What is happening to these rare Marlborough Sounds seabirds?

They're one of the country's rarest seabirds, living only in the Marlborough Sounds - but there are concerns the king shag is in trouble.

A recent census saw bird numbers drop by a quarter. Now a crucial tagging programme is underway which could help find out why.

Eleven king shag chicks and one adult have been tagged for the first time on Pohuenui Island in Tawhitinui Bay as part of a joint effort between the Department of Conservation and Marine Farming Association.

Kingshags living in the Marlborough Sounds
Kingshags living in the Marlborough Sounds. Source: Supplied

"It was thought to be quite a sensitive bird, and so there was a lot of reluctance to do any banding of it but we really needed to learn more about it," explains DOC seabird scientist Graeme Taylor.

Three years ago an aerial survey, commissioned by King Salmon, was carried out which counted a total of 830 birds in the area. This year that total dropped by 200 birds.

"While we are concerned there's been such a big decline, we would certainly like to get a longer term trend data, at least another three or four years to see whether this is part of a steady decline down which would be terrible if it is or whether they just fluctuate in numbers," says Mr Taylor.

It's also possible human activity in the Sounds is to blame.

Marine farms do occupy space and underneath them the habitat may not be suitable for king shags so that has been one of the main concerns in the marine consent hearings".

Other factors could include siltation of the Sounds from run off from land, disturbance of colonies from boating, ocean acidification and climate change.

Marine Farming Association president Jonathan Large says the problem at the moment is "we don't know if we are causing a problem or not".

Which is why they've spent two years collaborating with a number of groups including the Department of Conservation, Ministry for Primary Industries, Marlborough District Council, Iwi and Wildlife Management International.

Together they form the King Shag Working Group.

"What we wanted to try and ascertain is some really good scientific data around not only how many birds are around but also where those birds are interacting, how far their flights are, where we see them,” explains Mr Large.

Local eco-tourism operators will be watching with interest, having tried to raise the king shag's profile.

"I've been watching these birds daily for ten years every day," says E-ko Tours operator Paul Keating.

"Really the significance they hold for us, both nationally and locally, we should put a lot more effort into making sure they are sustainable for the future and their numbers don't decrease".

The king shag is one of the country's rarest seabirds - but how much do we actually know about it? Source: 1 NEWS



Aussie scientists make genetic breakthrough in battle to eradicate cane toads

Australia's self-inflicted cane toad invasion may soon be over after scientists cracked the deadly amphibian's DNA code.

International scientists working with UNSW Sydney, the University of Sydney and Deakin University have unlocked more than 90 per cent of the invasive amphibian's genome.

The poisonous toads have wreaked havoc on northern quolls, freshwater crocodiles and several species of native lizards and snakes since their introduction in Queensland in 1935 to help control cane beetles.

Millions of toads now occupy more than 1.2 million square kilometres of Australia following a seemingly unstoppable march across the top end.

Virologist Professor Peter White says despite the pesky cane toad's iconic status there were major gaps in the scientific community's understanding of its genetics.

"But we've now got the blueprint as well as the plans to the factory," he told AAP.

Already Mr White's team has used the toad's genetics to find three new viruses that with further work may become biocontrols to stem the toad's march across the country.

"We're now going to see how prevalent they are in the population, going all the way back to South America, and then we'll see how pathogenic they are," he said.

"Hopefully, they're very pathogenic, and then we can begin testing them."

Mr White said the team needed to be sure any biocontrol created won't affect native amphibians.

"We don't want to introduce anything that's going to kill frogs or newts, it has to be cane toad specific," he said.

Viruses have previously been successfully used to control the European rabbit population.

The findings were published in the academic journal GigaScience.

SYDNEY, NSW - AUGUST 09:  A Cane Toad is exhibited at Taronga Zoo August 9, 2005 in Sydney, Australia. The Cane Toad, which is poisonous, is reportedly being blamed for the deaths of a number of Australia's most dangerous predator, the Salt Water Crocodile. A three-metre long crocodile was found dead by a local crocodile tour operator last week in the Adelaide River, with the tourism operator suspecting the reptile had been poisoned after eating a toad. The director of Wildlife Management International, Graeme Webb, says he suspects that up to "20 to 30 per cent" of fresh water crocodiles will be lost to cane toads in this way.    (Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images)
Cane toad Source: Getty

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'Angel' takes disabled friend on 'wacky' world adventures and is rewarded with $10,000

A young woman who has taken a teenager with cerebral palsy on adventures around the world, donated a kidney to an old school friend and helped many others has been rewarded with $10,000 for more adventures and to look after herself for a change.

Leah Stewart, who's 23, is the winner of this week's ASB Good as Gold award on TVNZ1's Seven Sharp.

Donating an organ and helping others were on a bucket list Leah wrote when she was just 16, and she's doing a pretty good job of ticking them off. 

Nineteen-year-old Alicia Kapa - Leah's best friend - and Mum Joanna Kapa have really appreciated Leah's help.

Joanna explained that Alicia wasn't breathing when she was born and has cerebral palsy as a result of that lack of oxygen. 

"She loves adventure and her and her best mate Leah have travelled around the world and done all sports of crazy, crazy things," Joanna said.

These have included a cruise in the Bahamas, adventures in New York and bungy jumping.

