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Spec Creek –New Zealand's first private galaxiid sanctuary

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

Otago is a real hotspot for the tiny native fish called galaxiids, with more species living here than any other part of New Zealand (19 and counting). Most of these species are now under threat from competition with trout, altered stream flows and degraded habitat. The Ranfurly district is home to a nationally endangered species called the Central Otago Roundhead galaxias (Galaxias anomalous). This small fish is found only in the Upper Taiari/Taieri catchment and in a few streams of the Manuherekia catchment.

Spec Creek, a tributary of the Kyeburn, is one of the best places in the world to find Central Otago roundheads—its naturally low flow means that few trout find their way up into the creek, and water quality in the stream is generally high.

Now, Phil Smith of Glenspec and Hamish MacKenzie of Kyeburn station have, with the help of Tiaki Maniototo, fenced off a stretch of Spec Creek on their properties, creating a corridor from which cattle will be excluded. In order to do so, Phil has had to install a stock water system to compensate for the loss of stock access. They've also created a carpark and a kiosk for signs. Willows will be controlled in the sanctuary and trout periodically removed.

It's a big effort and expense, but Phil says looking after the environment is important to all farmers in the Kyeburn. “I believe education is a big thing. If we can educate people about how endangered the species is, we can then start doing something about it.” The reserve is dedicated to freshwater ecologist Matt Hickey, who worked closely with the Kyeburn community and who sadly passed away last year.

The Spec Creek reserve, thought to be the first privately-created reserve for galaxiids in the country, is, says freshwater consultant Richard Allibone, highly significant. “Of all the Otago galaxiids, this is the least protected of all of them. So [Phil and Hamish] have taken a step that no one else has.”

It is, he says, representative of a big shift in the general attitude of the farming community, from “we know nothing about these things and don't really care about them, to actually, they're special to our area, and we're doing something to protect them. It's a whole switch in how we're treating the stream.”

Spec Creek galaxiid sanctuary will be open to the public from Saturday 18th November. Visit our website for more information:

Photo Credit: On Lee Lau

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