Fairy Tern Nesting area protection and remediation at Papakanui Spit Refuge within the Kaipara Air Weapons Range.
Image: LAC Vanessa Parker | ©

Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) helicopters today delivered 50 tonnes of crushed oyster shells to a remote breeding site of the rare native bird, tara iti / New Zealand fairy tern.

Date:  27 August 2019

DOC rangers, New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel and kaitiaki of Ngāti Whātua o Kaipara used the shells to create safer nesting sites for tara iti at Papakanui Spit, at the mouth of Kaipara Harbour.

Tara iti are critically endangered with a total population of 35 to 39 birds.

They nest at four main breeding sites in Auckland and Northland, one of which is within the South Kaipara Air Weapons Range that includes Papakanui Spit.

“Having tara iti nesting within a Defence Force range helps protect the birds when they’re breeding,” DOC ranger Alex Wilson said.

“Tara iti nest on shelly beaches. At public beaches their eggs and chicks are at risk of being disturbed by the public.

Papakanui Spit is within a no-go area for the public. The Defence Force provides further protection by avoiding weapon testing and staying well away from the spit during the tara iti nesting season.”

Two Seasprite helicopters and a Royal New Zealand Air Force Unimog, a military truck, spent today carrying bags of oyster shells to the beach at the top of Papakanui Spit.

“We’re grateful to Biomarine Ltd for providing the shells free of charge,” Alex Wilson said.

DOC rangers, NZDF personnel and kaitiaki of Ngāti Whātua o Kaipara spread the shells and sand to create two large nesting mounds and enlarge seven other mounds, created last year, on the Papakanui Spit beach.

“These raised nest mounds help protect tara iti nests from big high tides and storms that flood the nests,” Alex Wilson said.

“They also provide protection from high winds, which cover the eggs with sand, meaning the parent birds can’t find their eggs.

We really appreciate the support the NZDF and Ngāti Whātua o Kaipara are providing at Papakanui Spit to help increase the tara iti population.”

RNZAF Wing Commander Rachel James said the NZDF was always willing to work with other government agencies to support their initiatives.

“This includes our recent assistance to DOC with the clean-up in Westland and support to remote places such as to Raoul Island in the Kermadecs.”


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Email: media@doc.govt.nz

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