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Category Archives: Wildlife

Education and passion – one Otago student’s fight to save New Zealand’s native wildlife

Imagine……wanting to make a difference…..then coming to the University of Otago and finding an environment that enables you to thrive, despite setbacks, to make that difference.

If you’re looking for inspiration to study at Otago, look no further than Master of Science (MSc) in Genetics student Anna Clark……

Anna Clark

“I came to Dunedin from Hurunui, North Canterbury, but I’ve lived all over the show, from the banks of Lake Ellesmere to Cromwell. In high school I was involved in a restoration project up the Nina Valley in the Lewis Pass, trapping predators like possums, rats, stoats and weasels. Over the seven years I realised trapping and poison are a Band-Aid for a long term challenge – if we’re serious about eradication we need to be innovating new tools. My research project for my Masters in Genetics is looking at a genetic pest control method called “gene drive” and how we could use it to control or eradicate invasive mammal species in New Zealand. Despite current pest control systems our wildlife continue to decline. We can’t keep doing what we’ve done in the past, we have to think outside the box.”

The common brushtail possum, Trichosurus vulpecula, image courtesy of doc.govt.nz

“That’s why I’m interested in genetic pest control technology because it’s a different way of approaching our invasive species problem. It’s not something we can use right now, but imagine where we’d be if we’d implemented it 20 years ago! As researchers we get to mentally challenge ourselves to answer these difficult questions and advance our understanding of the world we live in.

I actually sustained a pretty severe brain injury last year when I was hit by a car whilst cycling to uni. This was a big fork in the road and over the course of six months I seriously considered dropping everything and pursuing a career that demands less brain power. But when I look back, what got me through was finding ways to look at the bigger picture and think about how I can best lean on my strengths in order to make a difference!”

AND NEWSFLASH: the amazing Anna Clark has just been named as a Blake DOC Ambassador for 2019/20! Fantastic news and well deserved. Kia mau te wehi Anna!

AND if that’s not enough, for further inspiration from Anna herself, here’s a link to a TedxYouth talk she gave recently.

Many thanks to Anna, Guy Frederick, Communications Advisor (Science) and Craig Borley, Communications Adviser (Health Science) at the University of Otago for providing the content for this blog!

Nicky Richardson is an International Marketing Coordinator at the University of Otago. With degrees in music and marketing, both from Otago, she is passionate about education, and the places it can take you.

Why is Dunedin the wildlife capital of NZ?

The topic of our native and particularly endemic wildlife in New Zealand, and Dunedin is a passion close to my heart.  I think you will find that many local Dunedin people feel the same way that I do, we recognise the precious taonga that we are surrounded by, and increasingly we are feeling a need to protect, care for and nurture these remarkable animals that made their lives here long before humans walked on our shores.  This blog is also timed to promote the upcoming ‘Wild Dunedin – New Zealand Festival of Nature‘, that runs from 22 – 28 April 2019.  

Let’s find out some of the reasons that two of the most well known and passionate naturalists in the world used these words to describe our environment – ” Otago Peninsula and Taiaroa Head is a unique and very special place. It is a place that every visitor to Dunedin should see” – Sir David Attenborough. ” In my opinion the Otago Peninsula is the finest example of eco-tourism in the world” Professor David Bellamy.

The Northern Royal Albatross/Toroa

We have so many taonga to choose from, it really is a question of where to start?  But I think starting with this magnificent sea bird is the place – the Northern Royal Albatross or Toroa.  This largest of all sea birds spends it’s entire life at sea, only returning to land to breed.  And the Otago Peninsula, and specifically Taiaroa Head is the only mainland breeding colony in the world.

Yes, you can visit, observe and learn more about this at risk species by visiting the Royal Albatross Centre.  Birds mate for life and return to raise one chick every year between them.  Due to various challenges human intervention has proved to be necessary.   Chicks are carefully monitored and assisted with the least amount of stress as possible to enable them to continue spreading their enormous wing span of over three metres around the world.  Follow the drama, often hilarity and sometimes tragedy of the albatross breeding season on the Department of Conservations Royal Cam.

The Yellow-Eyed Penguin/Hoiho (photo credit: Shaun Templeton).

