Concerns for Yellow Eyed penguins in Curio Bay
Concerns for yellow eyed penguins nesting in Curio Bay are being investigated amid claims a construction zone near a nest is disturbing the endangered species.
The Department of Conservation has received several calls from concerned members of the public regarding the construction work of a carpark being close to the nest of the hoiho.
However, DOC said the situation was assessed and there was no physical threat to the bird.
The carpark is being built by DOC and will be linked to the Natural Heritage Centre, a project which is being managed by the South Catlins Charitable Trust, and is set to begin its construction in March.
Work on the centre was previously delayed, as to not interfere with the breeding season.
Last month, DOC halted work on the track being built on the link between a carpark and the heritage centre because of a penguin setting up its breeding nest near the track.
Bach owner Neil Waldman said he believed construction in Curio Bay for a new carpark on January 10 was threatening the nesting area of the penguins because the work was happening so close to a nest.
"It's just really heartbreaking," he said.
Someone had sent a video to him of the construction zone, and he had alerted DOC with his concerns.
Waldman said he believed the construction work was a breach of the Wildlife Act, as the he thought the nest was being disturbed.
When the heritage centre was first proposed, he was opposed to it being built but after some conversations with people at the South Catlins Charitable Trust, was convinced of its merits.
However, after seeing a video of the construction happening near to what he believed to be a nest, he had changed his mind.
"I don't have any trust in them anymore," he said.
Department of Conservation acting Murihiku operations manager John McCarroll said DOC had received several calls from people concerned about the activity, and a ranger was sent out to assess the situation.
"At the end of the day we still want the work to proceed but not at the risk of disturbing the nests," he said.
Later in the day, McCarroll said the advice he had received from the ranger was the nest and bird were both fine.
There was no physical harm to the bird or the nest, however there had been some noise disturbance.
"I'm not trying to gloss over the issue the public have raised," he said.
"They're right to do that and I'm pleased they have."
There were fewer than 10 breeding penguin pairs in the Curio Bay area and protecting them was a priority.
According to the DOC website, there were fewer than 200 breeding pairs on the Otago coast in the 2015/16 season.
When planning the work for the carpark, McCarroll was aware there was a nest in the area, its proximity to the carpark and work around it was planned for.
While DOC staff were aware it was physically there, it was not clear if the nest in question was an active one.
"To my knowledge, there's some variation in nesting patterns," he said.
"They tend to come back to the same spot, to the same nest."
He would meet with the construction manager on Friday to discuss the ongoing work and look at possible options to make sure the penguins and their nests were the top priority.
"Something that I quite like is having a DOC ranger on site, X metres around the site [to supervise for threat to the penguins," he said.
The rest of the work taking place in the carpark would not stay in one spot, he said.
McCarroll encouraged members of the public to abstain from going near the penguins and their nests, so as not to disturb them during their breeding and rearing season.