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Finding kiwi chicks, ferrying students to the island, building tracks, and measuring geckos are all part of a day’s work for Bernie Buhler. Bernie is the ranger on Limestone Island in Whangarei Harbour and the 93 acre island’s only resident. “This is a dream job for me. I had just graduated from NorthTec when I started here as the ranger in February 2013. I love the conservation work and I love the passion of the people I work with.”
But Bernie is relatively new to the world of conservation and wildlife. “I worked as a chef for twenty years, mostly in Whangarei, and was ready for a change. I have always liked the outdoors and looked into study options at NorthTec. Because I was out of the habit of study, I started with a year certificate course in Conservation Management. I surprised myself, did really well, got a scholarship for more study, and so went on to complete the Bachelor of Applied Science majoring in Biodiversity.”
Part of Bernie’s third year study project included field trips to Limestone Island so he got to know the then rangers, Ben and Jo Barr. Bernie - “After I finished my degree Ben contacted me because he required the services of a trapper. They later needed someone to island-sit while they went on summer holiday, and then they decided to leave and Ben became a tutor at NorthTec. I was appointed interim ranger and later was selected for the advertised ranger job from 93 applicants.”
The variety of Bernie’s island ranger work is a big part of his job’s appeal and he has plenty of physical and social support. “I can be introducing weta to kids, checking the predator traps, then weighing petrel, driving the barge, or helping volunteers build a track. We have a barge that holds 23 people and I bring school groups, retired people, or volunteers over here once or twice a week. We have a well attended volunteers’ day once a month and people are keen to help with making tracks, weeding, baiting traps, or building.”
Bernie attributes the NorthTec science degree tutors for turning him on to learning and onto conservation. “We had a week long camp when our course started and we were immersed in learning outdoors. The degree is a tough course but so worthwhile if you can hang in there. It gave me the skills and confidence to get this job.”
The Limestone Island Ranger position is now limited to a three year contract. Bernie – “I’m a year into it and loving it. When the time is up though, I’ll probably go on to something bigger and better, like Little Barrier Island, but I’m happy to go anywhere and I know I’ll enjoy whatever comes up.
Find out more about NorthTec's conservation courses
“Since graduating, I have this fantastic job as sole Ranger on Motu Matakohe/Limestone Island located in the...
“The tutors here have strong professional links which open doors to work experience and this can often progress into...
“Shifting my focus from studying animals, to studying and improving the environment they live in, is one of the best choices I’ve made.” Darlene’s first passion was animals and she planned to study zoology at Massey University until she had a chat with one of the tutors at NorthTec. “He had studied zoology at uni but recommended this degree instead because it offered more field experience and more involvement. He was also incredibly enthusiastic and had a real passion for what he teaches.”
“Staying closer to home also means I can study in Whangarei during the week and go home to my part-time job and connect with family in the weekends. It’s a bit of a balance because I have five younger siblings and my Mum is also studying her degree, so we support each other to make sure we have enough quiet time away from the younger children to study, and take turns managing the household. But I’m happy with my grades and I’m realising I’m more capable than I thought.”
“The course has opened my eyes to a whole new world and has given me new knowledge. I now realise how inter-connected everything is and how a healthy environment supports healthy species.”
Darlene is already applying what she is learning to where she is from. “For my third year project, I’m monitoring with Project Island Song which is a partnership between the Guardians of the Bay of Islands, Te Rawhiti hāpu and DOC. During this process I will be able to build relationships and connections with people in this field. Once the monitoring is done, I will be writing a report on our results which will be beneficial to Project Island Song.”
“The tutors here have strong professional links which open doors to work experience and this can often progress into paid employment. When I finish my degree I’ll take a short break from study to recap and absorb what I’ve learnt as I’ve come straight from graduating high school. I also want to do some volunteering work to get experience in all areas relevant to this field. ”
“I want to acknowledge my tutors and academic advisers for their input and feedback on my writing, and thank my family for their massive support to make my study possible. My long term dream is to make a difference back home with my hapū, iwi and family so that they’re equipped to know the greater context of the environment that we live in. Already my sister is inspired to pursue this degree as well.”
We get to go on various field trips and talk to people in the conservation industry that are making a difference, and...