Yellow Eyed Penguin/Hoiho and Little Blue Penguin/Kororā

I haven’t met many people that don’t find these quirky birds endearing.  Perhaps it is the comical way in which they waddle to and from the ocean on a daily basis, or the soap opera style lives they lead when it comes to finding, securing and keeping a mate!  Either way, I have no doubt that you will fall in love with either the Yellow Eyed Penguin/Hoiho and the world’s smallest penguin the Little Blue Penguin/Kororā, both of which can be found and observed on the Otago Peninsula.  Sadly, both species are threatened and at risk but the people of Dunedin don’t just sit idly by.  Initiatives like Penguin Place, a private conservation area rely solely on their tours to fund the conservation of the Yellow Eyed – including restoration of habitat, predator control and a rehabilitation centre for sick and injured birds.

An adult male and two juvenile male NZ Sealions, previously known as the Hooker’s Sea Lion.

 

New Zealand Fur Seal/Kekeno & New Zealand sea lion / rāpoka / whakahao

The New Zealand Fur Seal is sometimes mistaken for its larger neighbour the New Zealand Sea Lion, but there are some distinct differences that will help you identify which is which:

1. The fur seal is found in abundance all around the Otago peninsula, the sea lion is endangered with an albeit increasing, but much smaller population.

2.  The fur seal is distinctly smaller than the sea lion.

3.  Both male and female fur seals have a pointy nose unlike the sea lion.

4.  Seals prefer rocky outcrops to sunbathe, whereas sealions will often be seen lying on one of Dunedin’s many sandy beaches.

Recently there have been instances of the public attempting to interact with these animals, so if you are visiting Dunedin please take the time to read here about why you must leave them be, and tips on how to deal with an encounter with a sea lion. 

New Zealand Marine Studies Centre

It should come as no surprise, given that we live right on the doorstep of the South Pacific Ocean and that we are home to New Zealand’s first university, that we have a marine studies centre.  The New Zealand Marine Studies Centre is located at Portobello, a beautiful 20 minute drive from Dunedin city.

The University of Otago uses this as their practical base to conduct research, but also as a way to showcase local marine life and to educate.  The centre is no longer open to the public but during the ‘Wild Dunedin – New Zealand Festival of Nature‘, there are sessions open to the public where you can join a marine scientist to find out about marine food webs and who eats what in the ocean in ‘Wild Food Webs and Fishy Feasts.’ 

The reintroduction of Kaka at Orokonui Ecosanctuary is believed to be the first to the South Island mainland.

Orokonui Ecosanctuary

Across the harbour from the Otago Peninsula is another remarkable, locally led conservation project – the Orokonui Ecosanctuary.  Over 300 hectares of native New Zealand bush has been eradicated of predators and due to a predator proof fence is now home to an ever increasing population of native NZ birds, reptiles and plants.

The Ecosanctuary really is an example of what happens when a idea becomes a plan, and that plan becomes a reality.  Walking inside the gates of this impressive project feels very much like stepping back in time to what New Zealand would have been like prior to the arrival of humans.  Tui, Bellebird, Kaka, Takahe and Kiwi are some of the many birds who have been brought to live within this sanctuary and their numbers are on the up.

If you want to get up close and personal with NZ native birds, on their terms, this place is a must.  Plus, you’ll find a cafe, gift shop and plenty of educational resources available.  If you’re interested in finding out just what bird you are listening to, I found this fabulous resource from DOC that provides audio for some of the songs and calls of New Zealand birds.

This little guy was plucking his feathers out around a wound site, so staff decided a onesie would provide the solution to that problem, and it did!

The Wildlife Hospital

We have a Wildlife Hospital, and if that isn’t testament enough to our claims regarding being the wildlife capital, I don’t know what is.  I have not visited the hospital, so have taken this description from their website:

“The Wildlife Hospital is a partnership with Otago Polytechnic, and its School of Veterinary Nursing.  We’re also collaborating with many other organisations across the community, to create opportunities for education, training and research.

Before the hospital opened, sick or injured endangered species were flown to the North Island for treatment – a journey that seriously reduced their chances of pulling through. Animals that aren’t endangered were left to either fight for themselves, or were euthanased.

A quick, local response, maximises the survival rates of all native wildlife. Ultimately, we’ll be increasing animal populations right across the lower South Island.

Up to 80% of the native species in New Zealand are now under threat of extinction, and while there are many great initiatives to reduce predators and increase safe havens for these animals, there is a pressing need to save every single one we can – right now.  As habitats are slowly recovered, we need to make sure the animals are still in existence to populate them.”

