At least 30 Little penguins (kororā) have been left homeless after a raging torrent of water washed away their nesting boxes on Banks Peninsula.
The penguins were among those living in Pōhatu Bay – the largest colony of Little penguins on mainland New Zealand.
Averil Parthonnaud, a trustee at Helps Pōhatu Conservation Trust, said staff frantically scurried around the colony trying to rescue as many of the penguin chicks and their nests as possible as torrential rain battered Canterbury on Wednesday.
“We knew there was going to be a big rain but we didn’t know it was going to be like this.”
Normally, when there is potential for flooding, those working at the colony would go around and check on the nests to make sure they weren’t getting wet because when they do the chicks inside could drown.
Shortly after 2pm, a massive macrocarpa tree fell through a nearby garage, and began diverting a creek that flows through the area. But the creek had been transformed into a “raging white-water river” after hours of heavy rainfall, Parthonnaud said.
“It diverted the creek, it was coming towards the house where we were, and it was going towards nesting boxes that we knew had chicks in [them].
“We just ran outside and we picked up chicks from every single nest box we could and brought them into the house”
They were also able to save some sheep that were attempting to seek refuge from the deluge.
“So we had sheep and penguins in the house. We rescued as much as we could.”
The raging water eventually made its way to the front door of the house, while also triggering several slips.
“There was a big slip on one side of the house, and we thought that if another slip happened it would wipe the whole house out and we had the creek break on the other side, so we were trapped between slips and a raging river.
“I was like, ‘oh my god, this is crazy’,” Parthonnaud said.
After a sleepless night in the house with their penguin and sheep companions, the crew discovered on Thursday morning the floodwaters had completely washed through the colony taking with it at least 30 nesting boxes and a lot of the team’s equipment, including a van and quad bike.
Department of Conservation staff along with Pest Free Banks Peninsula volunteers came to the rescue, helping get the crew and the penguins to safety, which entailed hiking up a hill and two “dodgy river crossings”.
Thirteen of the chicks were staying at Parthonnaud’s home while about 16 others were sent to Christchurch Penguin Rehabilitation.
Parthonnaud had started a Givealittle page and was appealing to the community for any help with rebuilding the lost nests, food for the chicks, replacing lost equipment and clearing the extensive flood damage.
She said it was crucial the nesting boxes were rebuilt so the adult penguins knew where to return, and so they’ll continue feeding and breeding at the colony.
“We need to look after the super breeding adults who know how to raise chicks, they know where to go, so we need to make sure they have homes to go back to.”