Developer teams up with Te Papa to protect penguins of Shelly Bay

If the Shelly Bay development goes ahead there could be restrictions on cats and dogs in a bid to protect resident little blue penguins.

Environmentalists warned the road to the $500 million development would cut through a little blue penguin habitat, and because the birds were hard-wired to return to the same breeding spot every year, it would mean the decimation of the Shelly Bay population.

Now, developer Ian Cassels  is working with Te Papa to come up with a protection plan, and he said he was determined to leave Wellington’s penguins in the same or better condition, but that the design of the development itself would not change.

Suggestions in the report include creating a cat-free housing area and dog-free coastal area, as well as predator-free zones around the coast by use of fences or intensive trapping.

Cassels said everyone had a soft spot from penguins, despite them sometimes being “smelly little creatures”.

“You don’t necessarily want to encourage a large breeding colony there, and you might not get them anyway, and they would not work with human beings.”

“Once we develop, we want them to be in a better condition. The precise what that is going to happen is yet to be completely finalised, but we are happy to make parts of that report available,” Cassle said.?

The development includes 350 new properties, including a 140-resident rest home, a boutique hotel, 280 apartments, 58 townhouses and 14 standalone homes. It has been grantedresource consent by the city council.

Karin Wiley, from Forest & Bird’s Places for Penguins committee, said any changes to the shoreline would impact what little nesting habitat remained in the area, which included 15 natural nests, and seven nesting boxes.

“The population have already been decimated. We are trying to save as many as are left.”

Making areas cat and dog-free would not solve the problem, because the greatest risk to the penguins was the road, which would likely be widened for the development, she said.

Te Papa senior curator Susan Waugh, who authored the report, said the research did not asses how the new development would endanger the resident penguins, and she was not privy to the finer details of the proposal.

Dogs would be an issue, the report notes, even if owners were required to keep their animals on a lead.

The approach had failed in Punakaiki, the report says, where the entire penguin population was wiped out by uncontrolled dogs.

The report also suggests fencing along the road to avoid traffic accidents, but this would need to be done after all penguins in Shelly Bay had finished breeding and all penguins had moulted.

Creating tunnels under road was not seen as an option, because predators often learned their location.

The report also recommended creating penguin-friendly habitats, by planting native shrubbery in areas on the sea shore.

Cassels said he did not know which option they would choose, but “I suppose what we’re saying is we will be guided by Te Papa for how we set up and live by our commitments”.

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