Topic: Fauna - Follow-ups
PLEASE NOTE: Dates recorded AFTER 18.9.2010 will be FOLLOW UPS ONLY as the Tongaporutu project is now completed.
The follow ups will mostly be limited to the Three Sisters beach and the Four Brothers beach. However, should anything major occur at any of the other locations, then they will also be recorded.
FOLLOW UPS TO THE MAIN TONGAPORUTU PROJECT
This panoramic shot was taken at the furthermost eastern end of the dune. Here, living plants compete amongst the dead for space. Thus far, they have escape inundation, but with rising sea levels, this will change.
Following this week’s mega-storm, I wanted to go up to Tonga to record the changes. Unlike last year’s mega-storm, which though spectacular, let Tongaporutu off fairly lightly. Unfortunately, we couldn’t be that lucky twice. And we weren’t.
Stories emerged, both on television and in the Taranaki Daily News of a massive seabird wash-up. This was due to the storm’s unusual duration which didn’t allow the birds to feed or rest for a fatally extended period of time.
According to the paper, the majority of the birds affected were broad billed prions (Pachyptila vittata) with some Antarctic prions (Pachyptila desolata), thin billed prions (Pachyptila belcheri) and the odd diving petrel. Aside from a lone albatros (Diomedea sp?), the only other dead birds I actually observed were all broad billed prions.
David Medway, a New Plymouth member of the Ornithological Society, said that the conditions had created the ‘BIRD WRECK’. This encompassed the whole west coast of New Zealand. “It’s an unusual phenomena but it’s a natural phenomena. However, seabird wrecks on this scale were especially unusual. The last time a big one like this occurred was in 1974.” He also added: “And the ones that washed up on shore were only a small minority of the actual death count. For every one that gets wrecked on land, God knows how many get wrecked at sea.”
Before descending down to the Pilot Point dune, I said hello to Emma O’Sullivan. She said that there were a lot of birds washed up down there. And she was right. To me it was like a seabird graveyard. Lots and lots of them, half buried in the sand. All were fully feathered. None were skeletonised. I also saw a dead albatross. I took several photos which wasn’t easy to do. It was heartbreaking to see and I couldn’t help but shed some tears.
I thought that judging by what I saw at Pilot Point, a tiny dot compared to the rest of New Zealand, that hundreds of thousands of seabirds must have perished in this particularly brutal mega-storm event. I have never seen anything like it. And I don’t ever want to see anything like it again.
Almost as an after-thought I also saw a dead sheep that was minus all of its skin and wool. It was as if someone had taken a knife to it and skinned it. Such was the power of the sea.
As for the dune itself, including the vegetation, (marram grass, etc.,) it appeared little changed. However, down towards the Tonga baches end of the dune, there was a huge driftwood accumulation. I even came across the Gibbs lower wooden steps that had been taken out by the mega-storm. This used to be at the bottom of their track that led down to the dune. (The track on the Tonga River side, not the track by the barn). I also saw one of the two large pohutukawas languishing on the beach. Pirani said that they had been taken out by the huge seas.
THE THREE SISTERS BEACH
After concentrating most of my photography on the Four Brothers Beach, I just took a few record shots of the continuing evolution of the dune and its flora.
While up at Tonga being filmed for the upcoming ‘What If’ exhibition to be held at Puke Ariki, I photographed some terns that were nesting on the Inner Sister. For the first time ever, I later discovered that the terns were nesting on every available rock stack. In the past they had tended to favour specific rock stacks, but such was their numbers this season, that they had to nest where they could. Even here, on the Inner Sister, though they preferred to nest on the cushion-like ice plants, the excess of birds were forced to nest amongst the more scrubby vegetation on the rock stack.
I observed terns to be nesting on both the Inner and Middle Sister and also on Elephant Rock. Due to La Nina, the sea is remarkably warm for this time of the year. Perhaps this has brought down more food for these birds as they seem to be here in greater numbers than usual. Starlings appeared to be utilizing holes in the cliffs for nesting.
At the gap between Mammoth Rock and the dune I saw two dead sea birds. They had black heads and wings. (Species unknown).
On the Middle Sister I noticed a large, flowering ice plant. It is currently the only plant residing on this rock stack.
13.2.2011 PHO2012-0604, 0606
I continue to record the dune’s changing character with regards to its plants.
At the dune, the two large pohutukawas were under threat from the encroaching sea.
Down near the Point, I saw a black-backed gull flying after another gull that had what looked like a sprat or pilchard in its beak.
On the beach at Zone Two, when I was there on the 14th April, the very high sand cover had covered all of the rock platforms and reefs, apart from the very tops of the highest platforms. I noted at the time that the topmost mussels were in danger of being smothered like their buried counterparts.
