The fragility of life becomes more apparent when one stands on an island in the South Pacific; more so than when one lives surrounded by thousands of miles of continental land mass.
I followed my friend Jocelyn who with her husband, Nigel, live on the Coromandel Peninsula due east of Auckland on a drive up the coast to run some errands. On one of our stops, we saw a family fishing from a now abandoned granite pier.
Encased in the very granite that once was transported from it, this pier helped move Coromandel granite to major construction sites in New Zealand.
At one time, New Zealanders quarried granite from the Coromandel to build their country’s parliament and other government buildings in Wellington, the capital of this island nation.
A discarded granite block, similar to those that were shipped from the Coromandel.
As we walked out onto the pier, Jocelyn noticed that a family fishing on the pier had just caught a fish. She recognized the type of fish and told the family it was good eating but that they had to cut off the head and gut it as soon as possible, otherwise the fish meat would be spoiled by its innards.
As the father quickly followed Jocelyn’s advice, the son showed us something he had found along the shore—a dead blue penguin.
A blue penguin, affectionately known by Kiwis as a “bluey.”
A blue penguin is a small bird and the margin between it and starvation is slim. It fishes along the coastal waters of New Zealand.
A blue penguin found dead along the Coromandel Peninsula east of Auckland.
Jocelyn said that lately there have been commercial fishermen fishing illegally off the coastal waters, depleting the supply of fish.
Her friends at New Zealand’s Department of Conservation report that they’re finding more dead gannets and other sea birds along the shore. The cause of death—starvation. With as much shoreline as New Zealand has, it’s hard to catch these poachers in the act but in their wake, they leave dead and dying birds.
The feathers of a blue penguin are incredibly soft to the touch.
The feathers of the blue penguin reflect the blue of the sky—hence their name.
The next day, as Jocelyn and I visited a stream that emptied into the sea to perform a Maōri blessing on the greenstone jewelry that Jocelyn had bought for her grandchildren, we saw our first dead gannet—the cause of death by starvation even more apparent in the gannet and in the small blue penguin that I saw the previous day.
Death by starvation is even more apparent in a gannet than in a small penguin.
We are depleting the world’s oceans of fish and the consequences are more apparent on our shores than in our supermarkets.
Later in the day, Jocelyn found signs of hope along the eastern shore of the peninsula at a place called Stoney Bay. She found a mating pair of dotterels—a highly endangered New Zealand bird—and as we watched, we saw the chick that they were protecting.
A dotterel gives a hooded stare at interlopers to stay away.
Jocelyn was so excited to find not only these birds but that they had successfully hatched a chick. One of the parents was banded (previously caught and bands placed on its legs to identify where and when it was caught). The other parent was not banded.
The dotterel is a threatened species in New Zealand.
A dotterel with bands clearly showing gives important information New Zealand’s Department of Conservation.
The mate without banding on its legs.
The chick was just a tiny thing, invisible in the stone field of the shore except when it ran and even then, it was hard to spot. I prayed that I’d get it clearly within my camera’s lens range but we could only approach so far and I had only my 300 mm lens.
When I got home later that evening, this is all I saw and I was disappointed.
There is a chick somewhere amid these stones and seaweed on the beach.
The next morning my head cleared and I gave it another try. I enlarged the photos as much as I could and began a meticulous scan. Lo and behold, I got lucky and found what I was looking for…a dotterel chick!
A dotterel chick is impossible to see when it is standing still.
Jocelyn sent these photos to the Department of Conservation and they were delighted. They had been unaware that they had a mating pair of dotterels at Stoney Bay—much less not one but two young chicks—less than a week old.
It takes six weeks for the chicks to mature enough to fledge.
We can only hope that they’ll make it.