Southern Discoveries campaign to help protect native birds and other species in Fiordland National Park is paying dividends.
Premium tourism company Southern Discoveries partnered with the Fiordland Conservation Trust and Department of Conservation (DOC) in 2009 to establish the pest control programme in Sinbad Gully adjoining Milford Sound, where the company operates cruises.
To date the company has donated $330,000 to the Sinbad Sanctuary Project to help fund traps, biosecurity and other environmental work by DOC and the Fiordland Conservation Trust in the gully.
Southern Discoveries staff also donate their time implementing surveys and servicing trap lines while the executive management team supports the Fiordland Conservation Trust with planning and governance for the project.
The protection of the whio (blue duck) is an important aspect of the conservation work. The rare blue duck is found only in New Zealand and is one of just three species worldwide to live in fast flowing waters.
DOC senior ranger Andrew “Max” Smart says the pest control programme “wouldn’t be possible without Southern Discoveries”. “There’s only so much funding available and having support from Southern Discoveries makes it possible. As well as assisting financially, staff have been a great second pair of eyes when we’ve done whio counts.”
“There’s large areas of Fiordland where you don’t see whio anymore, but in Sinbad Gully numbers are steadily increasing, and we saw about four or five breeding pairs with juveniles this year,” he says. “Sinbad Gully is right on Southern Discoveries doorstep and it’s a really cool, very important site for several rare species. It used to be the last refuge of kakapo and a new species of skink was found on one of the rock faces there.”
Native species currently found in Sinbad Gully include tokoeka (kiwi), whio, weka, kaka, kea and rock wren as well as three species of threatened lizard – the Sinbad skink, Cascade gecko and Cryptic skink.
Smart says the gully is a challenging environment incorporating the sheer rock face of Mitre Peak, avalanche risks and fast-flowing rivers.
“Very little can get in from the sides so rare species have been able to hang on in there. By placing two lines of traps either side of the river we’ve been able to knock back predators like stoats.”
Southern Discoveries CEO Tim Hunter says the Sinbad Sanctuary Project is “an important part of our long-term business strategy.”
“As Milford Sound’s original cruise operator, our business is founded on the unique and natural environments that we share with visitors from around the world. The company is thrilled to be helping protect the many varied and extraordinary native species in Sinbad Gully to secure them in their natural habitat.”
Southern Discoveries has operated for more than 60 years and provides the widest range of excursions in Milford Sound including nature cruises and visits to the Milford Sound Underwater Observatory where visitors can learn first-hand about the endemic species in the region.