Bream Head Reserve from Manaia

New Species of Skink found at Bream Head

June 4, 2013

A Northland community has turned the lizard world upside down with the discovery of a new species of skink for Northland at Bream Head (Te Whara), Whangarei Heads Peninsula.
The Bream Head Conservation Trust (BHCT) in partnership with the Ngātiwai Trust Board and Department of Conservation, has been working away quietly on predator control to support the native species at Bream Head (Te Whara).

bream-head-new-skink

Has a new species of skink been found at Bream Head?

A lizard monitoring programme established by BHCT led to the discovery of the skink which has had samples taken from it to be tested for DNA. While waiting for the DNA results local herpetologist Ben Barr was on a knife’s edge. “I’ve got no fingernails left,” he said. Ngātiwai Trust Board Resource Management Unit Manager Clive Stone said to Ngātiwai, skinks are a taonga.

“To Ngātiwai, indigenous fauna are whānau and taonga, to be looked after for future generations. They are kaitiaki of their habitats and to some of our people they are indicators of the health of their surrounding environment and provide signs of events to come,” said Clive.

Matt Mitchell

Matt Mitchell of Wellington Zoo captures a specimen skink

Three years ago Bream Head Conservation Trust recognised the need for sustainable funding if the project was to succeed and approached their neighbours across the harbour, Refining NZ. The Refinery recognised the importance of Bream Head (Te Whara) to the local community. They signed up for three years and have recently committed to a further three years of funding. Greg Innes the Trust Chair says “the Refinery funding provides a unique and significant catalyst that has seen other funding partners come on board to help drive the project forward…. progress has been astounding”.

Today the Trust, in partnership with the Ngātiwai Trust Board and Department of Conservation intensively manages three quarters of the 800ha Reserve and anticipates having it under full management by 2014. Mammalian predators are now managed to very low levels by contractors and volunteer teams from the community.

bream head skink

Distinctive marking and long elegant toes of the little brown skink

In the relative absence of rats, lizard numbers are beginning to bounce back. Contractor Pete Mitchell says, “we have six or possibly seven species of lizard present at Bream Head (Te Whara) which is outstanding for one mainland site and to now discover something new is unbelievable”. The skink turns out to be closely related to the brown skink Oligosoma Zelandicum currently only known from the lower North Island and the north-western tip of the South Island – it is a very long way from home. Apart from a possibly similar single individual photographed near Taupo in March 2003 this species has not been seen north of Taranaki, until now.

The Trust, in partnership with Ngātiwai and DOC hopes to further investigate and fully describe the skink this coming summer and it may well prove to be a completely new species for New Zealand. These are exciting times for the partnership and the Whangarei Heads community.

Contact:

Greg Innes, BHCT Chair 09 4365626.

Pete Mitchell, BHCT Ranger 09 4340508.

Clive Stone, Ngatiwai Trust Board 09 2839552.

Lynnie Gibson, DOC Whangarei 09 4703367.

 

BACKGROUND

The Bream Head (Te Whara) Scenic Reserve is located in a significant natural heritage environment. Bream Head (Te Whara) and the Manaia Ridge Scenic Reserve are recognised as the most significant ecological features of the 6,444 hectare Manaia Ecological District. The Manaia ED essentially lies within the area known as Whangarei Heads. The rich and unique diversity of this area led to it being established as a separate ecological district in 1996 (Goldwater & Beadel, 2010).

Bream Head’s (Te Whara) natural environments extend across a complete sequence of vegetation types from sandy and rocky seashore to high forest and rocky outcrops. Its forest is recognised as the largest and highest quality broadleaved coastal forest in Northland and contains a number of threatened, at risk and regionally significant species of plants and animals. This includes the largest mainland population of parapara (Pisonia brunoniana) (ranked as Relict) and one of only two sites1 supporting the Nationally Critical Northland horopito (Pseudowintera insperata) a tree that is now only known from the Manaia Ecological District (Goldwater & Beadel, 20102).

Native fauna include 15 threatened species, 12 at risk species and 8 regionally significant species Bream Head (Te Whara) is the only location in the Manaia Ecological District which contains the Nationally Critical landsnail (Punctidae sp. 223) –one of only 2 locations for this species in the world. The site also contains the southernmost colony of pupuharakeke or flax snail (ranked as Range Restricted) in New Zealand (Goldwater & Beadel, 2010).

A wide range of native bird species are present from tui, grey warbler, fantail and morepork to kukupa, tomtit, brown kiwi, red – crowned kakariki, bellbird and kaka. The presence of the latter three species reflects the proximity of Bream Head (Te Whara) to the Hen and Chicken Islands and its importance as a stepping-stone between the mainland and offshore islands.

In recognition of the significance of Bream Head (Te Whara), the Bream Head Conservation Trust was formed in 2002 to work in partnership with Ngātiwai, the local and wider Whangarei communities, the Whangarei District Council and Northland Regional Council, and the Department of Conservation to manage the ecological restoration of the Bream Head (Te Whara) Scenic Reserve.
Their goals are to restore the ecology of the reserve, to preserve its historical and archaeological features and to enhance the cultural values and practices, as well as its recreational and educational potential in ways that are compatible with conservation values.