Bug hunt: Brian’s got his net and he’s on the trail

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Ecologist Brian Patrick with his son Tajima,6, and Wakanui Beach resident Molly Blain beside a clump of muehlenbeckia.

By Mick Jensen

As soon as he jumped out of his truck at Wakanui Beach, ecologist Brian Patrick was keen to explore its biodiversity.

One of New Zealand’s leading experts on moths and butterflies, the passionate scientist has been employed by Ashburton council to study invertebrates in the beach area, which is home to a number of rare native plant species.

Mr Patrick last visited Wakanui in late 1999 when he completed a coastal study of the red katipo spider.

No spiders were found at Wakanui on that visit, but he was “very excited to be back again.”

“My brief is to complete a baseline survey of the insects found here and anything else of interest, including spiders.

“I want to tell their stories, state whether they are rare or not and also expand on how they fit in here in this beautiful location.”

Mr Patrick said he didn’t know exactly what would pop up in the survey, but he thought stick insects, fruit flies, a variety of butterflies and skinks would be among the invertebrates spotted.

His field notes from his time here in 1999 were being used again, which meant he was “a little bit familiar” with the beach eco system.

Notes would be made, samples and photos taken, before a formal report was written and presented to Ashburton council and the Wakanui Beach Biodiversity Group, Mr Patrick said.

He would make recommendations in his report, including suggestions, based on his study of the nature, on what should be done to protect and enhance the ecosystem.

Mr Patrick said he hoped that his visit would not be a one-off and that he could continue an association with the project.

His survey work was completed over a 15-hour period last Thursday and included setting up night lighting, because more invertebrate come out at night – and traps.

The Wakanui Beach and lagoon area features three varieties of muehlenbeckia, a hardy, coastal shrub, which is a major drawcard for New Zealand insects.

Rare plants such as oi oi, ribbonwoods and rare grasses are also found in the area.

Wakanui Beach biodiversity group members Val Clemens and Molly Blain were on hand to offer local advice and assistance to Mr Patrick during his visit.

Mrs Blain said Mr Patrick was a respected ecologist who had a great passion and knowledge of invertebrates.

The group was grateful for his input and the funding of $4,400 provided by Ashburton council for the survey work.