Kiwi businesses urged to make conservation a priority

Source: 1News

Tamatea Dusky Sound on the remote Fiordland coast, from the surface, is flawless.

Pristine clear water, beautiful landscapes and a seemingly untouched environment.

But when you go beneath the surface, it's a different story - a story Pure Salt, a Fiordland-based tourism company, knows all too well.

"As we first started doing the underwater clean-ups, it was shocking to see just how much [rubbish] there is - layer after layer and tonne after tonne coming out," said Maria Kuster, one of the company's founders.

"We found all sorts from tyres to car batteries to 100-year-old gin bottles to old sinks that must have come off a couple of cruise ships "

These clean-ups in the Sound are now a key part of Pure Salt's business model.

Four years ago, Maria and Sean approached the Department of Conservation and asked what they can do to help in the area.

"They came to us with a proposal to say, 'Hey look - we're starting up this business, we're in the area, we'd really like to engage.' They wanted to do the conservation too, not just fund some money for us to do it, they wanted to do the mahi themselves," said DOC Fiordland's biodiversity manager Tony Preston.

Sean Ellis, Maria's partner and co-founder of the company, said their urge to help is passion-driven.

"Maria and myself, we've been in Fiordland for many years and we've always lived in this environment and just wanted to give back to the place," he said.

The company runs charters in Tamatea Dusky Sound on an ex-New Zealand Navy expedition vessel called Flightless - on board, conservation work is non-negotiable.

"Getting into the bush, we don't just go for a walk for a scenic walk, we'll go and set some traps," Ellis said.

"In the short time we have been doing it, we've watched even just cormorants moving to new nesting areas around the coast and when you're in the bush you get to hear the birds around."

Trap networks are now in place across multiple islands in the Sound, helping the DOC to eradicate pests in the area, as part of its Tamatea Dusky Sound Restoration Project.

Staff and volunteers plan, fund, implement and manage all the work themselves, then report back to DOC. It's hoped other businesses will get on board with this model.

"DOC can only do so much conservation in New Zealand, but imagine if a heap of businesses started working like Pure Salt do, and are in business to help the place, imagine what you can achieve," Preston said.

"It's the future of tourism in New Zealand."

Ellis said it was rewarding to see how their work in Fiordland inspires their clients.

"They go home and they get involved in little projects, and it might be when the boys are going out for a fish, they see some rubbish they pick it up or they go ashore and they spend 20 minutes walking along the beach," he said.

"Changing the way they fish, not using plastic baits, they've gone for a vegetable bait.

"Fiordland has this special effect on people and personally I think it's just because it's what New Zealand used to be like, and they're starting to see that".

Both Ellis and Kuster would love to see other businesses adopt their model and attitude towards giving back to a place.

"If everyone gave it a go we would be in a pretty amazing position," Ellis said.

"It can all seem a bit daunting, but if we incorporate it into our businesses and scale it to our businesses, then ultimately we can give back to the places and conservation, be it on land or in the ocean, or to the people and communities around us," Kuster said.

"If anybody is not sure how to do that and take those first steps, just get in touch reach out, talk to your local DOC office, go to community offices, it's just one coffee at a time".