Wink can sniff out plants the eye cannot see

Wink put to work

by Mike Isle

A one-eyed conservation dog called Wink is helping local authorities sniff out and remove patches of the pest plant spartina from Canterbury waterways.

Spartina is a damaging weed that colonises inter-tidal zones. It forms dense clumps and traps sediment.

The push to eventually eradicate the plant is a joint project between Environment Canterbury, the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the Christchurch City Council.

DOC technical adviser, Keith Briden, said spartina transforms the environment and completely takes over estuaries turning them into grasslands: “It can cause an immense loss of biodiversity by turning mudflats supporting wading birds, whitebait, eels and flounder into dry meadows.”

More than 150 patches of spartina have been controlled for the last two years, with contractors revisiting all identified patches to check for regrowth and undertake follow-up control where required.

Thanks to control efforts, the damaging weed is now only found in three distinct areas in Canterbury: the Avon/Heathcote Estuary, Brooklands Lagoon and Lyttelton Harbour.

DOC conservation dog Wink and his handler John Taylor travelled from Invercargill to spend two days hunting down remaining plants, which had been missed.

“Wink has the ability to sniff out plants, which are near impossible to see with the naked eye,” Keith Briden said.

Laurence Smith, principal adviser biosecurity at Environment Canterbury, comments:

“The work to control spartina is essential if we are to maintain biodiversity and cultural values such as mahinga kai in Canterbury’s estuarine environments.”