A Southern Right Whale mother and calf. Photo courtesy of Steve Dawson from the University of Otago.

Southern Right Whale

When early settlers arrived in Otago they were kept awake at night by the noise created by Southern Right Whales who used the harbour as a natural nursery to safely birth their young. The name ‘right’ whale was given by the whalers who came here to hunt them as they were so easy to kill.  Our history with this beautiful animal is a very sad one, at one stage the population of this species due to commercial whaling operations was down to a couple of hundred animals – thankfully now that number is in the thousands.

As the whale population increases, so do sightings around Otago.  What used to be rare is now more common place as the animals take up their natural migratory routes and return to their ‘rightful’ (excuse the pun) place.  University of Otago researchers have been studying the population that lives near the Auckland Islands and this will no doubt continue to assist in understanding and protecting this recovering population.

Dunedin, Otago Peninsula & harbour

Well, there we have it, and there is so much more to say on this topic that I may have to revisit it!  I haven’t even mentioned the thousands of sea birds that nest along our rocky coastlines, the orca and dolphins that frequent our harbour, literally stopping traffic as people pull over in their vehicles trying to take a picture.  Take a look at the ‘Wild Dunedin – NZ Festival of Nature’ programme and see all the opportunities to immerse, educate and engage yourself in.   Ultimately in doing so you will help protect our precious taonga and we will be able to continue to call Dunedin, the Wildlife Capital of New Zealand.

Nicky Richardson is an International Marketing Coordinator at the University of Otago. With degrees in music and marketing, she is a recent graduate of Otago herself – she loves Otago so much she ended up getting a job here!

The increasingly popular trend of volunteer work at the University of Otago – what are the benefits?

I attended a career presentation last week, held by the University of Otago Career Development Centre that reported on the forecasts and trends in the international market when it came to AI (artificial intelligence) and robots and the impact that this technology would have on human careers.  One thing was abundantly clear, robots and AI will never replace the unique blend of characteristics and empathy that make us human.  Another notable mention was that the new intake of generation Z students at Otago, are very concerned about social responsibility, and motivated to making a difference to the world.  This semester the number of students volunteering through UniCrew, the University of Otago’s flagship volunteer programme, has reached an all-time high, and it’s student volunteer week this week, so let’s find out a bit more about what volunteering can do for you, the wider community and your CV!

UniCrew

UniCrew began in 2014, the idea behind it being that students get matched up with local organisations through volunteering and social impact opportunities.  This would then provide a way of connecting and engaging students with the wider community, building relationships around projects and subjects that matter and getting hands on experience outside of the university lecture theatres and classrooms .  Since then UniCrew has over 200 organisations registered with them, and they offer a range of long term, short term or micro one-off events that students can be involved in, plus they connect “every volunteering opportunity and community organisation to the United Nation’s global goals in the mission to leave the world at a better place by 2030. By measuring ourselves against these goals, we are able to measure our impact in the global context, find areas of development in which we can improve on and champion sustainable development by educating every young person and organisation in UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”

What kind of volunteer work can I do?

There are so many options, whether you like the idea of getting outside and planting out trees like the UniCrew volunteers pictured above, or collecting donations for Dunedin’s Wildlife Hospital or be involved with the Yellow Eyed Penguin Trust?  Or perhaps if you enjoy being around children sign up for the Reading Oasis programme, or the Garden to Table programme which teaches how to grow, harvest, prepare and share food.  Longer term, short term and one off options are available and it is the intrinsic benefits that you’ll feel that will probably be the most rewarding part of this kind of work.

Volunteer work on your CV

After attending the career presentation last week, and talking with University of Otago career advisors, it is clear that volunteering work is looked at very favourably from an employer perspective.  In many respects, volunteer work may be seen and used as a form of internship.  Let alone the fact that the connections that you make volunteering, around subjects and projects that interest you, may very well lead you straight into the path of a future employer.  Showing you are interested, giving your unpaid time to something you care about is showing initiative, social responsibility and it’s also giving you hands on experience outside of study.

Made with love

UniCrew got the call from O-Red, the student group associated with the Otago Red Cross the day after the Christchurch mosque attacks to ask “students and staff to bake, and write letters of support and thanks to Muslim and migrant families in Dunedin, and to Christchurch police and hospital staff – and they were overwhelmed by the response.

