Two birds in the hand for Volvo’s eco warrior sailing crew on an Auckland day out

An only in New Zealand experience has left one international sailing crew much wiser about a unique conservation challenge – saving the emblematic flightless kiwi.

An only in New Zealand experience has left one international sailing crew much wiser about a unique conservation challenge – saving the emblematic flightless kiwi. 

After a day out in the Hauraki Gulf during their Auckland stop-over, the Volvo Ocean Race sailing team ‘Turn the Tide on Plastic’ will leave a living legacy in New Zealand – a young kiwi chick that they named Mōhio (meaning wisdom in Māori) before releasing it into the wild. 

The United Nations team is carrying the sustainability message on their year-long round-the-world voyage. Alongside the competition to win the race, this team is on a mission to promote ocean health by highlighting the global issue of single use plastic. 

Members of the team including New Zealander Bianca Cook, Lucas Chapman and Bernardo Freitas took part in the release of two, three-week old baby kiwi chicks on Motuora Island – a kiwi sanctuary crèche in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf. The island, home to a resident population of around 100 – 150 kiwi, is a pest-free haven for young kiwi chicks raised under the Operation Nest Egg (ONE) programme. 

Sailor Bianca Cook, who is sailing the gruelling round the world race, had the honour of naming a chick that weighed in at a healthy 447 grams on release day. 

“It was an amazing experience, something that was very special to me and my team,” says Cook. "As most New Zealanders know we don’t often get the chance to even see a kiwi in the wild so having the opportunity to actually release one was incredible and very humbling. 

“We named the kiwi Mōhio, the Māori word for wisdom, which is very close to us because the mascot for the Volvo Ocean Race is an albatross called Wisdom.” 

The Hauraki Gulf, on the shores of Auckland, is New Zealand’s largest marine park and the location of a series of highly successful on and offshore sustainability and conservation projects designed to protect and enhance the rich marine life. 

Steve Armitage, GM Destination at Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) said the visit was an opportunity to show the Turn the Tide on Plastics crew some of the great sustainability work going on as well as some of the natural wonders of the region. 

“We have a shared responsibility to protect and preserve Auckland as a destination, as a community, and as an economy for future generations. It helps to spread the word to our visitors and locals about how important preserving our natural environment is,” he said.

The kiwis were released as part of Operation Nest Egg, a programme managed by the charitable organisation Kiwis for Kiwi, in partnership with the Department of Conservation (DOC). 

The programme involves collecting eggs from the wild, incubating and hatching them at facilities like Auckland Zoo, then transferring them to safe crèches such as Motuora Island, where they stay for a year or so until they are around 1 kg in weight and able to fend off most predators. 

They are then transferred back to where they were found as eggs, or are used to start new kiwi populations on other pest-free islands in the Gulf.

Motuora Island is managed by DOC in partnership with Motuora Restoration Society. There are no rats, stoats, possums or other introduced predators on the island, making it safe for kiwi and other threatened native birds. 

It is one of 44 pest-free islands in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. DOC and Auckland Council are working to keep these native wildlife sanctuaries free of introduced predators and weeds.     

The team were invited to venture into Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf to the island sanctuary of Motuora by Tourism New Zealand, ATEED and the Department of Conservation, Sea Cleaners, Auckland Zoo and Kiwis for Kiwi. 

Background: The Hauraki Gulf and Conservation

  • Department of Conservation (DOC) manages one third (8.6M hectares) of New Zealand’s entire land area
  • Hauraki Gulf Marine Park is New Zealand’s largest marine park (1.2M hectares)
  • Hauraki Gulf is the seabird capital of the world with 27 species
  • Hauraki Gulf is home to 22 (25%) of the world’s species of whales and dolphins
  • Hauraki Gulf has 44 pest-free islands providing safe havens for precious and endangered species such as the kiwi