“It’s so important that as students we have the first-hand experience of the pollution in our region - sometimes you can’t see it until you look for it and it creates more awareness about the problem. We get to go on various field trips and talk to people in the conservation industry that are making a difference, and it is just that invaluable experience of being able to say I have experienced this myself first-hand that is crucial as an Environmental Management student.”
“I’ve learned that if you want to do something, do it. Even if you don’t succeed at first, just adjust and self...
“I’ve always hunted and been keen on fishing and diving but my work life has been in the building/construction industry. When the last venture I was with finished, I decided it was time to study what I was passionate about. I had walked and swum through our natural environment but I wanted to learn some of the science and biology behind how it was all linked together so I stepped out of my comfort zone and signed up for study here for a year. I became so enthusiastic that I’ve continued to level 6.”
“The best thing about the course is the dedication and passion of the tutors and how they deliver their knowledge. It’s also really cool meeting new people with new opinions and new input. I’m naturally reserved so the course has taken me out of my bubble and helped me develop new skills including giving presentations. The challenge for me is the computer and technology but the support is there from both the tutors and younger students, and I can help them with some of my bush experience.”
“By monitoring and interpreting data, we’ve learned that everything we do in an eco-system has consequences, including which plants we introduce. I’m hoping that the course will give me enough confidence to go out in a group and initiate, apply and pass on what we’ve learned. We’re learning a massive amount so it takes a bit to condense it and choose which path to follow after study. I’m keen to get work when we finish and already a few options with local projects are presenting themselves.”
Steve’s long term goal is to work amongst the extensive natural environment around Ruakākā and help enhance it. “Stepping out of my comfort zone to come back to school has been great for me. In my backpack with my ordinary kit of my tools, lunch and safety gear, I also carry my goals and aspirations. That way I keep them close to me so I can keep reviewing them, renewing them and re-filling them.”
“I’ve learned that if you want to do something, do it. Even if you don’t succeed at first, just adjust and self-correct. What you do after you come through those little knocks, makes you a stronger person.”
“I love the range of activity in this job and everything I did in my course is relevant.”
Brooke is one of six in the Biodiversity team working for the Northland Regional Council and her job is Biodiversity Advisor in Lakes. “We have programmes in place to remove excess nutrients and plants from Northland’s outstanding lakes including our dune lakes, and my job is to monitor water quality, raise awareness of the issues and the value of the lakes and their environments, and to help upskill Kaimahi amongst our youth and local iwi.”
Brooke finished her degree in the middle of this year. “I did my course practicum with the Puketi Forest Trust, then last summer got 15 weeks doing monitoring work with the State of the Environment Team at the Northland Regional Council. That ended in March, then this job was advertised in April so I applied and got it. I was able to start working just two days a week until I finished my degree in June.”
“At the moment I’m working in the office planning our summer field work which will be doing lake surveys and ecological monitoring. I’m finding that the tutors gave us all the experience I need for this. I use the biology, ecology and conservation from my courses daily, as well as things like the research skills, report writing and presentation skills. I use 100 per cent of what I learned at NorthTec.”
“I have gained so much confidence since starting work here. I work with some very experienced people, and I realise now that I do have the knowledge to keep up, understand and participate in the team. I know what they’re talking about and I can offer my input with confidence, and I’m really enjoying making a difference in the environment.”
“I know that conservation is my passion and I’ve just started my career, so I’m really interested to see where this job takes me.”
It has also given me the tools to think about how to use field data for useful applications. This is all directly...
“I get paid to spend my summer at the beach – and doing work I love. I always knew I wanted to work in conservation but I wasn’t sure about academic study, until I got addicted to it. I graduated with my Masters degree in Conservation Biology in 2016 and I’m now working a six month contract with DOC as seasonal Fairy Tern Ranger at Waipu Cove.”
“The work involves advocacy with beach visitors, schools, community groups and the surf club. I also monitor predator control by setting and checking 40 traps, and I monitor bird breeding and fence off areas where birds are nesting. My NorthTec training has been a real match for my work now.”
