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World Sand Dune Day: A timely reminder for pet parents

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

As we celebrate World Sand Dune Day on 25 June, it’s an opportune time to think about the care and preservation of our own treasured coastline that is home to so much fauna and flora.

"New Zealand’s sand dunes offer such beautiful landscapes," says Michelle Le Long of pet insurance specialist PD Insurance (pd.co.nz), "but far more importantly, they’re sanctuaries for an incredible array of animals and plants that can’t survive anywhere else.

"World Sand Dune Day is an important reminder that we all need to work together to help preserve these fragile habitats - and part of this is being responsible pet parents who keep our dogs and cats under control."

Dune deterioration

Sand dunes are our natural barrier to the sea and, if well looked after, give protection from coastal hazards and erosion. Not to mention housing a range of precious native wildlife.

Unfortunately, sand dunes are one of the most degraded landscapes in New Zealand. Large areas of dunes have been modified for residential development, roads, farmland and forestry, resulting in extensive loss of native vegetation, increased weed growth and dune erosion.

Coastal development has also contributed to a severe decline in native bird populations that rely on the dunes for habitat and breeding, says Le Long.

"Allowing our pooches off the lead to run amok in the dunes causes mayhem amongst birdlife while degrading natural vegetation. There are many recorded incidents of uncontrolled domestic dogs killing - accidently or not - large numbers of coastal birds. And cats, being born hunters, flush out chicks such as the New Zealand dotterel which lays its eggs in open, low-lying areas in or near sand dunes."

‘Do not disturb’ the dotterel

Laura Boren, Science Advisor at the Department of Conservation, says the once-common dotterel is now more at risk than some species of kiwi, with only about 2500 birds left.

"Because they blend into the environment, nests are easily destroyed by beachgoers’ feet, dogs and off-road vehicles," she says. "When adults are disturbed while incubating and leave the nest, the eggs are at risk of overheating. When young chicks are disturbed, they can die from exhaustion as they cannot get to their feeding grounds at the water’s edge."

Boren points out that uncontrolled dogs running through nesting areas can crush eggs, disturb nesting adults and kill chicks. "Many beaches have dog restrictions and owners should be aware of these and respect them. Go online at https://www.doc.govt.nz//parks-and-recreation//know-before-you-go//dog-access to see what the rules are for dogs," she advises.

Take a walk on the wet sand

As many of our coastal species rest or nest in the sand dunes, walking your dog on the wet sand means you’ll be more likely to avoid any sensitive shorebird nesting areas, says Boren.

"Not only should you and your dog stick to wet sand, which birds are less likely to inhabit, know that it’s a legal requirement to have a lead with you in public even if you’re not using it. If you see some wildlife ahead, put your dog’s lead on and pass from at least 20 metres away."

Restoration remedies

Steps DOC is taking to restore New Zealand’s precious sand dunes and shorebirds include:

Sites containing new plantings to prevent dune erosion are roped off and signposted.

Live cat traps are used in the areas surrounding some prime sand dune breeding sites and are checked regularly.

At key sites, DOC wardens inform the public of nesting areas.

There is a DOC hotline available - 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) - that you can call immediately if you see a dog harming native wildlife.

Pooch parent responsibilities

Part of being a responsible dog owner means always keeping your pet under control.

"The easiest way to do this," says Boren, "is to always walk them on a lead near fragile ecosystems such as sand dunes. If you come across wildlife, lead your dog away and warn others at the location. If you see a NZ dotterel feigning injury (it may ‘drag’ a wing as if it is broken), that means it has a nest or chicks nearby, so move away slowly and carefully."

"Stay out of roped-off areas and follow DOC signage, and you’ll be doing a great service to our delicate dunes and birdlife."

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