Category Archives: History

Motuora Restoration Project, New Zealand

Key Words: Ecological restoration, reintroductions, island restoration, community engagement, Motuora Restoration Society

Motuora Restoration Society (http://motuora.org.nz) is recognised by the New Zealand Department of Conservation as the lead community agency for the restoration of Motuora, an 80 ha island in the Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand.  Since 2003 the Society has taken responsibility for the Island’s day-to-day management as well as developing and implementing the Island’s long term restoration strategy. Our aspiration is summed up in our  statement “It is our dream that future generations will enjoy a forest alive with native birds, reptiles and insects”.

Figure 1 – Aerial view of the Island before planting began. Area to bottom left has been sprayed in preparation for planting (Photo from cover of 2007 Motuora Native Species Restoration Plan).

Figure 1 – Aerial view of the Island before planting began. Area to bottom left has been sprayed in preparation for planting (Photo from cover of 2007 Motuora Native Species Restoration Plan).

 Figure 2 – Aerial view of the Island after completion of the pioneer planting. (Photo by Toby Shanley)


Figure 2 – Aerial view of the Island after completion of the pioneer planting. (Photo by Toby Shanley)

Background. Motuora is located on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island near Auckland City. Motuora would once have been tree-covered and have hosted a wide range of native plants, invertebrates, reptiles and birds, particularly burrow-nesting seabirds. It was visited by early Polynesian settlers, later Māori, who would have initially camped, but later lived more permanently on the Island raising crops and harvesting fish, shellfish and presumably seabird eggs, chicks and adults. European settlers later occupied the Island, burning off most of the bush to encourage growth of grasses for their grazing livestock.

Towards the end of the farming period in the 1980s most of the Island’s native flora and fauna were gone. Interestingly however, there were never breeding populations of introduced mammalian pests on the Island so the remnant ecosystem had not been impacted by mice, rats, mustelids, hedgehogs, possums, goats, pigs or deer.

From about 1987 onwards both Government and members of the public began to take an interest in the Island and to promote the idea of adopting it as a predator-free bird habitat. Discussions continued over the next few years and by 1992 a sub-committee of the mid-North Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society had been formed and, in partnership with the Department of Conservation, drew up the first ‘strategy plan’ for the Island. Work parties began seed collecting, trial tree planting, weeding and fencing upgrades. By 1995 it had become apparent that the project could best proceed by way of an independent group dedicated to the task and the Motuora Restoration Society was formed.

The work on Motuora was designed to be a true restoration project combining firm ideas about the model ecosystem desired and a ‘bottom-up’ approach (vegetation-invertebrates-reptiles-birds) timing planting and introductions in a logical sequence. The historical presence of species on Motuora was inferred from comparisons with other less modified islands off the north east of the North Island, and particularly those from within the Rodney and Inner Gulf Ecological Districts, and using paleological information collected from the adjacent mainland.  Motuora Restoration Society has resisted the temptation to add iconic attractive species not originally present on the Island which might have raised the profile of the project.

Works carried out. The Society and its volunteers have contributed many thousands of hours to the restoration of the Island since 1995, raising and planting more than 300,000 native seedlings. This was particularly challenging with the logistics of working on an island without a regular ferry service or wharf. The project also included seabird and other species translocations, monitoring, weeding and track maintenance as well as fundraising.

The framework adopted began with reforestation so that appropriate habitat could be reinstated. A nursery was set up and seeds were collected from the Island, from nearby islands and, when necessary, from the mainland. With the exception of some areas of higher ground providing panoramic views from the Island, the land area was prepared (by weed-killing rampant kikuyu grass) and planted with hardy, wind and salt tolerant tree species. Once the trees were established, the canopy closed and sufficient shelter available, less hardy species and those requiring lower light levels were planted among the pioneers.  Today the planting of 400,000 trees of pioneer species is all but complete; and the raising and planting of ‘canopy’ and less hardy species continues.

