An outstanding Orokonui Ecosanctuary volunteer, a fierce advocate for yellow-eyed penguins in the Catlins, and a business that sponsors jewelled gecko conservation are recipients of this year’s Department of Conservation Coastal Otago Conservation Awards.

The passion and dedication of all of the finalists is a true reflection of the 2011 Conservation Week theme, ‘Love New Zealand’ and on Tuesday night (September 13), the Department of Conservation acknowledged this commitment at the annual Coastal Otago Conservation Awards in Dunedin.

DOC Otago Conservator Marian van der Goes said the awards recognise the "can do" and "hands on" attitude of volunteers who are willing to go the extra mile for conservation.

"The commitment of these conservation champions is even more valuable with people being so time-poor and having so many other interests competing for their attention nowadays. DOC and the community appreciate the time and effort volunteers put into helping enhance and protect our natural and historic heritage - they are a great inspiration to us all," Ms van der Goes said.

She said the quality of the award finalists was again outstanding, making it difficult for the Otago Conservation Board to select just one winner.
This year’s award recipients are:

Winner - Valerie Fay

Valerie has been co-ordinating volunteer planting at Orokonui Ecosanctuary for the past six years. She freely gives her horticultural expertise to the ecosanctuary, sometimes for 40 hours a week, organises and supervises volunteer teams, monitors kiwi, and hand-feeds tuatara. She collects slaters and grows mealworms for tuatara, and visits the ecosanctuary every night in the depths of winter to put frost cover over them. Due to Valerie’s efforts, more than 7,000 trees have been planted at the ecosanctuary and kiwi and tuatara are thriving.

Runner-up - Roy Johnstone

Within a week of spotting a stoat near yellow-eyed penguins in the Catlins, South Otago Forest and Bird chairman Roy Johnstone had set up a network of predator traps. Not only does he run the network but Roy also improves penguin habitat at Owaka Heads, Penguin Bay, Otanamomo Scientific Reserve and Long Point by weeding, planting and building fences. He also monitors predators and helps out with penguin nest searches. Roy’s ‘can-do’ and ‘hands-on’ attitude about conservation has had a positive influence on Forest and Bird members and the South Otago community in general.  

Runner-up - Setpoint Solutions

This kiwi business has funded jewelled gecko conservation on Otago Peninsula for the past three years. This has resulted in a better understanding of this threatened, iconic species and has helped us fight the threat of international poaching and smuggling.

Sponsorship by Setpoint Solutions has allowed for research, a community-based conservation management plan, site surveys, community meetings and workshops. Company director Mike Hormann and other Dunedin staff have taken part in many events to improve life for jewelled gecko.

Schools Toroa Award

The Toroa Award acknowledges schools and students who have initiated conservation or environmental projects that have strong links with their community. DOC and the Otago Peninsula Trust sponsor the award which aims to encourage more schools and students to become actively involved in conservation and the environment.

Winner - Kaikorai Valley College

The environment of Kaikorai Stream and its catchment have greatly benefitted from Kaikorai Valley College’s Conservation Pathway project that’s been running for the past seven years. Under the dedicated guidance of Dr Simon McMillan, Kaikorai Valley College and University of Otago students, community groups, individuals and businesses have worked together on many hand-on projects to promote stream enhancements.

They have held field days focussing on water quality, Maori and European stream history, waste management and land management of the riparian zones. On a walk for sustainable living, water quality data was collected, the stream was cleaned up and natives were planted. A monitoring station has been installed and data from this will be shared through a website. 

Runner-up - Mosgiel Central Kindergarden

Since 2009, children at Mosgiel Central Kindergarden have been on a journey of sustainability. They have discovered ways to care for our world, such as recycling, planting natives and caring for wild birds. They have bokashi bins, a worm farm, and they compost their food scraps. They recycle paper and plastics, and have created an edible garden, orchard, herb pots and a strawberry patch.

For the children, this has been a journey of problem solving, patience, exploration, discovery and curiosity. It has fostered a love of the natural world. For their teachers and families, these sustainable practices have created a greater respect for our environment.

Runner-up - Clair Caird

Tahuna Normal Intermediate School student Clair Caird and her family often visit Sandfly Bay on Otago Peninsula and noticed visitors disturbing yellow-eyed penguins and sea lions at the beach.

Clair decided to do a project on Sandfly Bay, and found during seven visits to the beach that there were negative reactions from the animals 58% of the time. Humans prevented the penguins from entering their nests 80% of the time. She came up with a solution - closing the beach and building another hide at the southern end, and keeping the northern hide open.

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