Double the duck: Securing the future of the duck on the $10 note

People just think they are another duck until they see one, says Tracey Hickman, Genesis Energy’s executive general manager for generation and wholesale.

She’s talking about the blue duck, now more commonly referred to as the whio, which makes its home on many of the rivers on which power generator Genesis has power stations.

Hickman saw her first whio 15 years ago, and was immediately struck by the realisation they were not just another duck.

“They were remarkable in terms of their colour, and their ability to sit still on fast-flowing water.”

DUCK BLUES

Calling whio blue does them a disservice, as did their drab image on the old $10 banknote.

But in 2015, the new “brighter banknotes” put a much truer image of the whio into the nation’s wallets and purses capturing the subtle colours of their plumage running through blue, grey and russet.Tracey Hickman from Genesis recalls her first glimpse of the 'remarkable" whio 15-odd years ago.

And they are an active creature of the wild, thriving in rivers where water runs fast. These days, they are doing best in rivers where humans are actively trapping to rid the banks of the stoats and other predators that eat whio eggs, and kill their young.

Whio cope with remarkably fast-flowing water.

But whio have lacked the cache of other, better-known species of native birds, and even some more recent feathered arrivals to these shores.

In the 15 years Forest and Bird has been running its Bird of the Year competition, Kea, kōkako (on the $50 banknote), Bar-tailed Godwit, Fairy Tern, Mohua (on the $100 note), New Zealand Falcon (on the $20), kākāriki, Kiwi, Kakapo, Grey Warbler, Fantail and Tui carried off the honour. Even the humble Pukeko, which introduced itself from Australia, was named bird of the year in 2011.

But the whio has never won enough public votes to get to the top of the list. This year, the public ranked it 8th.

GENESIS OF WHIO FOREVER

The bird has become a symbol of Genesis, which has been involved with it since the early 2000s when the time came for the power generator to get many of its power schemes re-consented.

“We first formed a mitigation relationship, but it rapidly evolved from there,” Hickman said.

Staff at Genesis embraced the whio, but it became quickly apparent that mitigating the impact of power generation on a species that was teetering on the brink of extinction was not enough.

Whio numbers were perilously low, and the focus on sustaining the current situation wasn’t the right thing to do, according Geoff Ensor, the Department of Conservation’s director of commercial partnerships.

“We don’t think that sustainability has worked very well,” Ensor said.

That’s breeding pairs on the protected rivers.

There are whio elsewhere, but the scale of the achievement can be judged against the 2009/19 whio action plan from DoC, when the target was to establish 400 breeding pairs at eight “security” sites by 2014, a number the Genesis project managed, and since surpassed.

Whio were starting from a very low base in 2011, and Ensor described the Genesis project, which the power company backs with funding as well as manpower, as making a “significant contribution”.

The project was also driving digital innovation.

Trapping predators like stoats, which take whio eggs and fledglings, has required a lot of human labour.

But an investment in digital technology, where traps are monitored for activity, is make its possible to trap along greater lengths of river.

WHIO PRIDE

Hickman said initially, Genesis was quite coy about the whio project, but since it moved beyond mitigation, and the numbers of whio have risen, the company had been speaking more openly about it, and speaking with pride.

Former Genesis chair Dame Jenny Shipley took a moment before facing her second day of cross-examination in the Mainzeal civil damages claim last week to reminisce about the whio project.

Shipley and her fellow Mainzeal directors are being sued for up to $75 million over the collapse in 2013 of the construction company by the liquidators, who are seeking money to pay to creditors.

But she was happy to spend a few minutes before taking the stand discussing what she dubbed “double the duck”, the pride it had created for Genesis, and how it had evolved through the passion of people in Genesis.

ORIGINAL POST CREDITS: stuff.co.nz

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