OurAuckland talks to Craig Olsen, who was highly recommended in the Influencer category at the 2017 Auckland Council Biosecurity and Biodiversity Volunteer Awards. Craig received four separate nominations for his conservation work in Te Matuku Bay on Waiheke Island.
For many years, Craig Olsen harboured a dream to restore a block of bush.
“My Norwegian forebears were brought out by Julius Vogel in the 1870s, essentially to cut down the trees," he says.
"It was all about survival back then, but I saw an opportunity to bring balance back to the environment in a small way.”
Craig spent a year on the North Shore where he attended Kaipatiki Project conservation courses and volunteered at Tuff Crater, where he was inspired by fellow conservation hero Richard Hursthouse. He ended up on Waiheke Island and quickly discovered he was living in the middle of a nationally important ecological zone, where Te Matuku Bay Scenic Reserve leads down to Te Matuku Marine Reserve.
“Decades of advocacy from neighbours helped created these reserves, so here was my chance to thank them properly through my own voluntary restoration work.”
Te Matuku Landcare Group
Craig started his conservation work on a small scale, controlling weeds next to the marine reserve. The project quickly grew to encompass a much wider part of Te Matuku Bay, and this led to the formation of Te Matuku Landcare Group in conjunction with the Department of Conservation and Auckland Council.
Currently, the group is working on a baiting programme to protect threatened bird species – such as dotterels, spotless crake and Caspian terns – in the shellspit area. They are also helping to keep the weeds under control, especially moth plant, which is a serious threat to the scenic reserve.
One of the group's goals is to communicate the high conservation value of the area, which encompasses a wide range of interconnected land- and sea-based habitats that are home to a diverse variety of native plant and bird life.
“Waiheke's earliest European history is woven through the bush at the top of the bay. These reserves have become a botanical ark and I'm currently raising awareness of their importance.”
Become a conservation hero
Craig encourages anyone with an interest in conservation to take the first step and reach out to a project group, as once you get started anything is possible.
“As a qualified nurseryman, my journey from ornamental horticulture to comprehensive conservation is a reminder of how the jigsaw pieces in our life can join up if we follow our passions.”
“My advice is to remain curious, keep asking experts questions and learn as much as possible from other volunteer projects. You can start something right now just by getting out there!”
To find out more about Craig's work or to get involved, visit the Te Matuku Bay Project website.