Manager of Otago’s Volunteer Centre Sze-En Watts says more than two cubic metres of baking was dropped off at OUSA Clubs and Societies building on Albany Street between 1pm and 7pm on Wednesday, as well as many letters and cards.”

Student Volunteer Week

So, if you’re interested in volunteering, or you just want to find out more about the mutual benefits it presents, the Student Volunteer fair is running today from 11am – 2pm at UniCrew Volunteers, 65 Albany Street, Dunedin, or find out more on the UniCrew website – it’s a win, win for everyone if you just take the time to find out more.

Credit to the UniCrew website and the Otago Bulletin Board for the quoted information in this blog

Nicky Richardson is an International Marketing Coordinator at the University of Otago. With degrees in music and marketing, she is a recent graduate of Otago herself – she loves Otago so much she ended up getting a job here!

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Dunedin Beaches – we don’t want to boast but…….

It’s funny that Dunedin, New Zealand shares it’s namesake with another city on the other side of the world, Dunedin, Florida. Dunedin Florida has quite a few similarities with ‘our’ Dunedin, including the name itself derived from the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh.  Both cities enjoy a rich Scottish heritage, beautiful parks, a vibrant city and educational opportunities, but I bet you didn’t think that beaches would be one of them?  That’s right, today’s blog is all about Dunedin NZ’s beaches, what they’re like, where they are and we don’t mean to boast, but………they are many and varied and just down right awesome.

The big picture

We’ve used this aerial shot of Dunedin before, but let’s face it, it is absolutely amazing, so why not use it again?  Also, it shows you just how close Dunedin is to the coastline and an array of beaches.  You can’t see all of the coast line in this shot, but it gives you a pretty good indication. In Dunedin, all of our beaches are within approximately a 30 minute drive of the Central City, some as close as 10 minutes away, and that’s where we’ll start with the closest and possibly most popular local beach.

St Clair Beach

St Clair Beach and Hot Salt Water Pool is literally on the doorstep for many Dunedin residents, and only a 10 minute bus or car ride from the Otago University campus.  Not only is this beach blessed with beautiful soft, white sand, the mighty Pacific Ocean that stretches its long legs out from the beach offers surfing opportunities for both beginners and those that love to wet their feet on a regular basis.  If you’re coming to Dunedin and you’ve never surfed before, get some surfing lessons from the locals and see what all the fuss is about.  Or if you prefer a slower pace, take a stroll along the beach and end your walk at one of the many cafes, restaurants and bars that line our most popular of beaches.

Aramoana Beach

Aramoana translates from Maori to English as ‘sea pathway’ and this beach at the mouth of the Otago harbour was probably one of the very first beaches that the European settlers to Otago would have viewed.  Aramoana beach is situated next to a quiet little township that has an array of permanent homes and kiwi baches.  It, like St Clair is a surfing destination, but it also attracts (as most of Dunedin’s beaches do) a range of wildlife that comes ashore and on that note it’s really important that you don’t go near any wildlife you see.  Follow these guidelines on how to behave around our precious and often rare and endangered wildlife taonga – keep your distance, don’t engage, keep your dog (and children) under control and keep noise to a minimum.

Brighton Beach

20km’s South West of Dunedin you’ll find a delightful little seaside town called Brighton.  Again, this beach is popular for surfers and the community around the beach very much embrace a relaxed and easy going lifestyle.

You can hire a boat from the Brighton motorcamp to paddle up and down the stream, at low tide Barney’s Island (at the South end of the beach) is a wonderful place to explore, and you’ll often find families with small children making the most of these peaceful waters.

Surf lifesaving patrols are on duty during the busy summer months and rumour has it that there is a fairly impressive little cafe out there to add to your enjoyment.

Tunnel Beach

Tunnel Beach is named because of the fact that a man-made tunnel has been carved through the rock in the 1870’s which leads to a sheltered and private beach.  There are many rumours and local legends as to why John Cargill carved this remarkable walkway, including the drowning of one or more of his daughters, or the fact that he wanted to provide his daughters’ with a secluded place in order to be far from the prying eyes that Victorian settlers so avoided.  Either way, it is spectacular.

Tomahawk Beach

So this is just a taste, a mere sampling of the many and varied beaches that Dunedin has to offer, and whilst we aren’t inclined to boast we thought we would share this little clip filmed by Lloyds Bank as a finale!  Tomahawk Beach, and all our Dunedin beaches, look how beautiful you are!

