Coro­man­del’s Archey’s frogs at risk

Coastal News - - News - By ALI­SON SMITH news@coastalmews.co.nz

The Coro­man­del is home to the big­gest pop­u­la­tion of the world’s rarest frog — but it is liv­ing on shaky ground.

Archey’s frogs haven’t changed from their fos­silised rel­a­tives that lived 150 mil­lion years ago.

They can­not croak and do not pos­sess ear drums, com­mu­ni­cat­ing by scent, not sound. They have mus­cles for tail-wag­ging yet no tail to wag, an ab­nor­mally high num­ber of ver­te­brae and un­usual chro­mo­somes. The male guards the eggs and lets the tailed froglets crawl on to his back for sev­eral weeks un­til they’re ready to face the world.

“They’re very in­ter­est­ing lit­tle crit­ters — a bit weird and a bit dif­fer­ent,” says Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion se­nior ranger Erana Stevens-tulip.

The Coro­man­del is the per­fect — and al­most the last — home to this liv­ing di­nosaur, host­ing the largest pop­u­la­tion of crit­i­cally en­dan­gered Archey’s frogs out­side of Whare­orino near Te Kuiti.

Min­ing com­pany Oceana Gold has an ac­cess ar­range­ment to Paraki­wai (Whareki­rauponga) Val­ley on pub­lic con­ser­va­tion land at the back of Whanga­mata town­ship, where the Archey’s Frog has been found in num­bers large enough to throw a span­ner in the works.

The ac­cess ar­range­ment pro­vides for up to 10 sites to tar­get high value gold de­posits ca­pa­ble of be­ing mined by un­der­ground meth­ods. But find­ing sites with less than five of these crit­i­cally en­dan­gered crea­tures over a 20m x 20m plot where it is pro­posed to place the 150 square me­tre drill sites, pump sites or camps, proved prob­lem­atic.

“Over the past 18 months a se­ries of eco­log­i­cal sur­veys has dis­qual­i­fied at least 40 po­ten­tial sites due to Archey’s frog pop­u­la­tions,” Oceana Gold Waihi spokesman Kit Wil­son ex­plained. “If these sur­veys show that four or less na­tive frogs are found on the plot, the frog lo­ca­tions are marked and recorded with biodegrad­able flag­ging tape and GPS. The site may be used as long as a six me­tre buf­fer zone is pos­si­ble with each frog lo­ca­tion while also en­sur­ing that the buf­fer con­nects with habi­tat out­side the plot.”

Only two sites are cur­rently be­ing drilled. Both of these are on ar­eas pre­vi­ously cleared, and are no larger than 150 square me­tres, “which is about a third of a bas­ket­ball court”. A he­li­copter is used to in­stall the drilling and other equip­ment.

“A suit­ably qual­i­fied her­petol­o­gist is re­quired to be on­site im­me­di­ately prior to and dur­ing any veg­e­ta­tion clear­ance,” says Mr Wil­son. “If any pre­vi­ously un­de­tected na­tive frogs are found dur­ing sur­vey im­me­di­ately prior to, or dur­ing veg­e­ta­tion clear­ance then they will be moved to suit­able habi­tat as as­sessed by the on­site her­petol­o­gist. The re­lease site(s) must be at least 100 me­tres away from the drill. To date only one frog has been moved dur­ing our op­er­a­tions at Whareki­rauponga.”

Anti-min­ing lobby group Coro­man­del Watch­dog spokes­woman Au­gusta Ma­cassey-pickard says Whareki­rauponga is a spe­cial case, and the Archey’s is too frag­ile to put at risk.

The group ap­plied un­der the Of­fi­cial In­for­ma­tion Act for a copy of Oceana Gold’s sur­vey of the frog and other rare na­tive species. Apart from ‘bat de­tec­tors’ and binoc­u­lars, ecol­o­gists un­der­tak­ing the sur­vey fos­sicked by day and used torches and head­lamps at night to find the small crea­tures in ter­rain that ranged from thick un­touched bush to na­tive for­est regenerating.

A to­tal of 63 Archey’s frogs were found — 66 at the drilling and camp sites and seven seen while the ecol­o­gists trudged along in­for­mal walk­ing tracks be­tween the pro­posed drilling sites. As of Au­gust last year, Oceana Gold had drilled 8000 me­tres into the habi­tat.

Pub­lic in­put will be sought on pro­pos­als to en­act the Gov­ern­ment’s pol­icy of no new mines on con­ser­va­tion land, and Ms Ma­cassey-pickard says it’s time to speak up.

Cur­rently a range of min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties oc­cur on pub­lic con­ser­va­tion land, rang­ing from coal mines through to al­lu­vial gold mines and gravel ex­trac­tion, with the ma­jor­ity on the West Coast, Otago and Coro­man­del. There are also mines in South­land, Tas­man and Otago. There are 113 ap­proved min­ing op­er­a­tions on Con­ser­va­tion Land and 54 of these are ac­tive.

Among those that the Con­ser­va­tion Min­is­ter and En­ergy and Re­sources Min­is­ter Megan Woods will con­sult with is the min­ing sec­tor, iwi, lo­cal gov­ern­ment, en­vi­ron­men­tal and com­mu­nity groups, and the wider pub­lic.

“The dis­cus­sion doc­u­ment is a chance for the pub­lic and stake­hold­ers to con­trib­ute their views on the is­sues Gov­ern­ment needs to con­sider in im­ple­ment­ing the pol­icy, the best tools to use and how tran­si­tional ar­range­ments could work,” Eu­ge­nie Sage said.

There would be no change to the sta­tus quo un­til fi­nal de­ci­sions on how to im­ple­ment the pol­icy di­rec­tion are made.

DOC Hau­raki op­er­a­tions man­ager Avi Holzapfel says de­spite the find­ings of sur­veys show­ing abun­dance of these frogs, there would be no change to ac­cess at Whareki­rauponga.

“The con­di­tions in the ac­cess ar­range­ment al­ready suc­cess­fully min­imised im­pact on Archey’s frogs by ex­clud­ing a large num­ber of sites from dis­tur­bance where five or more frogs were found in the sur­veys.”

Says Ms Ma­cassey-pickard: “Ob­vi­ously we shouldn’t have mines on con­ser­va­tion land. These are of­ten ar­eas that have high bio­di­ver­sity, unique char­ac­ter­is­tics and indige­nous and of­ten threat­ened species. We are ral­ly­ing to stand up for these ar­eas and their in­hab­i­tants — to let them know that min­ing there is not okay, and to sup­port Doc’s re­cent de­ci­sion not to al­low them to re­lo­cate the very threat­ened and sig­nif­i­cant Archey’s frog to en­able them to drill fur­ther.

“The archey’s frog are here — and they must be pro­tected!”

There are 972 am­phib­ians world­wide that sci­en­tists de­scribe as ‘EDGE’, which stands for evo­lu­tion­ary dis­tinct and glob­ally en­dan­gered, and the Archey’s — New Zealand’s only land frog — tops the list.

Its fate is now very much in the balance.

PHOTO / FILE

Archey’s frogs haven’t changed from their fos­silised rel­a­tives that lived 150 mil­lion years ago.

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