Funding boost creates jobs to tackle Undaria in Fiordland

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A $2m funding boost is set to turn the tide in Fiordland’s battle against the invasive seaweed Undaria pinnatifida (Undaria).

Acting Conservation Minister Ayesha Verrall today announced the funding through the Jobs for Nature programme, which will see around 36 people employed in the wider Te Anau community over the next two years.

Partners of the Fiordland Undaria control programme, including Environment Southland, the Department of Conservation, the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Fiordland Marine Guardians have been trying to contain Undaria in Te Puaitaha Breaksea Sound for years, but it has become apparent that a refreshed approach requiring a significant financial investment was required for the response to be successful.

Environment Southland chief executive Rob Phillips said the announcement is great news for the region, heralding positive outcomes for the pristine waters and unique biodiversity of the Fiordland Marine Area, and Te Anau’s community.

“Businesses in Fiordland are hit particularly hard by the absence of international tourism due to Covid-19. This funding means we’ll be able to re-deploy tourism and dive operators in the area to supercharge the existing Undaria control programme.”

Members of the community will be able to apply for the roles and obtain scientific diver certificates, to enable them to dive for Undaria plants in a search-and-destroy mission.

Fiordland Marine Guardians chair Dr Rebecca McLeod said that although Undaria is now commonplace around much of New Zealand's coastline, the Guardians are not prepared to accept it as a feature of the underwater world in Fiordland.

“Fiordland is renowned for its stunning, colourful and fragile marine life. Without intensive effort such as that afforded by this funding, we fear that Undaria will smother iconic species like the black coral, thus changing the ecosystem forever.

“This fund will result in local people becoming skilled underwater biosecurity technicians, and in collaboration with local vessel operators and tourism companies, the community can come together to protect Fiordland from what was an inevitable ecological disaster."

The project aims to contain Undaria within Breaksea Sound, and completely eliminate it from Chalky Inlet.