We are making sure lizards move out before diggers move in at the wastewater treatment plant that lies within Shakespear Open Sanctuary in Army Bay, Whangaparaoa
The plant is about to undergo a $31 million upgrade to replace the treatment plant outfall pipeline and to upgrade facilities including a pump station but first, native lizards are being captured and released to safer areas. The site is a sensitive ecological environment and is encircled by a pest-proof fence.
Chris Wedding is an ecologist with “Biosearches” of Auckland and is in charge of capturing and relocating the lizards.
"We have installed an array of pitfall traps and lizard shelters throughout the worksite, and following a trapping period, we will then work with the excavators to strip back the vegetation to capture any remaining lizards within the footprint that evaded our initial trapping effort," he says.
Wedding holds Wildlife Authorities from the Department of Conservation to capture and relocate the wildlife. The process is carefully regulated and a permit involves consultation with iwi.
There are more than 106 species of lizard living in New Zealand, including geckos and skinks. They have important roles within the ecological food web and also help pollinate plants and disperse their seeds.
Like all reptiles, lizards like warmth, so the relocation operation has been timed to coincide with the arrival of spring. In coming weeks, an earth digger with a “skeleton bucket” will be used to clear vegetation. They are less disruptive than standard buckets, allowing ecologists to watch carefully and step in to remove more lizards or other native species such as nesting birds. Shakespear Open Sanctuary is also home to many rare birds, including little spotted kiwi.
So far 13 native ornate skinks have been discovered.
Project manager Dirk du Plessis says Watercare is highly aware of the ecological sensitivity of the area: “We work closely with ecologists on all our infrastructure projects - and are taking particular care in Army Bay.
"Before this project even started, we constructed fences around our ponds to prevent kiwi that had been re-introduced into the area from drowning. It’s in everyone’s interests that we take the same level of care around other fauna and flora, including lizards."
Once completed, the new infrastructure will ensure greater reliability and resilience of the treatment plant as the area continues to grow.