there is a reward for them, and
yeah we’ve been around awhile David: A lot of people that live in Auckland
would have known Tiritiri first of all because it had the lighthouse, and at night it was
one of the only – wasn’t the only lighthouse in Auckland Harbour – Hauraki Gulf, but boy,
that was one of the main ones. I gather that the last lighthouse keeper that lived on Tiritiri
has also become part of the community of volunteers. Hester: Well, he is now, but Ray came over
with family in 1980, and he retired finally from Tiri in 2005, and he sometimes says that
if he’d known he was going to spend 25 years there he probably would have slit his throat
immediately. He was our last lighthouse keeper because they were in the process when he came
off automating the lighthouse, and he was our first warden and ranger, and he was our
first and last nurseryman. So he developed the tree nursery on Tiri, and he’s still very
active within the supporters. David: Now, when you’ve got an island in the
Hauraki Gulf that has undergone this extensive conservation overhaul, if I can put it that
way, some very big conservation themes must have emerged out of it, including preservation
of the historic buildings like the lighthouse and so on, but what in your opinion are the
really big themes for Tiritiri? Hester: Definitely community and community-engagements.
The vision of John Craig and Neil Mitchell who first saw Tiri as very young lecturers
at the University of Auckland was that a) it be restored, but b) that it be our sort
of open sanctuary. So it was the first place that became a place with rare species that
was open to the public. Conservation in those days – and you have to think back, was really
the preserve of the professional ecologists, and the wildlife officers. The public wasn’t
engaged. The public didn’t get asked to plant trees. That was an entirely new concept, and
even the idea of planting 280,000 trees was sort of laughed at, because nobody thought
it could be done. It looks like quite a small project now, when you look at the really big
ones that are out there. David: There have been a number of things
that have made the Tiritiri Matangi unique in terms of conservation values. What are
some of those aspects? Hester: Certainly the bringing to an island
where people could see them of quite iconic and very rare species. So that’s absolutely
– and that was part of the vision of John and Neil; that species be brought where the
public could see them, and that they’d be wild on the island, but actually be seen by
the public. David: Does that mean that say if you’re out
boating as a private yachtie or boatie in the Hauraki Gulf, you could go onto the island?
Hester: Absolutely, and that’s quite rare because we’re a scientific reserve, which
usually you require a permit for. A scientific reserve is usually what it says; it’s a place
where scientists go. So no, boaties can go, and that’s one reason we have rat traps on
all the beaches. David: So there’s been a massive eradication
program for rodents and… Hester: We were lucky; we had only one pest
species, and that was kiore. David: The native rat.
Hester: The native rat, and the decision was made in 1993 to take them off. So yes, they
were removed. David: As a result unique species of birds
have begun to maybe thrive isn’t the right word, but their populations are growing. They’re
moving back from the brink? Hester: Absolutely, and Ray reckoned that
after the eradication, the food supply went up by 30 per cent. So even if the rats were
not physically taking out the birds, they were actually competing for food, so in that
respect they were certainly having a major effect.
David: There must be some other values that are associated with Tiritiri besides the introduction,
or replanting the trees and the introduction of some of these endangered species; is there
a kind of overall conservation theme or goal that guides you?
Hester: You can go and read our – oh, I’m not sure if our strategic plan is up on the
website yet, but it probably will be there soon. We place advocacy pretty much at the
top of the tree for us. Advocacy and sanctuary, we’ve always said kind of gazump other things.
So even if a species is not strictly speaking supposed to be there, but we could provide
sanctuary, we will do it. I think one of the nice things about Tiri is that people come
to the island, they see what can be done, and they kind of go away slightly inspired
to see what’s going on in their own backyard. It’s not about, oh I better get involved with
Tiri; it’s like, oh they did that – I wonder what we could do. You only have to look at
our record in New Zealand; I think there’s something like somewhere over 4000 conservation
projects in New Zealand, and the vast majority of them are community-based.
