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Introducing 2016 Student Award Winner Johannes Fischer

Johannes is studying for an MSc in conservation biology at the School of Biological Sciences at Victoria University, Wellington. He is studying the ecology, breeding biology and conservation status of the South Georgian Diving Petrel (Pelecanoides georgicus). The South Georgian Diving Petrel is listed as nationally critical and is the sole Procellariiformid seabird in New Zealand that only breeds in sand dunes. If that is not enough to spike your interest; it might also be an undescribed, cryptic species!

The only extant population of South Georgian Diving Petrels in New Zealand is located at Codfish Island (Whenua Hou), off Stewart Island. Invasive predators have been removed from Codfish Island more than a decade ago, but the population does not appear to be increasing in size. Vegetation encroachment and erosion have been put forward as potential hypotheses for the lack of population growth. Therefore, the focus of the study is to assess the nest site selection of South Georgian Diving Petrels at Codfish Island. Habitat selection is an important part of ecological research.  Understanding if and why species prefer certain habitats and avoid others is crucial to successful conservation management. Through this research dune management may be implemented specifically to aid the South Georgian Diving Petrels on Codfish Island.

Stay tuned for further updates from Johannes.

Restored dunes supporting more pipi/tuatua

A joint project between tangata whenua, Māori researchers and ecologists, has found that toheroa, which was once abundant on the Horowhenua coastline, and still prized by tangata whenua, have been reduced to very low numbers between Hōkio and Ōtaki.

An associated study assessing Escherichia coli (a bacteria that indicates faecal contamination) clearly indicated that the shellfish that remain are regularly contaminated with faecal material and thus unsuitable or only marginally suitable for human consumption, in terms of Ministry of Health guidelines. This contamination is of great concern for cultural and health reasons. Land cover data showed a dominance of particular land covers in the adjacent catchments, which can contribute to this contamination.

The study was a part of the Manaaki Taha Moana project through Taiao Raukawa with Iwi and Hapū, and in association with Cawthron Institute and Massey University. The research is assisting tangata whenua in their work with councils, scientists and other local interests to address habitat degradation and consider re-seeding of taonga species.

Coastal Restoration Trust Trustee, Tim Park comments that “It’s very interesting that this research found the largest tuatua populations at Waitohu. It’s a long way up the coast from Hōkio to Ōtaki! It’s intriguing that five to six times more tuatua were found at the South Waitohu sample site than most other places they sampled in this massive study area.”

“Its great that the award winning care group Waitohu StreamCare has been actively restoring the dunes in this area for some time with the longstanding and ongoing support of Kapiti Coast District Council and Greater Wellington Regional Council. As well as the revegetated dune areas, the area is also home to some of the most intact natural foredunes in the Foxton Ecological District and are dominated by the sand-binder, Spinifex.” Tim said.

“I’d like to think that the comparatively high number of tuatua found at Waitohu has something to do with the naturalness of the ecosystem. Heathly beach systems are usually able to support more native species and are also more resilient to natural and human impacts. There is some evidence from Northland that the toheroa lifecycle depends on native sand binders. I wonder if this is also true for other shellfish species”.

Dr Huhana Smith from Taiao Raukawa says “A customary Māori worldview would understand and respect the natural interrelationships between coastal native plants and shellfish. However, we believe that intensive agriculture, exotic forests and extensive wetland drainage within the case study catchment areas has impacted on our ability to support and maintain those relationships. This land use change is considered one factor amongst others that has led to the overall decline of shellfish populations, which we consider are taonga.”

The faecal contamination and land use changes for kaimoana reports will be available soon at or for more information contact Dr Huhana Smith Enable JavaScript to view protected content. , Emma Newcombe Enable JavaScript to view protected content. or Craig Allen Enable JavaScript to view protected content.

Globetrotting 2013 Study Award Winner Progressing Nicely

The 2013 recipient of the Quinivic/Coastal Restoration Trust study award, Renee Johansen is currently being hosted at North Carolina’s Duke University and continuing her research examining root fungi in marram and spinifex. She has been travelling extensively, collecting root samples from marram in California and most recently, the United Kingdom. Renee has provided us with an update on her work:

