At the beginning of last December the Department of Conservation (DoC) Hokitika called a meeting with various river users to discuss a proposed "Code of Practice" to ensure minimal disturbance to whio (Blue Duck). Mike Savory and Robin Rutter-Baumann went along to check out the concerns and ensure the paddlers weren't going to be subjected to a set of draconian new rules. Here's what happened...
The meeting was chaired by DoC staff member Ian Gill who has a long term interest in ensuring the preservation of whio, also represented were local Hokitika kayakers, a local and a Queenstown raft company.
Whio numbers and distribution appear to be declining and nobody knows why. The situation is not severe enough yet to attract funding for a full scale research and protection project. Predation (mainly stoats) is thought to be the most likely cause of the decline but other factors such as changes in breeding patterns, climate/environment, food sources and general disturbance to territories may be factors.
Outcomes from the meeting include plans to set traps in some river valleys to reduce predator numbers, and asking river users to reduce the amount that whio are disturbed.
Why pick on river users? DoC's aim is to minimise any possible effects so that there is no need to develop mandatory guidelines. There are some documented examples of whio being accidentally 'herded' out of their territories by raft groups and of chick being separated from parents.
While these alone may not be major events they may add up to a big impact over time. If you have any comments about the workability of the guidelines please contact us.