Bid to pro­tect wildlife’s space

Otago Daily Times - - DUNEDIN - STAFF RE­PORTER

RANGERS and vol­un­teers are hit­ting Dunedin’s beaches on a mis­sion to ed­u­cate beach­go­ers about giv­ing wildlife space.

De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion (Doc) wildlife re­sponse kaiti­aki, New Zealand Sea Lion Trust vol­un­teers and Doc staff spoke to more than 180 peo­ple, both lo­cals and tourists, last week­end about the im­por­tance of shar­ing the beach with marine mam­mal vis­i­tors.

Doc coastal Otago ranger Jim Fyfe said af­ter re­cent close calls, in­clud­ing one in­ci­dent where a rest­ing sea lion lunged at a tourist who got too close, it was time to get boots on the ground and speak to peo­ple face to face.

‘‘We’re re­ally lucky in Otago to share our coast­line with won­der­ful crea­tures such as sea lions, and we know peo­ple are ex­cited to see them. How­ever, no­one likes it when some­one sits too close in the cof­fee shop or is mak­ing too much noise when you’re try­ing to rest, so why do that to a 350kg sea lion?

‘‘It’s about be­ing re­spect­ful to the an­i­mal, giv­ing them space and en­joy­ing from a safe dis­tance — for both peo­ple and the sea lions.’’

The pres­ence of the ad­vo­cates pre­vented at least one group from up­set­ting a sea lion.

‘‘We were able to hastily step in and stop a man and his daugh­ter from rush­ing straight up to an un­sus­pect­ing sea lion.’’

While there were about 30 male sea lions sun­bathing at Sand­fly Bay last week­end, they were still as en­dan­gered as the kiwi or kakapo, he said.

It was a priv­i­lege to have them on Otago Penin­sula as sea lions only started be­ing born there about 15 years ago.

‘‘Gen­er­ally, most peo­ple we spoke to were aware of the im­por­tance of giv­ing them space and it was over­all a re­ally pos­i­tive worth­while ex­er­cise.’’

Doc staff and vol­un­teers would main­tain a pres­ence on beaches around Dunedin over the sum­mer, mon­i­tor­ing wildlife and talk­ing to vis­i­tors, he said.

PHOTO: DE­PART­MENT OF CON­SER­VA­TION

Keep your dis­tance . . . Doc ranger Jim Fyfe and wildlife re­sponse kaiti­aki (guardian) Ja­nine Baker stand about 10m from a 350kg sea lion at Sand­fly Bay.

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