“I started at NorthTec with the Diploma in Environmental Conservation and loved the balance of practical and academic content so went on to do the degree. My degree research project was on the Bream Head skink which was a brand new species at that stage. This project gave me the experience to get an internship with an ecological consultancy in Wellington where I worked with lizard conservation for a summer after I graduated. While doing that I decided to do my Masters degree and the consultancy kept me on part-time time while I studied.”
“I came back up north when I was made redundant and landed my first contract as DOC Fairy Tern Ranger for five months. I loved it, did another contract as General Ranger for DOC Whangarei office working in the visitor asset and biodiversity departments, then in 2017 got my second contract as Fairy Tern Ranger. I have now secured a permanent position as a Biodiversity Ranger for DOC – this is my dream job!”
“Info gathering and process skills from my skink research project, and course field-based survey exercises, exposed me to a wide variety of species and habitats. It has also given me the tools to think about how to use field data for useful applications. This is all directly relevant to the work I do now. Our course work placement requirements also set up networks for both work opportunities and peer contact.”
“I’m realising that I like working with underdog species like the fairy terns and skinks rather than the high profile species, so I’d love for that work to continue. Meanwhile, back to work on the beach…”
“I love my job. I see parts of Northland that no-one else goes to, I meet and liaise with a lot of people connected...
“I love my job. I see parts of Northland that no-one else goes to, I meet and liaise with a lot of people connected to the land, and I get to work autonomously in the field.”
Ashlee Lawrence works as a Biosecurity Officer for Northland Regional Council, managing the Freshwater Pest programme for the region, as well as working on the biocontrol agent programme, in particular those that will assist with the control of wild ginger in Northland.
Ashlee’s introduction to working in biosecurity came while she was still studying for her diploma.
“In one of our papers we have ‘practicum’ where we volunteer for 80 hours at an environmental agency, so I rang the NRC and asked if they had any work. I was placed with the biosecurity team and allocated two pest plants to track down and eradicate. I was given a health and safety briefing then was sent out with another student with a truck and eradication gear. We had already completed a GrowSafe Certificate as part of our course so could use chemicals and spray equipment. When the 80 hours was up, I asked if I could continue to work as a volunteer and the rest has developed from there.”
Ashlee points to some specifics from her NorthTec training that have given her confidence in her work skills.
“Our course is the best training for conservationists in Northland. It is heavy on academic training with a focus on monitoring skills that are used by every environmental agency and are a benchmark for employers. That skill set sits against a backdrop of the study of New Zealand’s evolutionary history and why we are one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. We have so many special species here that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.”
Another key study subject that Ashley says dovetails with employment is Geographic Information Systems (GIS), which was recently introduced into NorthTec environmental training.
“Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is a computer-based mapping system and it is becoming essential to employment in environmental work.”
Ashlee strongly recommends that students who are looking for work allied to their training, volunteer some time. “Approach an employer in your related field and offer your time so they get to see what you are capable of. Things unfold from there.”
“My dream is to someday work as a Biodiversity Asset Ranger in the South Island amongst our richly diverse environments down there."
Public speaking is one of the most relevant course skills that I apply here. For a major assessment presentation we...
“The best part of the course was getting out and meeting people in the industry with initiatives like Project Island Song and Landcare groups. I had contact here at Kiwi North with my work placement for my practicum, and the natural fit of my passion and skills led to this part time work when I finished my degree in 2016.”
“Public speaking is one of the most relevant course skills that I apply here. For a major assessment presentation we had to put information across in an interesting and accurate way. The course also kept us up to date with current Northland conservation projects like the 1000 kiwi now living around Whangarei Heads due to a 30 year community and DOC initiative, and Golden Bay Cement’s environmental impact awareness monitoring project.”
“I love all aspects of my job here as part time Husbandry Officer. I take care of the tuatara, geckos and kiwi - including breeding insects for their food supply. The basic biology we learnt on our course is generic but each of our native species has their own adaptations. I also love the visitor host role here giving presentations on either New Zealand ecology in general, or kiwi in particular, depending on the group. I take visitors through the centre here, and get school groups involved out hunting for insects.”
“My confidence has grown hugely since working here so I now really enjoy talking to a whole range of different people. I like the environmental advocacy so much that my next step may be in teaching in either community, school or tertiary education contexts.”