NB:  We would like to make special mention to DunedinNZ.com for their imagery and comprehensive list and information on Dunedin beaches!

Nicky Richardson is an International Marketing Coordinator at the University of Otago. With degrees in music and marketing, she is a recent graduate of Otago herself – she loves Otago so much she ended up getting a job here!

 

 

5 reasons Dunedin is an awesome place to be

Dunedin’s population has surged past 130,000 people for the first time according to Stats NZ.  So why are people choosing to come and live in this city on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island?  Dunedin has in the past, and still does have according to some media outlets the reputation of being cold, wet and miserable.  But if you look at the statistics from NIWA Dunedin’s mean annual rainfall is 812 millimetres, compared to Auckland’s 1240 millimetres so that reputation isn’t really warranted is it?  So what makes Dunedin such a great place to live, study and work in?  Here are our top 5 USP’s (unique selling points) for our little city!

1.  It’s so pretty. Yes, it really is as pretty as the pictures!  And as recent as last month Dunedin was named the most beautiful city in NZ in the Keep New Zealand Beautiful Awards. The early Scottish settlers that mapped out the city’s footprint made sure that Dunedin had an array of beautiful parks, and areas of greenery throughout.  An area known as the ‘Town Belt’ is literally a green belt of native and exotic trees that runs through the city, and even when you’re in the city just look above the buildings and Dunedin is surrounded by green hills.  Plus, if you want to go a little off road, a 10-minute drive from the city centre and you will find yourself literally feeling like you are completely away from all forms of urban life.  Mountain biking and trail walking and running tracks are all right on your doorstep.

2.  Dunedin is a quirky, artistic and entrepreneurial city.  We have a street art trail, where 30+ walls have been adorned with art from visiting artists from around the world and New Zealand. Dunedin is home to artists, musicians, internationally recognised fashion designers, an annual fashion festival week, and writers, in fact Dunedin was the first city in New Zealand to initiate a writer’s fellowship, and is now a UNESCO designated City of Literature where writers, books and literature thrive. Dunedin is also gaining a reputation as the perfect place for start-up businesses to thrive and collaborate.   And in the deep of winter Dunedin celebrates as only Dunedin can by lighting up the city with a mid-winter carnival complete with fanciful, ethereal and elaborate costumes and lanterns.

3.  The University of Otago. Dunedin is a University City which adds to its appeal in regards to the research, literature, culture and people that are attracted to come here to study, research and teach.  Otago University is New Zealand’s first University and has a reputation for both academic excellence matched with an extraordinary lifestyle and balance.

4. Weekend travelling.  Getaway in the weekends to some of the most untouched, natural scenery in the world and a range of outdoor pursuits. Dunedin is the gateway to some of the most ridiculously beautiful scenery you are likely to encounter.  Fiordland National Park, Central Otago, including Queenstown, Wanaka and Arrowtown, or travel a couple of hours south of Dunedin and you enter the dramatic and wild Catlin’s area.

5. Dunedin is NZ’s wildlife capital. Yes, I know, that is a very big call to make, but we aren’t the only ones saying it.  Sir David Attenborough from the BBC states: “Otago Peninsula and Taiaroa Head is a unique and very special place. It is a place that every visitor to Dunedin should see.” Dunedin is situated around a natural harbour and adjacent peninsula and it really is the jewel in our crown.  We have the only mainland breeding grounds for Royal Albatross in the world, NZ fur seals, sea-lions, rare and endangered Yellow Eyed Penguins also choose to call the Otago Peninsula home.  And because Dunedin people are the kind of people who care about the lives of our feathered and furry friends, we have a wildlife hospital.  On the other side of the Peninsula is Orokonui Ecosanctuary a local initiative that saw a dream of creating a predator free area of native forest become a reality.  Orokonui now houses some of NZ’s most precious living taonga (treasures) and is contributing to the conservation and regeneration of our endemic birds and reptiles.

Dunedin is an interesting little city with a warm heart and welcoming inhabitants. Almost anyone can find their little piece of happiness here. It it is also a place with mysterious secrets than only locals know…..but thats a story for another day.

 

 

 

Nicky Richardson is an International Marketing Coordinator at the University of Otago. With degrees in music and marketing, she is a recent graduate of Otago herself – she loves Otago so much she ended up getting a job here!