Wellington cycleway developers warned after deaths of little blue penguins

4:50 pm on 15 November 2023
Penguin kororā

A little blue penguin, or kororā. Photo: RNZ

The developers of a Wellington cycleway have been reprimanded after several little blue penguins were killed.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) has issued a formal warning relating to one of the deaths during the construction of the Wellington-Petone cycleway. The bird was crushed when a rock was moved.

An investigation found the deaths - which happened over two months - were not malicious or intentional, but some kororā were killed because required site checks were not completed. Only one reached the threshold for offending under the Wildlife Act.

The investigation found several of the deaths could not have been foreseen or prevented, because the penguins were nesting below the waterline where nobody expected.

The alliance behind the project had proactively reported the deaths to DOC, and issued a 'stop work' notice pending an internal investigation. It conceded all reasonable steps had not been taken.

DOC principal investigation officer Matt Davis said the alliance had adopted stricter measures to better protect little blue penguins following the investigation.

"DOC staff carried out a site visit and were extremely pleased to see the new measures in place," he said.

"The alliance was fully cooperative with DOC's investigation into the deaths and, although the deaths were all very disappointing, we note no further deaths have occurred since the implementation of the new measures."

'Everyone... understands the seriousness'

Waka Kotahi, which heads the Te Ara Tupua Alliance behind the project, said it accepted the formal warning and was taking it seriously.

National manager infrastructure delivery Mark Kinvig said better protections for the penguins were already in place at the Te Ara Tupua - Ngā Ūranga to Pito-One project site, and project staff had received extra training to understand environmental requirements.

The changes included a new kaitiaki role to help site-based construction crews with practical ways to protect wildlife, more ecologist involvement in planning and better fencing.

"We put in place a new internal approval process for all activity on site to ensure kororā and other protected wildlife are not put at risk by construction."

The penguin died at the Piki Wahine barge section of the site, Kinvig said.

"This incident should not have occurred, and we are doing everything we can to ensure there is no repeat. Waka Kotahi and our Alliance team are committed to delivering the project with the best possible environmental and conservation outcomes, which also means complying with all relevant legislation and the project's consent conditions. Everyone in the project understands the seriousness of this warning."

No further penguins had been killed, but Kinvig said there was no room for complacency.

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