In terms of fauna, invertebrate populations were surveyed and have been monitored as the forest has matured. One species, Wētāpunga (Deinacrida heteracantha) has been introduced.   Four reptiles have been introduced: Shore Skink (Oligosoma smithi), Duvaucel’s Gecko (Hoplodactylus duvaucelii),  Raukawa Gecko (Woodworthia maculata) and Pacific Gecko (Dactylocnemis pacificus).  One small land bird – Whitehead (Mohoua albicilla) has been translocated with 40 individuals moved to the Island.  Four seabird species have been attracted or translocated to the Island including the Common Diving Petrel (Pelecanoides urinatrix), and Pycroft’s Petrel (Pterodroma pycrofti).

Results. The project has restored Motuora from a pastoral farm (dominated by introduced grasses, weeds and only a small remnant fringe of naturally regenerating native forest) to a functioning native ecosystem, predominantly covered in early succession native forest with an intact canopy.

Initially the population of invertebrates was dominated by grassland species but the range and population size of forest dwellers has now much improved and the invertebrate fauna is now rich and plentiful (although rarer and endangered species are still to be added).  An initial suite of populations of flightless invertebrates remain depauperate.  Whitehead, an insectivorous bird species, has flourished with a current population of several hundred. At this early stage in the introduction of native fauna it is possible to report successful breeding and, for the most part, sufficient survival of initial colonisers of the species introduced to suggest that new populations will be established.  Sound attraction systems have led to initial breeding of Fluttering Shearwater (Puffinus gavia) and Australasian Gannet (Morus serrator).

Partnerships. Management of the Island is shared with the Department of Conservation (DOC) who administer the site on behalf of the Crown. DOC has legal commitments to engage with and act on behalf of the general public and particularly with iwi (Māori) who have generally expressed strong support for the restoration project and are expected to have co-management rights over the Island in the future.

Over the years the combined efforts of DOC staff, University researchers, the committee, thousands of volunteers and a host of donors and sponsors have worked hard to bring the Island to its present state.

Future directions. A sustained effort will continue to be required each year on biosecurity and weeding programmes. It will be many more decades before the forest matures and seabird and reptile populations reach capacity levels and a substantial workload is anticipated in managing and monitoring the emerging ecosystem for many years to come.

Acknowledgements: The success of the project is reinforced by the fact that the Society has maintained a close collaboration with a range of scientists and have inspired the active support and engagement of so many volunteers.  We thank all our inspiring volunteers and the following participating academics and researchers who have contributed to the project over the past ten years: Plants: Shelley Heiss Dunlop, Helen Lindsay (contractor). Reptiles: Marleen Baling (Massey University), Dylan van Winkel (consultant), Su Sinclair (Auckland Council), Manuela Barry (Massey University). Invertebrates: Chris Green (DOC), Robin Gardner-Gee (Auckland University), Jacqueline Beggs (Auckland University), Stephen Wallace (Auckland University). Birds: Robin Gardner-Gee (Auckland University), Jacqueline Beggs (Auckland University), Kevin Parker (Massey University), Richard Griffiths (DOC), Graeme Taylor (DOC), Helen Gummer (DOC contractor). The restoration project has been supported financially though grant aid received from a wide range of funders.

Contact: Secretary, Motuora Restoration Society, Email: secretary@motuora.org.nz; www: http://motuora.org.nz/

Understanding the original distribution and abundance of fish fauna in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Key words: Oral history, native fish, Native Fish Strategy

Threats and Impacts: One of the main goals of the Native Fish Strategy (NFS) was to return native fish communities in the MDB to 60% of that prior to European settlement. Fundamental to realising this goal is knowledge of the original distribution and abundance of fish fauna in the MDB. However, there has been limited readily available information on the rivers and their fish populations at the time of European settlement.

Broad aim and specific objectives: The aims of this project were to:

  1. collect, collate and analyse historical information on native fish in the southern half of the Murray-Darling Basin;
  2. identify the original distribution and habitat preferences of Trout Cod (Maccullochella macquariensis) and resolve the ongoing debate on this issue;
  3. identify the original distribution and habitat preferences of the other large fish species, primarily those of interest to anglers;
  4. collect general historical information on native fish, in particular aspects of their biology;
  5. document changes or events that may have contributed to the decline of native fish;
  6. present the information collected in a format to assist scientists and managers engaged in the recovery of native fish but also accessible to the general public so as to increase community awareness of the plight of Trout cod and other native fish species.

