How it worked

Scientists and volunteers gathered at Waimangaroa Hall, at the foot of the Denniston Plateau, for a welcome and briefing at 6pm on Friday, March 2.

 A bioblitzer scours the plateau new and interesting inhabitants. Photo: Dave Brooks.

A bioblitzer scours the plateau new and interesting inhabitants. Photo: Dave Brooks.

The 150 people were assigned to 12 teams led by scientists who are experts in everything from lizards, birds, ants and moths to liverworts and tussocks.

The BioBlitz was organised by Forest & Bird Top of the South Field Officer Debs Martin, Rachel Hurford and Ali Burnett, with great support from Forest & Bird’s West Coast branch. Among those who took part were Forest & Bird Conservation Ambassador and eminent scientist Sir Alan Mark, natural history film-maker, photographer and author Rod Morris and many other leading experts in their fields.

The number of volunteers was capped for health and safety reasons, and many disappointed people had to be turned away. Forest & Bird allowed a few representatives from Australian mining company Bathurst Resources – which wants to destroy the plateau with an open-cast coal mine – to join the BioBlitz.

The first team – led by pollination biologist Dave Pattemore – headed out at 8pm to the Whareatea area of the plateau to search for nocturnal animals and check on the night cameras Dave had set up in the afternoon. Despite the drenching rain, the team stayed out long enough to hear great spotted kiwi and weka calling, and they found giant land snails, freshwater crayfish (koura), insects, plants and fungi.

The sky cleared on Saturday, and BioBlitzers met again at Waimangaroa Hall at 8am. The teams set off to defined areas of the plateau with maps, handheld GPS devices to plot their finds, cameras, collection containers and spreadsheets to detail the finds.

Base camp moved up the hill to the Friends o f the Hill Museum on the Denniston Plateau on Saturday afternoon, and the teams returned from their day out with photographs and samples of the plants and insects they found.

Night teams again headed out at dusk, and the first day teams resumed their searches at 6.30am on Sunday. For two hours, a helicopter – the time paid for by a donor – ferried scientists to the upper extents of the Waimangaroa gorge and Deep Stream, which otherwise would have been out of range during the two-day event.

The BioBlitz’s official close was at Waimangaroa Hall at 2pm on Sunday, when each team detailed the highlights of the weekend.

It will take some time for all data to be tallied and for the scientists to study their samples. It is likely the BioBlitz will turn up new species of plants and animals, and that species not previously known to be at Denniston will be identified.  

Rod Morris said the weekend had been “pretty incredible” and the knowledge that had been gained from 150 pairs of eyes would be important in protecting the plateau against development. “Given the low level of predation evident on Powelliphanta shells, and the presence of ground dwelling giant weta, it confirms reports there are hardly any predators on the plateau, it’s like a natural mainland island, a modern day “Noah’s Ark”  for conservation,” he said. “Why would you want to muck that up? Mining on the Denniston Plateau would not only be destructive of the environment here to a phenomenal extent but it will also destroy New Zealand’s clean green reputation.”