Conservation | The Southern Fiordland Initiative
Fiordland is one of Aotearoa’s most iconic locations. It is internationally recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site and treasured both nationally and internationally. And yet, due to its remote location, it is also one of the least studied, and poorly understood ecosystems in the world. Invaluable local knowledge tells us that the Fiords are changing, but the data to monitor this change, and determine its impacts are absent. By partnering with the Southern Fiordland Initiative we aspire to help change that. A national collaboration between Fiordland Charters, local guardians, scientists, and citizen science will answer two questions;
1.What are the climatic conditions and ecosystem health of the Fiords right now?
2.How are they changing?
The Southern Fiordland Initiative (SFI) aims to establish long-term climate monitoring, iconic species research and citizen-lead habitat-mapping in Tamatea(Dusky Sound) and Te Puaitaha (Breaksea Sound).
Citizen Led Habitat Mapping
Understanding the distribution of major biological communities is critical for effective management and measuring large-scale change over time. If we don’t know where important or unique communities are located then they can’t be protected. The SFI has developed a citizen science-led habitat mapping project, where we aim over the next decade to describe the distribution of different communities throughout the southern fiords. Recent seafloor surveys in the fiords have mapped all the physical rocky habitats and we aim to collect biological data to overlay on this existing information. By creating habitat maps, we will be able to observe any larger scale changes over time within the fiords. Guests boarding the MV Pembroke will have the opportunity to contribute to the programme as citizen scientists. They will be given initial training on the types of data we want to collect, which includes information on some of the dominant organisms (such as black corals and sharks), the physical environment (e.g. sediment present and rock angle), and will conduct standardised video transects that will be later analysed by researchers at Victoria University of Wellington to complete the maps. This is a long-term project as it will take many dives to collect the level of information required to create detailed habitat maps.
Climate and Environment Monitoring
A key aim of the SFI is to understand how the climate in the southern fiords is changing. Currently, there is no long-term environmental monitoring in Dusky or Breaksea sounds, which clearly limits our ability to see if the climate is changing. The SFI has taken several approaches to address this major gap in our ability to detect change. We have installed temperature logger chains in several locations in the fiords from 0 to 20 m, and at the 4 sites where we are monitoring the biological communities, we also have temperature loggers in both shallow and deeper water (> 70m). Finally, VUW has provided the SFI team with a CTD, which is a device that can measure salinity, depth, and temperature. As the MV Pembroke travels throughout the fiords the CTD will be deployed to the seafloor, collecting data as they go. This will build up an important picture of how the environmental conditions vary across the fiords and will help us better understand any future changes. The next step in this part of the programme is to work with the Department of Conservation to install above water environmental monitoring stations. We hope these will be installed at some of the DOC huts throughout the fiords and will provide valuable data to complement that from our in-water sensors.