Methods: Photographs, written accounts and oral history were collected on the past distribution and abundance of Trout Cod and other large native fishes of the Basin. For Trout Cod, records held in museum databases were located and used, and nearly 400 photographs of catches of Cod and other native fish were located and examined, most of them predating 1950 and the oldest dating from 1862. Photographs were sourced from anglers, angling clubs, individuals, historical societies, books and newspapers.

An extensive search of old written accounts of native fish captures was also undertaken, including writings of early settlers, naturalists and anglers, newspaper records, hand-written manuscripts, indigenous accounts, and reports and appendices.

Figure 1. A 124 pound Murray Cod shot in the Barr Creek near Kerang 1939. On the left is Eddie Ashton, older brother of Mick Ashton who stands on the right. (Photo courtesy of Mick Ashton)

Figure 1. Brothers Eddie Ashton (left) and Mick Ashton – with a 124 pound Murray Cod shot in the Barr Creek near Kerang 1939.  (Photo courtesy of Mick Ashton)

Local historical societies and angling clubs were contacted to help identify senior residents who may possess knowledge relating to native fish. Participants were interviewed to gather information on their personal history, fish captures, locations and timing, and the changes they observed over the years. Photographs were used to aid validation of species caught. Interviews were recorded and provided to the individual for correction and confirmation. Over 140 people were contacted with the two oldest being 95 years of age whose memories extended back into the 1920s.

The reliability of individual pieces of historical evidence relating to the presence of native fish in specific waters was assessed and rated as high, moderate or low. From the information collected maps were created for each catchment recording the locations of historical accounts for each species considered to be of high quality. Historical material was collated and summarised for each catchment.

Figure 2. Photo of fish caught from the Goulburn River at McGee’s Beach, Alexandra, 1924. Fish include trout cod, Murray cod, Macquarie perch and catfish. Young Russell Stillman is visible in the foreground. (Photo courtesy of Russell Stillman)

Figure 2. Fish caught from the Goulburn River at McGee’s Beach, Alexandra, 1924. Fish include Trout Cod, Murray Cod, Macquarie Perch and Catfish. Young Russell Stillman is visible in the foreground. (Photo courtesy of Russell Stillman)

Figure 3, The Murray River near Corryong c1910. Changes are already evident including a bank covered in Scotch Thistles (Photo courtesy of Bob Whitehead)

Figure 3, The Murray River near Corryong c1910. Changes are already evident including a bank covered in Scotch Thistles (Photo courtesy of Bob Whitehead)

Findings: From all of the historical sources, including newspaper records, journal entries, indigenous accounts, naturalist’s notes and personal photographs, a wealth of information from across the MDB has been collected on Trout Cod, with much also on the other larger fish species e.g. Murray Cod (Maccullochella peelii), Golden Perch (Macquaria Ambigua), Silver Perch (Bidyanus bidyanus), Macquarie Perch (Macquaria australasica), Catfish (Tandanus tandanus) and River blackfish (Gadopsis marmoratus). For each of these species the following information is presented:

  •          European discovery
  •          Aboriginal and European names
  •          Distribution and habitat associations
  •          Translocations
  •          Size
  •          Community value
  •          Current conservation status
  •          Map of former distribution and abundance

From this information a reliable indication of the pre-European settlement distribution and abundance of the larger native fish species of the MDB was constructed.

Lessons learned and future directions:  This project has provided an indication of the distribution and abundance of Trout Cod and other large native fish species in the MDB prior European settlement. By examining this information, researchers and managers can get an idea of what populations of Trout Cod used to be like and set targets for rehabilitation efforts to achieve the goal of the NFS to return native fish populations back to 60% of their pre-European settlement condition.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies: This project was funded through the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s Native Fish Strategy.

Contact: William Truman, Tel: + 61 7 4042 4800, Email: williamtrueman@bigpond.com.

Link: http://australianriverrestorationcentre.com.au/mdb/troutcod/book.php