News | 11 January 2019
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Cobham Drive lizards on the move

Work to develop the new walking and biking paths along Cobham Drive will soon be ramping up – but first efforts are being made to relocate lizards living in the construction zone.

Image of skink in sun on Cobham Drive

This week, a volunteer from local iwi Taranaki Whānui ki te Upoko o te Ika, Council ecologist, PhD student and transport engineer have been assisting reptile specialists (herpetologists) to carefully capture and release as many lizards as possible.

These are mainly indigenous northern grass skinks, which surveys have shown are living in this area in significant numbers. There’s a slim possibility they may also find and relocate copper skinks and raukawa gecko.

The Department of Conservation issued the permit to collect and move as many lizards as possible from the work site. To achieve this, the small team installed and have been monitoring about 300 collection traps, and also actively searching areas of vegetation and other places where lizards may be.

The lizards, none of which are threatened species, are being released at two locations with vegetation similar to where they live now. The Council’s urban ecology team, Victoria University of Wellington and the ecologists leading the operation worked together to choose the most suitable locations, which are both within 5 kilometres of Cobham Drive.

Canned pear is being used to entice the lizards into the specially designed traps, and so far more than 300 have been caught, weighed, measured and rehomed.

Research by Victoria PhD student Chris Woolley in the Cobham Drive area last summer prompted closer consideration of the lizard population, leading to work with Council ecologists, Wildland Consultants and DOC, and the development of an agreed lizard management plan for the area.

Taranaki Whānui trustee Holden Hohaia says he is delighted to be involved in the capture and release of the mokomoko (skinks).

“For us as iwi, the mokomoko is a kaitiaki with strong links to the spiritual realm. For that reason it is really good to see them getting the care they deserve as one of our taonga species.”

Wellington City Council is working hard to build an eco-centric city where nature and people thrive together, so lizards aren’t the only type of wildlife getting some special attention.

The Council has also been working with penguin detection experts from Kaikoura Ocean Research Institute to make sure any nesting areas are identified, so these areas can be adequately fenced off and a plan made to carefully work around them.

The Council is also in the early stages of working with Predator Free Wellington to potentially install traps, and a light barrier (area of very bright light) along Cobham Drive that will help with the goal to make Te Motu Kairangi/Miramar Peninsula predator free.

The Council’s Portfolio Leader for the Natural Environment, Councillor Peter Gilberd, says the improvements happening are part of a wider plan to make it easier and safer for more people of all ages and abilities to walk or bike, something which will have wide ranging health, transport and environmental benefits.

“It’s good to see that considerable time, effort, and collaboration has been going on ahead of work starting to minimise and mitigate the impacts on native life,” he says. “After laying the paths, we’ll be landscaping areas along the route with rock and native plants, which will recreate habitat suitable for lizards.

“We don’t know yet whether lizards will naturally return to this area.  If they don’t, this area will provide a useful site where they could be released in future.

“We’re excited to have Victoria University on board to monitor the lizards after they are relocated, and to do some follow-up research.”

The Council’s Portfolio Leader for Walking and Cycling, Councillor Sarah Free, says the project is an important part of the Council’s plan to develop a citywide cycle network and will provide another key connection in the bike route around the harbour from the east.

“It’s taken longer than expected to get to this point, but I’m really looking forward to seeing Tahitai – the new-look Cobham Drive walking and biking route – take shape this year.”

The name Tahitai was gifted by Taranaki Whānui ki te Upoko o te Ika and means one tide.

Downer completed wider new walking and biking paths at the eastern end of Cobham Drive between the Calabar Road roundabout and Shelly Bay Road in late 2017. During the second half of last year, they worked to install new poles and more energy efficient LED lights on the central median. As part of the work, trolley bus wires were also removed and aerial communications cables relocated underground.

The installation of the new lights, which is almost complete, means the old poles on each side of the road can now come out, so the rest of the work on the seaward side can happen.

A new asphalt bike path, concrete footpath and landscaped areas with seating will be developed between Evans Bay Parade and the airport roundabout. Construction on the seaward side is expected to start at the Evans Bay end in February and take about a year.