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Lyttelton cruise berth not 'dolphin-friendly'

Ursula Keay
Hectors Dolphinn
Scientists say underwater pile driving induces behavioral changes in dolphins.  Gregory Smith

Critics say development will have dire impact on endangered species despite port company's protection measures.

The Lyttelton Port Company (LPC) is developing a cruise ship berth in the harbour, but critics say the re-development will have dire consequences for the endangered Hector's Dophins in the harbour.

Otago University zoology professor Elisabeth Slooten was highly critical of LPC efforts, saying they amounted to nothing more than PR.

"Everything they've done has increased the noise. Both the noise and the behavioural impacts will be worse this time.'' 

LPC "completely ignored what we recommended", Slooten said.

A port company spokesperson said the company had taken mesaures to minimise the impact on the dolphins.

As part of a Marine Mammal Management Plan, LPC must have a "designated observer" in place on site and stop work if a dolphin is spotted.

The port spokesperson said the observer would be from independent authority Blue Planet Marine. The LPC website, however, states it will be a member of LPC "trained by a marine mammal expert". 

LPC had installed four acoustic monitoring buoys to evaluate levels of noise from to pile driving. Its spokesperson said the results had recently been sent to the Banks Peninsula Community Board, but would not provide further information.  

Slooten described the LPC's efforts as "self monitoring".

"It's like me driving from Dunedin to Akaroa recording how long I take and then being expected to call the police if I speed."

Another issue with the berth was the size of steel piles used to build it.

When post-2011 earthquake repairs were combined with port developments, steel piles were designed at diameters of 700mm.

In 2019, LPC wanted to use pile diameters of 1200mm for further developments. This was downsized to 900mm after objection at an Environment Canterbury hearing.

Slooten said 900mm was better than 1200mm, but it was still an increase on the initial 700mm.

She said pile driving induced behavioral changes in dolphins. It also caused temporary hearing loss, making it harder to detect predators.

LPC had "done nothing to reduce the impact", Slooten said.