Many people, myself included, have a certain stereotype in their head when they think about Department of Conservation (DOC) workers: a figure in a khaki shirt, beige shorts and a wide-brimmed hat, roving around national parks.
While this is an apt description for some DOC staff, if you scratch below the surface there’s a wide group of men and women working in diverse areas of business all for a common goal - conservation. Marine Species Support Officer Hannah Hendriks is one such person.
WHO IS HANNAH HENDRIKS?
Enthusiastic and bright, Hannah Hendriks is among a wave of young people forging a career at DOC, lending their energy and enthusiasm to protecting New Zealand’s ecosystem. She was born in New Plymouth where she grew up. “I have lots of memories of fossicking around rock pools as a kid down at Kawaroa. I didn’t get to spend its of time on boats, but we did heaps of tramping and camping when I was young which I am very grateful for,” Hannah explains to me over a hot tea in Island Bay. Hannah finished school and moved to Wellington. “You get to that point in life where you wonder what you are going to do! I had been good at biology at school so when I thought about what I should do, I decided to study Marine Biology, and Biodiversity and Ecology at Victoria University,” she says.
Hannah studied a Marine Conservation Masters for a year and a half on completion of her undergraduate. She enjoyed studying it because the master's course is primarily practical (not aimed at the academic study of marine biology). “I’d been volunteering, and one day my supervisor asked me if I’d like to volunteer for DOC. I was offered a part-time data contract after that and have been there ever since!”
HOW DOES DOC’S MARINE TEAMWORK?
Hannah explains that there are two national teams at DOC who take care of marine conservation: the Marine Ecosystems team who work on marine reserves (such as Taputeranga Marine Reserve in Island Bay, where I met Hannah). Hannah works in the Marine Species and Threats Team. “We manage species (so lots of marine mammals and birds and protected fish as well), and then also marine threats like seismic threats. Around the country, there are scattered DOC Rangers, who are the hands on the ground. We also contract a lot of people too - so we are always working with a wide range of people.”
WHAT DOES HANNAH DO AT DOC?
After she moved up from her data entry job into a full-time job, she helped on summaries of submissions from public policy consultation projects, then into her current job. Hannah’s life as a Marine Species Support Officer is a mix of office work and occasional field experiences. For example, Hannah assisted with the Farewell Spit whale stranding. While the people she meets normally think Hannah lives a very exciting life, going and roaming around the seas, in actual fact, she says she does ‘very important work on the computer’ mostly. DOC looks after NZ’s natural and historic heritage. Hannah’s work involves protecting marine species including dolphins, seals and whales
“In my job, I am always getting requests for data from people around the country, which we’ve collected so that they can do more research. It’s actually very important - for example, if people see a Humpback Whale, we want to know about it. We also collect data whenever there is a whale stranding. People should know that New Zealanders are world leaders for re-floating whales in the world,” Hannah says.
Recently at DOC Hannah went to Golden Bay in Nelson area to the Farewell Spit whale stranding. “Farewell Spit is an area where whales have been washing up for centuries. I’d just done a course on stranded whales and how to help prevent it or try to save them,” Hannah says. “Seeing Project Jonah and DOC Rangers coordinating hundreds of volunteers was very inspiring, and getting to help out was amazing. We can put the call out on Facebook and it is simply incredible how many people went down. It was sad too, but I had to get on with the job, gathering data, doing what I do.”
WHAT SHOULD PEOPLE KNOW TO HELP WITH MARINE MAMMALS?
“There’s so much excitement about whales and dolphins,” Hannah sighs. “But lots of people don’t know that there are actually laws for the protection of marine mammals. You aren’t supposed to swim with whales and you shouldn’t get closer than 50m in a boat. Whales and dolphins can get hammered by boats always being around them and it is important for them to have time to do the things that they need to do, like rest and feed. Similarly, on land, dogs can impact and kill seal pups and breeding penguins. One of the important parts of our work is communicating those messages to the public so that they are aware.”
But how can we truly protect the environment when there are so many things to fix at once? Hannah believes small changes do make a difference. She’s made them in her own life, like using an aluminium straw at home for her smoothie, not a plastic straw, and not using takeaway coffee cups, to lessen her impact on nature. And in terms of protecting marine life: “we encourage people to practice responsible pet ownership (like keeping dogs on a leash in penguin areas) and respect marine reserve boundaries.
“Wellington is so close to the coast. Marine life is within walking distance in nearly any direction. Taputeranga is the closest marine reserve to a city centre in the country. It is so easy to get here. Out here, there is a snorkel trail and a seal colony at Red Rocks. It is an amazing place to live,” says Hannah. “The entire marine reserve area is strict 'no take', including marine life, shells, rocks and driftwood. Often people don’t know about the driftwood! These restrictions exist to protect the site and make sure everyone can enjoy it for years and years to come. “My favourite place in Wellington is Zealandia. I spend quite a bit of time there, among the birdlife. I also love walking along the waterfront.”
HOW CAN YOU GET INVOLVED?
Hannah suggests volunteering as much as possible if you want to get into a career like hers. The DOC website is a good place to start. “I still volunteer! It’s just a good way to contribute to society as well. I volunteer at Pol Hill, setting traps for pests” she says.