David: So the sense of building a community is very important for the existing community
to keep on building on that volunteer group. Hester: Absolutely. One of our streams of
income are the guided walks. We have a roster of about 200 guides. That rolls over at times,
so there’s a real need to keep people interested and engaged and supported, and new ideas and
all those things. We have guides who have been guiding for – well, I’ve been guiding
for over 20 years. David: Besides guiding, there would be people
involved in other aspects of the project? Hester: Absolutely. So the infrastructure
group looks after major infrastructure sort of projects. Past projects have included the
visitor’s centre which was opened in 2005, and there’s a large implement shed where all
the tractors et cetera are kept, and at the moment we’re moving our way towards some really
major projects around a new field centre, a maritime museum and even a replica of the
signal mast, so a lot going on. David: So, it’s sort of conservation in the
widest possible sense, isn’t it? It’s not just about the wildlife.
Hester: Particularly with the maritime area; a) Ray Walter has all these contacts because
he had been a lighthouse keeper from his 20s onwards, and the Tiri lighthouse is one of
the only that’s been continuously lit since 1865. We celebrated the 150th anniversary
in 2015, and there’s an awful lot of history around those buildings. In most parts of New
Zealand once automation happened, most of those buildings went. They were surplus to
requirement; they were demolished. So it’s one of the few places in New Zealand where
you’ve actually got lighthouse keeper cottages and other buildings around.
David: That’s amazing. I’m just very curious about – not the visitors that swarm in through
the official boats coming in across the jetty, but unofficial visitors, because even though
it is a reserve and we can get on if we’ve got a means to get there; does that mean that
the area around the island is somehow protected for marine life, or is that a vision that
would… Hester: Not at present. It’s suggested. There’s
a new plan for the Hauraki which includes marine reserves. It’s certainly one of the
suggestions there. We kind of take care of the island and leave the marine reserve to
see what happens, shall we say. At the moment, not no.
David: That must be one of the really unique things about Tiritiri Matangi; this partnership
between this volunteer group – the Trust board, et cetera and I presume it’s Department of
Conservation – DOC? Hester: Absolutely. So we have a relationship
of co-management to actually work with DOC in terms of how things are managed. There
are parts of it that are entirely DOC responsibility and will always be and should be, but there
are other aspects where the society actually works with DOC on those.
David: How do volunteers feel? Do they feel that they’re empowered, in a sense that they
have become scientists in their own right to be able to participate in building up the
reserves on the island? Hester: Well, I mean to be quite frank, we
have a number of scientists who are volunteers. Before the interview I talked about the fact
that if a colleague uses the – it’s a term used now around citizen science, which is
of people who are a-vocational – i.e. it’s not necessarily their job, but they have high
levels of skill in the area. We also have ecology lecturers who volunteer, and we’re
doing an increasing number of projects where members of the society design them and set
them up, and volunteers run them. David: That’s fantastic, isn’t it? That’s
the kind avenue that school kids in the later stages of high school, they may have a particular
career path prospect in mind, and aren’t going to study in that area, but they could also
service if you like their hobby, their passion, through this kind of work.
Hester: Absolutely, and I think the thing about those sorts of projects is it’s about
engaging our members, and actually having them work on a project over a long period.
If we look back on the translocations, there’s often an intense period of monitoring once
you translocate an animal, bird – whatever to the island, but it’s usually a fairy short-term
thing. It’s often a masters or PhD, which means that it’s one year or two years field
work, and then it just dies away. With volunteer groups you’ve actually got the luxury of a
longitudinal study of doing something quite long-term. The history of our planting is
that we planted 90,000 Pohutukawa – we were told that one in three would survive; somewhere
between 60 and 90 per cent survived. So we ended up with an awful lot, and when
they grow very close together, they don’t flower. So they’re kind of like a green desert
really. So we got permission in 2010 to cut some down so that we could see what would
happen if we cut – basically the principle was if you cut holes in a monoculture of a
forest what will happen – will you improve the diversity? So we’ve been monitoring that
annually now since then, and people keep saying to me, how long’s this going on for, Hester?
