Introduction

Volunteers on the Chatham Islands have the experience of a life-time, staying and working on isolated, entry-restricted nature reserves.

Date:  16 June 2014

This week is National Volunteer Week. It's a time to acknowledge the great contribution volunteers make to conservation.

Naku to rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te tangata
With your contribution and my contribution the people will live

Volunteers on the Chatham Islands have the experience of a life-time, staying and working on isolated, entry-restricted nature reserves. Their contributions are invaluable, as they help the Department of Conservation get more priority conservation work done.

Ready for work! Volunteers wear giant boards on their feet to ensure they don't accidently squash any burrows while walking in the forest.
Ready for work! Volunteers wear giant boards on their feet to ensure they don't accidently squash any burrows while walking in the forest

Getting involved with projects on the islands

Every July, excitement builds when the annual list of volunteering opportunities for the Chatham Islands is posted on the DOC website. Almost a dozen different trips to the iconic islands of Mangere and Rangatira are punctuated with names of species so rare, some will have never heard of them.

For some the dream begins when first reading about the black robin as a child. It's then rekindled every time someone casually mentions they have visited these mysterious islands and were lucky enough to be involved in the conservation work going on there.

Chatham Island black robin. Image: Monica Valdes.
Chatham Island black robin

Critical work with skilled volunteers

Run by DOC's Chatham Island Office, this volunteer programme is an integral part of the annual work plan for the island. Without it, critical work on the two off shore island nature reserves would not happen. The avifauna monitoring programmes require teams of highly skilled bird observers, handlers and banders for weeks at a time to complete the field work.

When working with species such as black robin, chatham petrel and forbes parakeet, there is no room for error, so volunteers must have the necessary skills and competence to carry out the work with minimum supervision.

Arriving on the offshore island. Image: Monica Valdes.
Arriving on the offshore islands

All the work is organised and co-ordinated by the Chatham Island DOC staff, but they are by no means the experts on the job. With volunteers are made up of researchers, graduates, scientists, consultants and wildlife enthusiasts and specialists.

This is a rich breeding ground for ideas, skills exchange and knowledge. Everyone has something to contribute and everyone has something to learn.

The island restoration work also welcomes volunteers prepared to spray, cut and clear unwanted vegetation and weeds. They need to transport thousands of trees onto rocky platforms and up steep slopes to planting spots prepared by earlier volunteers.

Selecting the volunteers

To ensure the right balance of skills and competencies is achieved on every trip, the Chatham Island DOC team thoroughly examines all volunteer applications. Last year that meant working through 91 forms searching for 17 suitably qualified participants.

First and foremost they are looking for people with the technical skills required; then evidence that the applicant will fit into a team and cope with working in a remote location. In this environment everyone must pull their weight and take care of each other.

They also try to ensure that each year different volunteers get a chance to contribute their skills and expertise so that the privilege and pleasure of working in these unique environments is shared with as many people as possible.

As the field season starts in September and runs through to May, all advertising and the majority of the selection is carried out in July and August.

How to apply

If this sounds like your dream volunteering opportunity and you think you might just fit the bill, look out for the Chatham Islands volunteer listings on the DOC website in July.

In the mean time, you can browse other volunteer projects currently listed in various locations all around New Zealand. New projects have recently been listed in Otago, Fiordland and Southland.

There are usually a range of opportunities to suit a wide variety of people and skillsets - check them out!

Volunteers fishing for Blue Cod. Image: Monica Valdes.
Volunteers fishing for blue cod


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