By MAIKE VAN DER HEIDE - The Marlborough Express
Little blue penguins visiting the Tui Nature Reserve in Pelorus Sound have 10 new nesting chambers to call their home, thanks to prize money from the Marlborough Environment Awards.
Ten chambers, still empty as they wait to be discovered by passing penguins, were built and placed in the bush during a frantic three-week effort by the Plaisier family the reserve's owners and caretakers and two American volunteers.
It comes after the Plaisiers won $3000 when they were named overall winners and the habitat winners of the Marlborough Environment Awards in May.
A further grant from the Biodiversity Fund and the Marlborough District Council meant the Plaisiers could buy materials for an extensive trap line, predominantly for rats, to target a pest species that until now has only been a 5 per cent by-catch of other pest kills on the 160-hectare peninsula.
Brian Plaisier said the penguin burrows arrived in the form of lengths of timber which had to be brought out by boat, then up the 180m hill to the Tui Nature Reserve workshop.
Once built, the burrows were taken back down the hill, on to the boat, then a dinghy and finally on to the beach where they were carefully placed above the tide mark in the bush along about 1km of coastline.
Mr Plaisier said the aim was to cover about 5km.
Besides supporting penguin breeding, Mr Plaisier said the burrows would act as an educational resource.
The rat grid was laid out in steep bush using compasses and tape and, later, GPS to record the co-ordinates.
Monitoring funnels with ink pads have also been installed so the Plaisiers can keep track of which animals pass through by looking at their footprints.
Nearly 500 traps now cover the reserve and surround the blue penguin breeding area.
Mr Plaisier said the Marlborough District Council, which had earlier done a report on predator control on the peninsula, was keeping close track of the pest control efforts, both to monitor progress and to pass any successful methods on to other pest control programmes.
With 15 years of self-funding the project, the Plaisiers said it was overwhelming to be surrounded by so many materials.
"This is really big," Mr Plaisier said. "It was the best feeling for us that all the tools were there, all the traps and the timber. This was the first time we had such a lot of gear around us."
He hoped the effect of the rat traps would be seen as early as next year with an increase in bird life.