Perhaps the biggest lesson I have learnt during the first two years of my PhD is that research is an inherently unpredictable activity, in terms of both what will be discovered, and the time that discovery can take! Extending my time in the US by twelve months has enabled me to change the focus of my project in response to fast moving technological developments in my field and to my own early discoveries. While I am still using DNA sequencing to look at whether fungal communities in dune grass roots differ by host plant species, I have broadened my survey of fungal diversity in marram to include samples from the plant’s native range. Now, comparing fungal diversity in different countries is a major focus of my project and I will be taking a more thorough look at whether New Zealand is likely to harbour endemic fungal species in the dune environment. In June I visited the United Kingdom, travelling by bus and train up the west coast from Devon through Wales to Liverpool, collecting marram roots from seven different sites. This coastal zone suffered heavy storm damage during the last northern hemisphere winter and many of the fore dune systems lost several meters from the dune toe. Fortunately I was able to find systems which were extensive enough to retain good quantities of marram, and in some cases the remaining marram seemed to be benefiting from partial burial by the large quantities of sand delivered to some areas by the storms. These plants had lots of young, vigorous growth. It was great to witness the dynamic nature of the coastal environment first hand, mix with lots of coastal enthusiasts who volunteered to work on the project, and add to my sample collection which now numbers 392 root sections from four dune grasses and three countries.

My current greatest challenge is optimizing my DNA sequencing methods in order to get the best possible information from those samples. I will be working on this for the next two months before heading home to further explore the fungal diversity in New Zealand dunes. Preliminary results from the pilot study I did at Anawhata in Auckland’s Waitakere ranges before I left show that spinifex supports a wide range of beneficial root dwelling fungi – some known from dunes elsewhere in the world, and some which are probably new to science. Some of these may be endemic to New Zealand. I plan to gather more genetic information for these fungi, and hope to look at their morphology as well, with a view to formally describing them. I am also looking forward to presenting at the next Coastal Restoration Trust conference.

Inaugural Study Award Winner Gains PhD

Congratulations to our inaugural Quinovic/Coastal Restoration Trust Study Award recipient Susanne Krejcek on recently being awarded a PhD for her research;

Direct and indirect interactions of native and introduced species in coastal habitats.

One of the challenges of dune restoration projects is increasing the survival percentages of spinifex plantings, particularly in exposed locations and where an existing cover of exotic species (such as marram) is extensive. With this in mind one of the research questions of Susanne’s study was; is an existing cover of marram grass useful in assisting the establishment of native sand binders (via facilitation) or does it prevent establishment of spinifex (via competition)? Included in this research question was to discover whether it’s better to plant spinifex amongst dead herbicide-sprayed marram grass or live marram grass.

Susanne found that spayed (dead) marram is a better facilitator for spinifex growth than live marram, especially on the seaward part of the foredune. However, self-colonising weed species were also facilitated by sprayed marram, so for restoration plantings it is only recommended to plant into dead marram if the site is not weed prone as weeds were facilitated in the same way as spinifex and in some instances appeared to hinder spinifex growth. Susanne also concluded that for a successful conversion from marram to spinifex, it’s important that the initial density of marram grass is not too high prior to spraying as lower densities of dead marram allow for better spinifex growth.

The Coastal Restoration Trust would like to thank Susanne for her very valuable contribution in adding to the science behind dune restoration and we wish Dr Krejcek all the very best for her future endeavours.

You can see a full copy of Susanne’s PhD thesis at:

Year 3 of the Backdunes Project wraps up

The Coastal Restoration Trust Backdunes Project funded by the Ministry for the Environment’s Community Environment Fund (CEF) has finished as of 30 June 2014. This is the culmination of three very successful years of field work, collaboration with Coast Care groups and management agencies nationwide, and completion of numerous outputs.

The project has fulfilled its objectives to undertake an extensive review of existing knowledge and experience on backdune restoration, set up of demonstration areas and monitoring sites in many regions and also provide practical guidelines on practical methods for backdune restoration for coastal groups, iwi, managing agencies and the wider community.

The aim of the project was to produce and communicate guidelines that will empower communities to more successfully design and undertake restoration of backdune environments. As a result 12 additional Technical Handbook articles have been published (see below). A powerpoint presentation of summarising the sites and demonstration trials established during this project will be posted on the Coastal Restoration Trust website

March-June 2014 site visits in brief
Over the last 4-month milestone period a number of sites were inspected with Project Partners.

Visits were made to Waipu Cove, Ruakaka Beach, Tauranga Beach, Taipa, Rarawa, Ahipara, Tokomaru Beach and Waikato Bay on the Karikari Penn. Reassessment of the beach transects to determine exotic wattle growth.
Reassessment of the large Coprosma acerosa (Sand coprosma) planting trial at Te Henga Beach, West Auckland.
Visits to several beaches along the south western coast where done in mid March stopping at Foxton Beach, Himatangi Beach and Patea Beach.
Reassessment of the Living Legends planting on the backdunes at Te Rewarewa, New Plymouth. Other sites that were visited are Motu to the north and Opunake and Oakura to the south.
Several sites were visited around Wellington and on the KapitiCoast – Petone, Whitireia Park, Te Horo Beach, Waitohu Beach, Paraparaumu Beach and on the far eastern side Onoke Spit.
Return visits to the Canterbury sites were completed at Te Kohaka o Tuhaitara Trust Park in North Canterbury and Caroline Bay and Otipua Beach at Timaru where significant restoration work is being undertaken and monitored.

