Motunau Beach Biodiversity Development Team


Cooks Scurvy Grass (Nau Grass)

in Full Flower at Stony Bay

This plants are the seed source for the Nau Grass for Motunau Beach.  Many thanks go to Anita Spencer of DOC for seed collected and the DOC nursery at Motukarara for growing on the plants. 
Motunau Beach Biodiversity Development Team working day
TV3 News Story on transfer of
white-flippered penguins from
Motunau Island to Banks Peninsula
5,000 tiny penguins on a 3ha island
Over the years 3 News has done plenty of stories about Oamaru's Little Blue penguins and the high-profile Yellow-eyed penguins but have you heard of the White Flippered penguin?

It's found only in Canterbury; it's the smallest of its species; it's more threatened than the yellow-eyed penguin and like the Little Blue it comes ashore every night like clockwork.

Motunau Island is a protected DOC reserve, 65km north of Christchurch, and it is tiny – only three hectares, but is home to more than 5,000 endangered White Flippered penguins.

A rare visit to the predator free island reveals wall-to-wall penguin burrows.

“I've seen populations go up and down,” says penguin trustee Graham Baldwin. “Right now the population is increasing and here on Motunau Island this is the prime breeding location.”

At this time of year they are sitting on eggs but a few early birds have already hatched.

Chris Challies has studied the White Flippered penguin for decades and knows their nightly parade well.

“A good proportion of the population will return ashore starting at last light and continuing through until about midnight.”

They are nocturnal because they are scared of aerial predators; while the threat has disappeared, the behaviour hasn't and they still gather in groups for protection.

Much like sheep, they wear paths up the steep hills to make getting around on those awkward feet a little easier.

At the changing of the guard, one parent comes up out of the sea and up the main highway to find its mate or chick if it has hatched; once reunited, the other parent comes back down the main highway and back out to sea because it’s its turn to go fishing.

But space is becoming a premium; 30,000 fairy prions also nest there and trustee Graham Baldwin is concerned for the largest colony.

“All we need is some sort of disease or some sort of catastrophe to sweep across the island and it's going to destroy that population of the white flippered penguin which is really the only breeding spot here,” he says.

So the trust aims to establish another breeding colony at Boulder Bay on Banks Peninsula.

Past chick relocations have been successful and it's hoped that like in Oamaru and Phillip Island near Melbourne, a penguin parade tourist attraction can be set up to help fund conservation efforts for the country's smallest penguin.

3 News

Recent Announcements

  • Cooks Scurvy Grass seeds collected
    Good news the first step in reintroducing Nau Grass (Cooks Scurvy Grass) to Motunau has been completed.  Anita Spencer of Department of Conservation Mahaanui Office has successfully gather seed from the plants at Stony Bay on Banks Peninsula.  These seeds are now in the care of the Motukarara Nursery.  Unfortunately now is the hard part.  Nau Grass is extremely difficult to cultivate mainly due to it's susceptibility to some introduced plant pests.  So fingers crossed for good growing and we will have Nau Grass for planting later in the year.
    If you want to follow progress, there are several options, connect to the RSS feed of our project updates.  Sign up to the mailing list by clicking Join Our Team in the sidebar or e-mail
    Posted Feb 15, 2011, 1:54 PM by Dale McEntee
  • Motunau Beach Lizard Guide Released
    The Motunau Beach Biodiversity Development Team is pleased to advise that the guide to local Lizards and their conservation is now complete and has been uploaded under the Lizards tab and is also in the Files section.
    Please e-mail us at if you would like a hardcopy.  Please note a donation or perhaps sponsorship would be appreciated to cover the costs of printing.
    Posted Feb 13, 2011, 7:59 PM by Dale McEntee
  • First Penguin Boxes established
    Last week Jenny Broadhurst and myself with a troup of local children dug in the first 5 penguin nesting boxes.  These are the first of 20 that will be placed in the Motunau Beach Coastal Cliff Reserve as a trial in preparation for the next breeding season beginning in August.  This years juveniles will be fledging now and next month you may observe birds onshore for moulting.  Birds which are moulting may look distressed and unwell, however they are fine and should be left in peace.  The less disruption the better for a penguin moult.
    Posted Jan 16, 2011, 2:42 PM by Dale McEntee
  • Motunau Island Penguins on the News
    TV3 News on Sunday ran a story about the Boulder Bay (Banks Peninsula) proposal to create a colony and have a penguin parade tourism venture.  Their intention is to boast the existing population with birds transferred from Motunau Island.
    The story talks about overcrowding on the island and the risk of disease wiping out the colony.  These are some of the same reasons why we are proposing to enhance breeding in the Coastal Cliff Reserve. To View the story click this VIDEO LINK
    Posted Dec 8, 2010, 5:41 PM by Dale McEntee
  • 8/11/10 - Penguin Nest Boxes
    Hurunui District Council has funded 20 Penguin Nesting Boxes which have now been constructed by groups from the Motunau Beach Community and Waikari School.
    The intention is for these to be used to supplement natural burrows in the Coastal Cliff Reserve.  We welcome information of where penguin have been seen to help us decide where they could be used. 03 3140059
    Posted Dec 8, 2010, 4:55 PM by Dale McEntee
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