Today, though the sand cover is still good, due to the south-westerlies we have been having of late, more of the rock platforms were uncovered. I noted that they remained covered in healthy mussels of varying sizes. I assumed from that, that mussels could cope with temporary sand coverage if it wasn’t at too great a depth. This would be because the top sand layer would be subject to wave action and therefore sand movement. This would allow the mussels to survive.
Presumably length of time the mussels are covered, perhaps combined with the depth to which they are covered, is crucial as to whether they survive it or not. Can they go into a sort of suspended animation or hibernation state for shortish periods?
On the beach, I saw quite a lot of plastic bits and pieces, plus one large blue plastic meshed crate, part of which was missing.
3.7.2011 PHO2012-0624, 0626, 0628, 0631
The log atop the lower part of the dune is now in real danger of succumbing to the sea. The rest of the dune is also severely stressed.
17.7.2011 PHO2012-0524-0525, 0638
I knew that the mega-storm had taken out a lot of the dune, but looking down from the cliff-top above Mammoth Rock, I was stunned by the scale of the destruction. The two 50 year old pohutukawas lay stranded on the beach and a large swathe of coastal vegetation had gone. Basically, around 60 feet of the dune had been carved out on the gap side and around 20 feet on the seaward side.
This beautiful coastal dune forest, what little now remains, will, apart from plants growing on the cliff proper, all be lost. To be more precise, all of the plants growing on the ‘House of Sand’ are doomed.
On the beach proper in Zone One, I saw two noisy variable oystercatchers. I believe they are a resident pair as I have seen them in the past. I observed no dead seabirds on this side of the Tonga River, unlike on the Pilot Point side.
Another thing I noticed of the beach in Zone One was that although much of it had been scoured down to bedrock, thus revealing an ancient fossilized tree trunk, no seaweed had been washed up. This doesn’t mean that none was washed up during the storm, it just means that if any did, none of it was present during my visit. I just make the comment here because loads of seaweed was present on the beach during the super-storm event I documented in July/August 2008.
The log that had been deposited at the gap by September 2010’s mega-storm was now nowhere to be seen. A lot of the plant material and driftwood, with no sand/land bridge to contain it, has been transported across the Tonga River and been deposited mostly at the far end of the Pilot Point Dune.
29.7.2011 PHO2012-0533-0536, 0540, 0544
I was up at Tonga with Gary Bastin, Glyn Church, Susan and Ian Burgess. I wanted to show them the devastating affects of the recent mega-storm.
As the two tracks on the Gibbs’ farm had been taken out at the bottom, I opted to take everyone via the public Reserve access. This is where the Tonga River passes close to the cliffs. Lots of dead, broad-billed prions were jammed into the boulders that form a low barrier between the sea/Tonga River and the car park of the Reserve. Also, lots of flotsam had been tossed up over the boulders and onto the grass. En-route we saw lots of washed up plant material from the dune. On the beach proper, the two pohutukawas were still on the beach. They appeared to be still alive, but only just. Plants were still tipping down the dune wall but the erosion process had slowed since the dune suffered a king hit a fortnight ago.
14.8.2011 PHO2012-0554, 0558, 0560-0561, 0575, 0577-0578,
I particularly wanted to re-photograph the dune from the cliff-top that I had photographed on the 26 August 2009. This was to show the dramatic changes that had occurred, particularly since being hammered by last month’s mega-storm. These two photos would be required for a photo story I wanted to do for the New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year competition.
Though the weather was sunny, there was a brutally cold south-westerly wind that was blasting everything to kingdom come. (It snowed at home and at New Plymouth the next day). I only brought the digital camera with me. This would allow me toto take more detailed photos as I wouldn’t be lumbered by film costs, or by lugging a heavy tripod. Besides, the conditions weren’t condusive for such photography, especially with everything being sand blasted and with it being so cold. As it was, I had to photograph with my back to the wind for the most part.
The two pohutukawas were still lingering on the beach. Some of the branches were partially buried in sand. Though still clinging to life, they were dying a slow, lingering death. Lots of leaves littered the beach, especially in the vicinity of the stream.
More flaxes and other plants were on the beach, with others continuing to tumble down the crumbling sand walls. Quite a few plants had washed up through the gap and towards the Tonga River.
I saw a few seabird feathers on the beach, but no dead birds. I saw and heard no birds in the bush at all, but I did see possum poo on one of the wooden steps leading down to the beach.
The ancient forest tree remains were still visible on the beach in the V section and in the lower cliff immediately past the sand wall. This is near the first arch.
It is all very sad.
The pohutukawa at the southern end of the dune is now under threat of toppling into the sea as the dune continues to be washed away.
THE FOUR BROTHERS BEACH
I observed terns nesting on the Oldest Brother and on both of the two other Brothers. I saw a black-backed gull on the Oldest Brother but didn’t know if it was nesting there or not. It was being harassed by an annoyed tern. Starlings also appeared to be utilizing cavities in the cliffs.