Backdune articles for the Coastal Restoration Trust Technical Handbook
Twelve articles for the Coastal Restoration Trust Handbook have been published as part of the CEF Coastal Restoration Trust Backdunes Project. Areas covered include succession and zonation on backdunes, guidelines for restoration of backdunes, key native ground cover, shrub and tree species to plant on dunes, and a case study of backdune restoration underway by Coast Care groups in each of the North and South Islands.

New Articles:
The 12 new articles for the Coastal Restoration Trust Handbook add a total of 98 pages of new information to the handbook. These articles are distributed across several sections within the Handbook:

Section 2 – How do dunes work?

2.4 Zonation and Succession
“In simple terms, zonation is a sequence of vegetation in space, while succession is a sequence in time… A key feature of dune vegetation is the sequence of different vegetation communities or zones that occur with increasing distance landward…”

Section 8 – Native vegetation on backdunes

8.1 Backdunes – an introduction
“Backdunes range from low dunes a metre or so in height on some coasts in areas of limited sediments supply, to over 30m in height in some instances. On most sites, backdunes are relativity stable and are likely to have a cover of vegetation but in some circumstances they can be highly unstable and poorly vegetated.”
8.2 Ground Cover Plants for restoration of backdunes
“A range of native ground cover plants dominate the zone between the sand and tree zones landward. The ground cover zone, as with other zones, has been heavily modified since human occupation. These impacts including grazing, pest animals, exotic plants and development.”
8.3 Native Trees and Shrubs to use on backdunes
“The landward zone of most of New Zealand’s coastal sand dunes was once covered in a diverse range of coastal native shrub and tree species. The coastal forest and shrubland zone was part of the sequence of coastal vegetation zones from foredunes to backdunes to lowland forest…”
8.4 Wiwi – Knobbly Club Rush, the wonder plant of backdunes
“Wiwi or knobbly club-rush (Ficinia nodosa) is a rhizomatous perennial rush… The species is not threatened. …It readily established on backdune sites as natural regeneration and has been planted by Coast Care groups in many regions throughout New Zealand.”

Section 10 – Human impacts on dunes on New Zealand coastal dune systems

10.1 Human Modification
“Dune management and restoration is primarily required because of the significant modification of dune ecosystems that has occurred since human settlement in New Zealand. Coastal dunes are probably the most modified and degraded of all New Zealand’s major ecosystems…”

Section 12 – Planting practices for coastal dunes

12.1 Planting Natives on Sand Dunes – getting started
“Planting of native coastal dune species is likely to be a major component of most sand dune restoration programmes… Most Coast Care groups have experienced poor survival of planted natives on sand dunes. Many factors contribute to failure of restoration programmes…”

Section 13 – Weeds and pests animals on coasts

13.3 Weed Control
“Poor or inadequate weed control adversely affects plant survival, vigour and growth of planted natives. Weed control, often referred to as ‘releasing’, is essential with any planting project using natives.”

Section 14 – Monitoring for coastal sand dunes

14.1 Monitoring Coastal Sand Dunes, an introduction
“Most monitoring of dune condition and vegetation cover undertaken by community Coast Care groups is based on non-quantitative observations by members… Assessing the state of the beach and dune system and monitoring changes over time are essential requirement s for any dune restoration programme.”

Case Studies

Case Study 1 Restoring Degraded Urban Dunes Case Study – Eastern Coromandel
On the Coromandel in the Waikato region restoration involves “a ‘whole of dune’ approach where the dense weed cover of both foredune and backdune are mechanically removed to allow planting of appropriate native plant species within each zone.”
Case Study 2 Establishing Natives on Sand Dunes Case Study – Caroline Bay, Timaru
“Over the past decade the Timaru District Council has undertaken a major development of the coastal zone including restoration of backdunes along Caroline Bay in Timaru, South Canterbury.”

Copies of each of these articles are now available as pdfs on the Coastal Restoration Trust website.

Thank you!
Finally a big thank you to all of our Project Partners who have been involved with the Backdunes Project over the last three years – the community and the Coast Care groups, the local, district and regional councils, other trusts and the Department of Conservation. We greatly appreciate your time and contribution to sharing issues and experiences of backdune restoration in your areas.

Coastal Restoration Trust newsletters current and past can be found on the Coastal Restoration Trust website.