Danielle is also a CEED Alumni, and was previously based at UQ where she analysed the many benefits of interacting with nature (see Decision Point #98). Here she explains the unique multiple values of a sanctuary like Zealandia, and reflects on the importance of her time with CEED in navigating the complex challenges that Zealandia has to deal with.
Zealandia is an ‘island sanctuary in a city’. It was established around 20 years ago when local conservationists, led by James Lynch QSM, worked with the Wellington City Council to convert a redundant water reservoir into a predator-free nature reserve. The two dams on the site are still here but now serve as habitat for water birds and other species. The slopes of the reservoir, once bare with a few clumps of exotic pines, have been replanted with native vegetation. The old pines planted on the upper slopes are slowly being replaced with native trees.
The predator-proof fence, over eight kilometres long, keeps out rats, cats, stoats, possums and hedgehogs; all introduced mammals that have decimated New Zealand’s native fauna. New Zealand’s rich native bird life, having evolved in isolation from mammals, has proved particularly vulnerable to the introduction of mammal predators. Many of New Zealand’s iconic bird species now only survive on remote islands off the coast.
Danielle is pictured here outside of the Zealandia exclusion fence. She’s pointing out one little innovation they have developed – a metal flap positioned under the nut that secures the fence’s capping. They discovered that mice could use their tales to grab onto the nut and get over the capping. Photo: David Salt.
The predator-proof fence, in many ways, makes Zealandia a bit of an ‘island’ too. But this island lies in the heart of a city. And our close proximity to people throws up heaps of challenges and opportunities. For example, how do we balance our 500 year restoration goal against the need to let visitors interact with the sanctuary (a central goal of the sanctuary is to foster the connection between people and nature)? What is the best, most cost effective and efficient way to monitor for incursions of mammal predators (they are all around us after all)? How do we ensure that birds flowing out of the sanctuary are safe and can continue to disperse across the landcsape? And, as our restoration efforts continue, what species should be prioritised for release?
Of course, readers of Decision Point will recognise that questions like these are grist to the mill for an environmental decision scientist. As Manager of Conservation & Research at Zealandia, however, I’m actually making the decisions around many of these issues. So, this is for real, and it’s tough. Just as we always say in our science papers, conservation managers usually have to make decisions quickly, with inadequate resources under enormous uncertainty; and decisions relating to threatened species potentially have enormous consequences (especially if you get it ‘wrong’).
Yes, there’s a growing catalogue of research on how to make better environmental decisions (I’d like to think I have contributed to it), but out in the real world decision making is messy, noisy and often confusing. Sometimes it’s obvious what the appropriate course of action is and your decision making can be transparent, accountable, efficient and adaptive. Often it’s not.