Joanna said it means a huge amount to her that Alicia is "getting out and doing stuff that everybody at her age should be able to do, that she's safe, she hasn't got her mother hanging around with her, which is a big thing".

Alicia agreed with that last point.

She's everything that you would think when you think of an angel - Joanna Kapa

Joanna said Leah is "everything that you would think when you think of an angel".

While Alicia declared: "Leah is an amazing friend to me."

Leah and Alicia's adventures have been documented in videos on their own YouTube channel called 'Wheely Wacky Adventures".

Reporter Sam Wallace surprised Leah in suburban Auckland telling her ASB want to give her $5000 for some more Wheely Wacky Adventures, and $5000 "for you to look after yourself because you never do it".

"That sounds amazing," said a stunned Leah as she hugged Alicia in her wheelchair out on the street, surrounded by friends.

Leah admitted she has helped "a few" people and said just over a year ago she donated her left kidney to a friend from high school and "thinks" she saved her life.

The win will help with a trip she and Alicia booked themselves next week because they were missing each other. 

"And the whole thing went on my credit card because I had no money in the bank. And I knew I had some big student loans coming up. I was planning on calling the IRD on Monday and sorting out one of them," Leah said.

This giving friend can relax a little now - until the next wacky adventure.

Leah Stewart wrote her list when she was 16 and she's doing a pretty good job of ticking them off. Source: Seven Sharp


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Auckland boy who lost his dad to cancer thriving through programme helping young rugby players

A programme in West Auckland is coaching rugby coaches to help young players develop life skills to deal with big challenges.

Jonesy's Youth Foundation was set up by Michael Jones - who shares his name with the legendary former All Black.

"The idea came to me through Massey Rugby Club. There was a boy who's mum got killed about 14 years ago, and for some reason it stuck with me all that time, 'what did the rugby club do to help him after the situation?'" Jones told TVNZ1's Seven Sharp. 

Through the foundation, men run courses for coaches of junior rugby players.

"What the courses will do is it'll teach the coach to be able to integrate rugby skills with character development and life skill development," Mr Jones said."

It's about developing the young players "as people first," he said.

Ben Allen - or 'Pies' as he's known coaches schoolboy rugby player Connor O'Donnell. Connor's Dad, Shaun, died four years ago from cancer.

Mr Allen said he teaches Connor, "things like communication and talking to his teammates and encouraging each other which are all important traits that you need in life".

"I'll never replace Shaun. He was an amazing Dad and and an amazing guy."

He's really good and he's helped me with confidence and things like that. - Junior rugby player Connor O'Donnell

Connor reckons 'Pies' is an amazing coach.

"He's really good and he's helped me with confidence and things like that."

Connor's Mum, Helen O'Donnell, said she promised his Dad before he died that she'd keep his love and passion for rugby going, but struggled with how she'd do that. She said Shaun would be "absolutely over the moon" that she's been able to keep that promise.  

The foundation has had some high-profile helping hands like former All Black Josh Kronfeld. 

Kronfeld said the coaches help the players with, "how to deal with pressure, how to deal with the bad moments, and loss, all those things".

Jonesy - who's also a Dad - says the foundation is there for for the long haul.

"We're here forever. We want to see him develop and grow [into] that 18 and 20-year-old when he gets a job."

Jonesy's Youth Foundation is having a Gala Dinner this Saturday. If you want tickets, the details are on Seven Sharp's Facebook page.


Jonesy's Youth Foundation is there for Connor O'Donnell, and others, in their time of need. Source: Seven Sharp


'My god she can run' - woman at centre of hilarious Kawakawa dog escape video says Lily is enjoying her 15 minutes of fame

A Bay of Islands woman told TVNZ1's Seven Sharp she is "never going to live this down" after footage of her rescue dog Lily dragging a bakery's flag down the main street of Kawakawa went viral around the globe.

CCTV footage of the freedom-seeking furball's runner — accompanied by Yakety Sax, the song made famous by the Benny Hill Show — has been viewed more than 500,000 times since it was posted to Facebook last night.

Lucie Green, a volunteer with Bay of Islands Animal Rescue, was taking the basset hound for a walk last week when she decided to stop at a local business to buy Lily a treat.

But the Basset Hound received a fright and bolted despite being tied to a large Coca-Cola flag forcing Lucie to give chase.

"For an animal with just little legs, my god she can run," Lucie told Seven Sharp.

Lily, Lucie and the rogue flag brought Kawakawa's State Highway 1 strip to a standstill, the whole escapade captured on CCTV.

"My partner owns a local CCTV company I got to the office and I told him what had happened.

"He didn't tell me he'd done it, but he edited footage and put the music on and uploaded it to Facebook and tagged me in it.

"I knew it was trouble when basically by the time we'd gone to bed last night it had hit 100,000 views," Lucie said.

Thousands of people have since commented on the video, with many of them admiring the dog’s spirit.

"I'm laughing my guts out it's so funny," wrote Facebook user Annie Hicks.

Lucie does see the funny side of events however.

"They say every dog has their day, so I guess Lily is enjoying her 15 mins of fame." 

Lily made a run for it when owner Lucie Green stopped at a shop in the Northland town. Source: Seven Sharp