Wānaka leading the way to save endangered bird species

The great crested grebe is one of New Zealand's rarest birds.

There's fewer than a thousand left in the South Island, and they're extinct in the North. They're classified as threatened and nationally vulnerable by Department of Conservation, and in 2012, there was just one breeding pair in Wānaka.

Retired zoologist John Darby wanted to help.

"The grebes were attempting to breed but they were failing year after year after year and I thought, well, we should have a look at this and see where they are failing," Darby said.

Grebes breed on floating nests, and the fluctuating lake levels in Wānaka make them vulnerable.

So Darby took matters into his own hands and made floating platforms for the grebe nests to sit on.

Now a decade on, Darby's celebrating the programme's success.

"What we have got now is that just over 450 chicks have been fledged on this site," he said.

"I am very pleased actually, one of the comments I like from the fisherfolk is that the little buggers are everywhere, it's a good thing."

The grebe conservation programme is just one of many Darby has instigated and now, his decades of service have been recognised with a New Year Honour.

He's been named an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to wildlife conservation and science.

And over the past 10 years of the project, the Wanaka community has thrown their full support behind Darby's mission.

Markus Hermanns, a teacher at Wanaka Primary School, said it's now a big part of the community.

"We had kids building platforms, helping doing nest checks to check how many eggs are in the nests, doing all kinds of things, writing grebe diaries," he said.

A grebe management plan is currently being drafted in Wānaka, and it's hoped it will eventually be adopted widely so populations in other regions can be boosted too.


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