Checking for penguins on construction site

MONITORING: Annabelle Coates installing motion detection infrared cameras along the seawall.

Lyttelton Port Company is working with ecologists to protect penguins as construction begins on the new cruise berth.

Land-side pilling had begun for the new berth, completion of which was expected for the 2021 cruise season.

Ecologist Annabelle Coates is part of a team checking the construction site for nesting little white-flippered penguins.

“We look for penguins and also for penguin poo, which looks like a splat of white paint. Often, if they are around, you can smell them, too,” she said.

The ecologists had installed timed and motion detecting infrared cameras along the seawall to monitor the area for birds arriving at night.

The little white-flippered penguin, sometimes known as the little blue penguin or fairy penguin, is small with a distinctive white stripe on the top of its wing.

While the white-flippered penguins are found only on Banks Peninsula scientists believe they are not genetically different from little penguins.

“It’s kind of like how you get black fantails and grey fantails but they are the same species,” Ms Coates said.

LPC environmental manager Kim Kelleher said voluntary wildlife training, including looking after penguins, was popular with staff.

“The port has recently added a wildlife section to its construction management plan. This clearly spells out what needs to happen if any wildlife is encountered. Construction has to stop and a trained staff member will come and assess the situation,” she said.

Once ecologists declare the cruise berth site to be penguin-free, holes will be filled in to keep the birds from nesting there during construction.

Their breeding season runs from August to February and eggs are generally laid between July and November. Eggs take around 37 days to hatch and chicks leave the nest at around 55 days old.

Around the port, penguins have been known to nest in the seawalls from the inner harbour to near the coal yard. LPC controls predators such as rats and possums in the area and surveys the nests.

The company was authorised to handle the penguins if they needed to move them.