Taranaki Mounga’s new citizen science project to track toutouwai/robin in Taranaki is based on a sucessful project launched by Project Hotspot to support the conservation of threatened coastal species in the region. 

Ask Dr Emily Roberts what the key to Project Hotspot’s success is and she will tell you it all began with one specific species – Orca.

“Orca have really been a great point of interest. They are so charasmatic and to be able to come up with positive outcomes that can help orca and other species has really harnessed peoples imaginations,” she says.

While pods of orca, or killer whales, are sighted several times a year in Taranaki coastal waters until Project Hotspot was launched in November 2015 the sightings were poorly documented meaning information was patchy.

Started by members of the Nga Motu Marine Reserve Society, Project Hotspot’s overall aim was to use citizen science to raise awareness of threatened species with the public asked to report sightings. Initially focusing on orca, reef heron, little blue penguin and New Zealand fur seal its work with schools has already had positive outcomes for conservation in Taranaki.

“It is amazing what students can come up with and that concept was the genisis for Project Hotspot. Schools do an action project in an area of local interest and we have already had so many positive actions from their work which is a real bonus,” says Emily.

One example is a litter survey carried out by Oakura School at the Tapuae Marine Reserve. The students kept on finding shotgun wads and after following up with Fish and Game they have been talking to local gun clubs about using more environmentally-friendly ammunition.

Conversations are also taking place with New Plymouth District Council after students found plastic parking ticket receipts washed up on the shoreline. Port Taranaki is another entity benefitting from the project.

“We have been able to raise awareness with port staff and management about the abundance of threatened species in their area and they use our information to make decisions. One of the port security guards, Fred King, has become a Hotspot hero – he is one of our best spotters,” says Emily.

Phase three of Project Hotspot, which will see more schools come on board, is about to launch. If you would like to get involved contact Project Hotspot.