I’d say, well 20 years probably – we’ll just see what happens. So it’s the potential to
do that kind of length of study – much lower potential usually unless you have a university
professor who just loves a species and wants to follow it for the next 25 years, in which
case yeah you get that longitudinal study. David: Since you mentioned Pohutukawa, I think
a kind of hot topic at present is the Myrtle Rust disease that’s blown over from either
Australia or from somewhere around the pacific; that must present an enormous threat to sanctuaries
like Tiritiri and other places. Hester: Yes it does, and it’s very much a
wait and see at the moment. I see that there is now a suggestion that it may not survive
well in colder temperatures, which may mean that it becomes an upper North Island problem
rather than a lower North Island and South Island, which may mean that all those, what
I call inappropriate plantings of Pohutukawa down around the Kapiti Coast may well be our
salvation. Who knows? I guess we also don’t know what the genetic diversity of some species
– Myrtle species is. So at the moment Ramarama seems to be the one that’s most affected,
and that’s problematic because it’s not that common and therefore may not have great genetic
diversity, but for community projects where they’ve planted either a Pohutukawa as we
have, or lots of Kanuka and Manuka, we’re all sitting there waiting rather tensely.
David: The vulnerability of places like Tiritiri Matangi must be – the risk management plan
must be enormous in terms of trying to – you’ve got endangered species, you’ve got these kinds
of unexpected threats, et cetera; for the average volunteer how worrisome is all of
that ? Do they lose sleep at night over what might happen?
Hester: I doubt it. I hope they don’t. The thing with conservation is you have to be
optimistic that you can do something – that every little bit helps. There was a very good
editorial in the last Science which is called Earth Optimism, and it talks about the fact
that you can’t engage people if you just give them bad stories. If you just tell them about
all the doom, gloom and despair about conservation they see no point in becoming engaged or helping.
Why would they? So they also sort of made the point that conservation all around the
planet is actually about an accumulation of little advances. So it’s a whole lot of little
things. It’s every little thing we do helps. David: In a nutshell that’s part of the success
story of Tiritiri Matangi, isn’t it? How many visitors do you get a year? Is it significant
say in the Auckland scene? Hester: Absolutely – if you compare us to
the zoo, absolutely not. We’re limited by the ferry. So DOC sets a limit of I think
it’s 170 paying passengers on the ferry five days a week; that’s it. Boaties of course
can come and go at will. So there’s a limit. Normal range of visitors, sort of around 30-35,000
a year, but it’s certainly not hundreds of thousands which it would be if we were land-based.
David: I guess one of the key features of how popular it is, it is the number one attraction
on Trip Advisor and a number of other similar websites, I gather?
Hester: Yes, we’ve been number one on Trip Advisor for awhile. So if anybody wants to
come, please book on the ferry. We hate to see people disappointed, and certainly during
the summer months it gets very busy. David: It’s been a success story in ways that
people would not have foreseen, because I think there’s – if you like, they’re not public-private
partnerships, but in a sense they are the professionals embracing the volunteers in
ways that can – not always be easy to begin with, but here we’ve got something I believe
that you would say Tiritiri kind of blazed the way for this sort of volunteer group.
Hester: Well, certainly I know when they even started planted trees, nobody had ever asked
the public to come out with a spade and plant trees basically. We take that for granted
now. You think of all the planting projects around Auckland, and being asked to go out
for a planting day is kind of standard practice now.
David: Yeah. Sort of across the waves from Tiritiri at the Long Bay Reserve, there are
numerous volunteer days for planting out along the trail. You could rattle off probably a
couple of dozen projects around Auckland but you have a belief that people do need to do
things in their own local community. Hester: Well, we’d love you all to join Tiri
supporters, but I think people really engage with their own backyard, and I asked a colleague
at Auckland Council – I said, what can people do? He said, well make sure they haven’t got
any of the really bad weeds in their garden is a good starting point. Understanding which
weeds in the Auckland area are really bad is a good thing. You sometimes see them in
public places. I’ve seen moth plant in public places, and it’s one of the evil ones as we
call them. David: The Agapanthus and Watsonias and so
on which grace many garden borders, are terrible things for choking off other plants, aren’t
they? Hester: Absolutely, and I suppose the ones
we think about are things like Pampas, because it blows – everything that blows on the wind
is a real problem for Tiri. We pay two abseilers thousands of dollars each year to abseil up
and down our cliffs and check out for really nasty things that we really don’t want on
the cliffs. Boxthorn is another one, and mile-a-minute [23:34] seed – some really bad ones there.
