Securing the Picton ferry terminal upgrade while protecting its little blue penguins

At a glance...

The client

Port Marlborough owns and operates the Picton ferry terminal. They wanted to upgrade it.

The challenge

The proposed construction had the potential to threaten the local little blue penguin (kororā) population.

The results

A management plan is in action to protect the ecology whilst enabling the project to go ahead.


Port Marlborough owns and operates the bustling Picton ferry terminal. They wanted to upgrade it, but this was going to require significant construction work along the coast. There were concerns that such a project had the potential to negatively impact the local flora and fauna if it wasn’t managed properly.

The key species of focus for this project was the “at risk” little blue penguin (kororā), which lives around the terminal and tends to frequent the same burrows throughout their lives. Making changes to their environment could pose a serious threat, so we were asked to help.

The ask

Port Marlborough owns and operates a number of marinas and ports throughout NZ, including the busy Picton ferry terminal.

Aside from the Cook Strait passenger and freight ferries, the port also receives some of the largest tourist cruise liners in the world, and facilitates extensive export shipping. Port Marlborough wanted to add the capacity to Picton ferry terminal for roll on, roll off cargo trains.

“This would involve significant construction to widen the terminal buildings and realign railway tracks. It was a big job, and because they’re on the coast, any potential environmental impact has to take the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement into account.”

Gary Bramley | Senior Terrestrial Ecologist, Ecological Solutions

The New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement is designed to guide local authorities on their careful management of coastal environments.

“You have to avoid adverse net effects on species living in the area in order to get consent for construction. So I began with baseline surveys to identify any wildlife that might be cause for concern. The kororā is an “at risk” penguin species that lives under the terminal building. The ecology of this particular bird was a problem.”

Kororā tend to live in the same areas throughout their lives. After nesting, they go through a phase of moulting, where they shed their waterproof feathers and remain in their nests, unable to feed for a few weeks. This is a vulnerable time for them and they often lose a lot of weight. So any efforts to move them would need to take place outside of this time. And the little blue penguins weren’t the only species of concern.

“The area in general is rich in biodiversity and the locals protect its flora and fauna. The port itself neighbours Kaipupu Wildlife Sanctuary, and there are community groups that manage pest control themselves. So it was our responsibility to ensure construction work could go ahead without compromising this.”

Why us?

We have a long-standing relationship with Port Marlborough and have worked with them on a number of other projects, including the Waikawa marina. We know the area and its ecology well, as well as the environmental requirements that come with construction in this type of ecosystem. We also have a wealth of experience working alongside community groups, so our strengths in integrating business objectives with local interests were important for this project.



Our solution

Through extensive surveys and monitoring, we prepared a thorough Assessment of Environmental Effects (AEE) and management plan to submit for resource consent.

“The challenging part is observing and accurately recording the penguin’s behaviour. Sometimes they’re there, sometimes they’re out at sea. So we repeated our surveys often and in the same hotspots to have the best chance of building a reliable knowledge base.

All of this allows us to foresee the impacts that construction activities will have on the penguins’ behaviour. Would removing certain landscape features threaten their breeding patterns, for example? What if that was done at another time of the month or year? How likely is it that the penguins would adapt?

The main idea was to relocate the penguins outside of their breeding and moulting seasons, when they were most likely to recover quickly. It would give them a chance to re-establish a burrow somewhere else before those processes start again.”

To add to this, little penguins are site-attached.

“They could come back. So it’s all about flexibility and ongoing monitoring to ensure they’re happy and settled in their new habitat, and work can safely go ahead.”


The results

“Our robust reports secured resource consent and Port Marlborough’s upgrades are underway. I expect that we’ll be able to maintain the kororā population, as well as the other seabirds in the area. They now have sufficient protection and their needs shouldn’t hold up the project.

And the best part? We had local residents volunteer to help us. So we had community buy-in from the start and their involvement very much earned Port Marlborough the social license to go ahead with their plans once consent was granted.”

As a result of this careful work and the consent that has been granted, Port Marlborough were able to proceed with their construction.

The community was involved from the outset, which helped to ensure confidence that changes to the terminal buildings and landscapes would not compromise their local environment.

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