The Participatory Science Platform supports collaborative projects that bring together communities and scientists or technologists on research investigating a locally-important question or problem.
A little-known kororā little blue penguin colony on Taranaki’s west coast can now be preserved and protected for the future, following the first ever study of kororā colonies in this region.
Taranaki’s Ngā Motu Marine Reserve Society wanted to find out more about the pockets of kororā little blue penguins living along the coast, some in built-up areas where they share their habitat with port users, swimmers and boaties.
The Society teamed up with students from Devon and Puketapu Intermediate Schools to search out the kororā, then use temperature and video equipment to observe and record the penguins' behaviours.
Project lead marine scientist Elvisa Robb explains that, with no previous data gathered on the local penguins, the school students first had to research the species - including nesting behaviour and distribution.
Kororā hunt at sea for food during the day and nest in on-land burrows at night. Students performed night surveys to find out where the penguins were living and recorded their behaviours when they were sighted. The students used red light torches during these night surveys to ensure the penguins were not disturbed by bright white lights.
From there, with the assistance of computer and marine scientists, the students brainstormed the best ways to monitor the penguins so data could be gathered without being invasive to the birds.
The team opted for thermometers to record the penguin burrow temperatures and livestream this to the internet, which showed when penguins entered or left the burrows. Live online graphs showed when the burrow temperature had risen, indicating that there was a penguin occupying the burrow.
The findings showed that Taranaki kororā might have some different behaviours compared to other little blue penguins in Aotearoa.
According to the data collected, some Taranaki kororā begin burrowing earlier than the average penguin, and some use their burrows to rest in more sporadically than kororā in other regions.
Elvisa says the students connected strongly with the project and their work has raised awareness about the little blue penguin in the community.
“They went from thinking of the penguins as cute and fluffy to having a much deeper understanding about the birds' behaviours. They learnt that these animals are an important indicator species that can tell us about the health of the marine environment.”
Elvisa also found it rewarding seeing the students develop throughout the project.
“We're getting them to think about the process from the beginning and to brainstorm ideas, rather than just giving them the technology. In the future they can apply that knowledge to other situations, like how we might monitor other wildlife.
"We want to empower them with the critical thinking skills required in science, so that when they grow up they maintain that curiosity.”
Another positive outcome of the project is that the Society now has solid information it can share with users of local beaches and the port about the penguins.
“We have now got scientific data to use - not just in education but in decision-making around coastal planning,” Elvisa says.
The project has spawned a relationship between the Port Taranaki and the Society. They’re working together on beach signs that educate dog owners to keep dogs on a leash to protect the penguins, and the Port recently asked the Society to check some areas for burrows before undertaking maintenance work.
“It has been really beneficial for these big decision-making processes.”
Ngā Motu Marine Reserve Society is now using the information gathered to strengthen community education about the Taranaki kororā, including providing education resources for teachers to use in the classroom.
Watch a clip about the project that aired on the children's TV series Fanimals.
Finding Little Blue is run by Ngā Motu Marine Reserve Society in partnership with Devon Intermediate School and Puketapu Intermediate School, with support from the Taranaki Participatory Science Platform.