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Our dunes have legs

Record numbers of the endangered katipo spider have been found at Uruti Point by pupils from Whareama School.

The protected native spider, known for the red stripe on the female’s back and a poisonous bite, makes its home among sand dunes in coastal regions.

Katipo numbers nationwide have been declining, which Sustainable Wairarapa member Jim O’Malley attributed to competition with the false katipo [an introduced species of spider] as well as coastal erosion caused by climate change.

Sustainable Wairarapa has a permit from the Department of Conservation to monitor katipo and has been doing so at four locations across the Wellington region, including Baring Head, Onoke Spit and Te Humenga Point.

But it is Uruti Point, south of Riversdale, that has recently seen the most success, and O’Malley attributes this to the higher sand dunes – protecting the spiders from being washed out to sea by saltwater.

Last term, a group of Year 6-8 Whareama School pupils assisted with Sustainable Wairarapa’s latest katipo survey – and were excited to unearth 27 of the distinctive spiders.

“I found a katipo under a bush and another one under a bone,” Sasha, Year 6, said.

Hunter (11) discovered a katipo that had made its nest under a broken polystyrene buoy.

Most of the spiders, however, were found under artificial covering objects [ACO] placed on the sand by Sustainable Wairarapa. Made of Onduline roofing material, ACOs create an ideal place for katipo to live.

“You need to lift [the ACO] slowly and put it back carefully,” said Kiana [12] “And be careful not to tread on them.”

“And don’t steal the katipo’s home,” Hunter added, noting there were four ACOs missing since the last survey was done.

Teacher Dianne Christenson said the school would continue to work with Sustainable Wairarapa to plant native grasses, check pitfall traps and monitor the spider population at Uruti Point.

She said a number of pupils live nearby and many are linked to the local marae.

“It is a very relevant project for our kura – helping to protect a taonga species,” Christenson said.

Under the Wildlife Act 1953, anyone who kills or captures a katipo spider may face a fine of up to $100,000 or a prison term.

“If you see a katipo spider on the beach, don’t touch it, don’t disturb it, don’t wreck its home,” Whareama pupil Isaac [12] said.

O’Malley said it was “exciting” that Sustainable Wairarapa is now in a position to support other regions with katipo surveying – and will be helping Cape Sanctuary at Cape Kidnappers to set up its own spider monitoring project.

“They have large areas of sand dunes that are even higher than the ones at Uruti Point, so it is an ideal location for katipo,” O’Malley said.

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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