Keeping lizards safe - all in a day's work
KiwiRail had an experienced lizard (mokomoko) catcher hard at work on Wellington’s Kaiwharawhara Point, capturing and relocating mokomoko to a safe, fenced area for the duration of the iReX ferry terminal precinct redevelopment.
8 December 2022
It’s not your usual day job, says Amanda Healy, a Department of Conservation approved mokomoko catcher and ecologist for environmental consultancy Boffa Miskell, who is an expert when it comes to moving mokomoko out of harm’s way during construction projects.
KiwiRail Resource Management Lead Michelle Grinlinton-Hancock says these mokomoko – Northern grass skinks (Oligosoma polychroma) – were moved to safer ground for the duration of the iReX (Inter-Island Resilient Connection) Kaiwharawhara project, which includes the construction of a new Interislander ferry terminal building and wharf to accommodate two new more environmental friendly ferries which arrive from late 2025. Early construction works are starting on the site, to prepare the ground for the main construction work which will get underway next year.
“While this mokomoko species isn’t threatened, all Aotearoa’s native species are protected, and the relocation was carried out in line with a Mana Whenua, Department of Conservation and Greater Wellington Regional Council approved Lizard Management Plan,” explains Michelle.
Amanda says the Northern grass skinks are a mobile lizard species, with a population likely moving onto Kaiwharawhara Point sometime since the 1970s when the land was reclaimed.
Together with her ecologist colleague Tyla Kettle, Amanada installed “pitfall traps” throughout Kaiwharawhara Point, small white buckets, baited with small capfuls of mango puree to attract the lizards. The traps were coverd with a corrugated tile to provide shading and protection against predators. Grass and a damp sponge at the bottom of the buckets kept the mokomoko comfortable until their relocation.
The traps were checked daily by Amanda and Tyla, who then immediately and gently transferred the captured mokomoko into small soft bags (recycled sunglasses bags) to the relocation area on the east side of Kaiwharawhara Point, where they are protected from construction behind a mokomoko-proof polypropylene fence, buried to a depth of about 20cm to ensure mokomoko are unable to pass beneath.
“The 2500m2 relocation area was recently planted with native species, which together with grass and pasture weeds will provide a suitable habitat for the northern grass skinks,” says Amanda. More than 100 lizards were relocated.
The pair carried out daily checks until no mokomoko were caught for several consecutive days. They also did manual searches of mokomoko-friendly habitats, just to make sure there were no stragglers.
“Taranaki Whānui have actively translocated mokomoko across Te Whanganui-a-Tara for many years. Working in partnership with hapū/whānau and DOC to protect these taonga from the impacts of development in our region has been an important task for our iwi,” says Lee Rauhina-August, māngai for Taranaki Whānui.
“Our habour island Matiu has been a sanctuary for mokomoko that has allowed populations to be shared with Zealandia, other partners and iwi throughout Te Upoko o Te Ika.
“The work we are doing here, as a partnership through Te Au o Rehutai, complements what we are also doing for the protection of avian wildlife across our takiwā, and extends to the native regeneration of Kaiwharawhara estuary which is a culturally significant site, to ensure suitable provision of habitat over the course of the project, and well into the future.”
Lee says Taranaki Whānui has reached out to uri (members), who not only have the passion, but experience and expertise, ensuring the project realises and maintains the aspirations of Taranaki Whānui. The opportunity to continue to grow our capacity to lead these discussions is an important outcome for Taranaki Whānui.
At the end of construction, the fence will be removed to allow the lizards to disperse naturally into the new plantings, which will be created as part of the Kaiwharawhara Wellington Ferry Terminal terminal redevelopment, a KiwiRail project in partnership with Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington Mana Whenua Taranaki Whānui and Ngāti Toa Rangatira, and CentrePort Wellington.