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Rare native whitebait species discovered in urban South Auckland stream

Against all odds, a rare native species of whitebait has been found in an urban South Auckland stream.

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An environmental group who call themselves the Stream Team are working hard to keep it alive. Source: 1 NEWS

A group of locals, who call themselves the Stream Team, having been keeping a watchful eye over the Tararata Stream in Māngere for nearly 20 years.

Its leader, Julia Tu’ineu, spotted the fish in 2019.

“It's rare, it's declining; it's beautiful, beautiful speckled golden brown,” she told 1 NEWS.

A giant kōkopu. Source: 1 NEWS

Matt Bloxham, a senior freshwater ecologist from Auckland Council, couldn’t believe the news.

“We got a pretty excited call from Julia to say we've caught something pretty special, and I have to be honest with you, I was a) pretty surprised, but also a wee bit doubtful that you'd catch a giant kōkopu,” he told 1 NEWS.

In daylight, you can understand why, with litter scattered about in the water.

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Another point of concern is the 1000 homes being built either side of the stream as part of a new large-scale Kaianga Ora development.

“We weren’t going to let that stop our 20 years of effort,” Tu’ineu said.

The Stream Team got in touch with Kainga Ora, who recognised the importance of its ecology.

James Fisher from Kainga Ora says it’s taken a big team effort.

“We teamed up with Auckland Council to look at how we can do something better - not just a standard stormwater output but how we can improve the ecology while we're here,” he said.

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Lunkers and root wads have been placed along the stream to create little hollows for the giant kōkopu and other freshwater creatures to make safe havens.

“I think Kainga Ora appreciate nice reserves sell houses, and they're a pretty caring lot. I've been so impressed with the extent of the work they've done here,” Bloxham said.

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While it could take years to create the ideal environment for the species to spawn, Bloxham says they hope to start captive rearing and reintroduce them into the new and improved habitats.

Fisher says it’s worth the wait.

“It's important in these days where there's so much environmental damage that we do our best to nurture ... A little fuss for a big cause,” he said.

The rare giant kōkopu is one of five whitebait species in New Zealand, four of which are endangered.