David: Okay, let’s just see whether our viewers have got any questions that they want to put
to you, Hester. We’ve had a couple of viewer responses, and there’s a very interesting
one from Max Thompson. He’s asking; do you ever get problems between the bird species
– do they compete? Hester: Nature is about competition. Yes,
we do. You try with a number of translocations to think about the species there and the species
you’re bringing on, and when all is said and done, Department of Conservation gives you
the permit. So they have to look at what you’ve planned and decide whether it’s appropriate
for those species to be together. One species that’s always quite tricky although it needs
conservation is the Weka, because it competes with a number of the other birds of a similar
sort of size. We don’t have any non-natural predators. People say to you; do you have
any predators? You have to be quite careful and say, we don’t have any non-native ones,
but we do have Rururu – Morepork. We don’t have them resident, but Harrier Hawks have
a range of anything up to 200ks, so they can fly in and when all is said and done, a bird
sanctuary is a takeaway bar for a Harrier Hawk. So yes we get birds predated.
David: That’s a great answer, and a great question – hadn’t even crossed my mind, Max.
So that’s for that answer, Hester. In a little viewer survey we find that virtually everyone,
when they’re out walking or taking in a bit of nature in their own local area does rubbish
patrol, and it’s really encouraging to see this happening on so many North Shore beaches.
Plastic must be one of the biggest problems that we face in all kinds of ways; any comment
about that, Hester? Hester: Certainly I appreciate all that everybody
does I think in cleaning up, because it’s kind of – if we all pick up a little bit,
it stops being a problem. If you want to see a great project about removing rubbish go
and look at the one where they cleaned up – a young man organised almost an army of
people to help clean up about a 2k beach I think it is on the coast of Mumbai. It was
seven feet deep in rubbish across the entire beach. It was just tons and tons and tons,
and they now have a clean beach. So it can be done. I think all conservation is about
all of us doing a bit. It doesn’t have to be dramatic, and that’s where a lot of our
community projects start. They start with somebody doing some simple trapping to get
rid of rats and mice, and they grow from there. There’s a project down in the Bay of Plenty
at a place called Kaharoa which is a remnant forest of about 300 hectares, and they had
a very small population of Kokako and they started a trapping program, and they have
about 50 Kokako. If you go and visit their site you’ll find it says, basically if you
want to save the Kokako, you kill the rats. It’s very simple. We have a few bird species;
Kokako is one of them, Kereru is another. Feo, the blue duck is another. The female
won’t get off the next. If she’s on the nest with either eggs or chicks she won’t get off.
So the predator gets her as well as any chicks or eggs. That means you end up with populations
where there are far too many males, and in some populations you may end up with male
only populations, which doesn’t do anything for the breeding population. Kokako can kind
of fool you because they will form male-male pairs. So they will pair up together if there
are no females around. David: Interesting. Okay, not so much a question,
but a comment; water has become – the export of water in particular has become a kind of
hot political potato in the upcoming election cycle, but if you were looking for a big conservation
theme, leaving aside the politics, how do you feel about the fact that we’re in a position
where we do have to clean up waterways because of the very intense dairying effects? That’s
not quite the clean green image we would like to promote, is it?
Hester: No it’s not, and I think again, all of these things are going to happen, because
a lot of people do a little bit. We go back a time and we kind of did away with plantings.
I mean, in a funny kind of way we sort of did what England did when they pulled the
hedgerows out and then discovered they needed to put the hedgerows back. So we kind of have
pulled all the trees and planting out, and drained the swamps, and we’re realising that
they’re very valuable assets and we kind of need to do the restoration.
David: It’s terribly easy to just blame an industry for – this is the big bad bogie in
a way, but in another sense we’ve got to strike a responsible balance, and I think that water
has become much more embedded in the kiwi consciousness because of this election process.
So along with that and the other big themes – the power of the volunteer – the uniqueness
of Tiri, you’ve taken us on a fascinating journey, Hester and I just want to say thank
you very much indeed for coming in and recording with us tonight.
Hester: Thank you. David: See you next week.
Conserveration, Community and Tiritiri Matangi