13 Aug 2023

Wildlife tour plans pulled after DOC raises concerns about protection of Hector's dolphins

7:10 am on 13 August 2023
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Photo: Gary Webber/ 123rf

A tourism operator made the right call to pull the plug on plans to run wildlife tours that could put Hector's dolphins at risk in Lyttelton Harbour, the Department of Conservation says.

Christchurch company Jet Junkies applied to run jet ski-propelled boat tours to view marine mammals including the nationally vulnerable species.

The company made the call to withdraw its application following a meeting with DOC staff who raised concerns about the protection of Hector's dolphins and how these tours could put them at further risk.

Mahaanui operations manager Andy Thompson said DOC had planned to decline the application but no formal decision was made.

"I think this application has really clarified our views in terms of the relationship between tourism activities and our native species, and Hector's dolphins in this particular case."

Nation-wide there were roughly 15,700 Hector's dolphins with about 5000 of them living around Banks Peninsula.

They already faced challenges including disturbance, habitat reduction, overfishing, water quality, bycatch risk, warming seas, toxoplasmosis and noise, Thompson said.

Whakaraupō was already a busy harbour which was already likely having an impact on Hector's dolphins, he said.

The applications received more than 200 submissions, the majority of them opposed the proposal.

"Research from nearby Akaroa Harbour indicates tourism activities impact Hector's dolphins, and these are cumulative alongside the effects of other vessel traffic. Impacts could include changes to behaviour including changes to when and where dolphins are found in the harbour.

"We do not think the conservation benefits from public education through tourism outweigh the potential adverse effects of this proposal, especially given there are six existing dolphin tour operations in nearby Akaroa."

A moratorium remained in place for Akaroa Harbour, which prevented DOC from granting any more permits or any more trips for dolphin viewing or swimming.

The moratorium will be reviewed by DOC and expires in 2026.

Thompson did not rule out it being extended or expanded to cover more area.

"It's more than likely that moratorium would be extended in timeframe but I think we should also consider whether or not that should be extended around the rest of the peninsula and into Lyttelton Harbour as well, which is pretty consistent with the marine mammals sanctuary that is currently in place."

He did not expect it would have much of an impact as there was only one operator doing occasional tours in Lyttelton Harbour.

Thompson acknowledged Jet Junkies staff have worked constructively with DOC during the application process including reducing the proposed number of daily trips and using a Sealver, or jet ski propelled boats to ensure customers would not be operating jet skis near marine mammals.

Jet Junkies chief executive Kevin Scovell said thanked DOC staff for their work

"We will continue to operate our strict accidental discovery protocols around marine mammals while out on our existing jet ski tours."

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