The critically endangered species is fully protected under the Wildlife Act, but
the current action of the Conservation Minister puts the already depleted population at a high
risk of extinction.
There have been no previous translocations, and it is not known whether the snails will
successfully re-establish on a new site.
Chris Carter has also acted against the scientific advice of the Biodiversity Committee of
the Royal Society of New Zealand. The Committee commented that "... the evidence that this
population of snails has not expanded its territory, and that its habitat is so restricted,
both suggest the necessity to protect the original habitat ..."
The Committee questioned how likely is it for a top order carnivore to successfully
survive immediately on re-release to a new habitat into which it has not spread to date, and
suggested that these scientific questions need to be answered before the destruction of the
Powelliphanta 'Augustus' has not expanded into the nearby new location which is just
800m away. The altitude, solar aspect, exposure, diversity of vegetation, and soil
chemistry are all different at the new site.
It is not known whether the species can be held in captivity successfully. There is
no experience with captive breeding. Like so many of New Zealand's rare indigenous species,
Powelliphanta 'Augustus' is slow to breed, does not reach maturity and breed until
five or six years old, and lives for up to 20 years.
If the translocation and the captive management programme do not succeed there is no fall
back position. Mining will have already have done its damage.
DoC stated in its comments on Solid Energy's draft application "... the tight timeframe for
this proposal is its undoing. The 'rush' attaches huge risk to the proposal ... to
eliminate risk the timeframe required is years. Ideally before considering risking the
only source population through habitat movement the success of translocation should be
confirmed. Snails should be translocated in several batches over several seasons and
then monitored until at least breeding of the translocated and captive populations was
Solid Energy estimates moving and protecting snails on the Mt Augustus ridgeline will cost
$8000 per snail. "Relocation of the snails from Mt Augustus will cost us in the
vicinity of upwards of $2 million" Solid Energy communications director Vicki Blyth said.
Nothing is standing in the way of mining .....
This decision on Powelliphanta translocation clearly demonstrates the government's
prevailing policy to prioritise the extraction of energy sources and minerals at any cost
to the environment.
When announcing his decision, the Conservation Minister said "... should a population
of very rare and apparently very localised snails be moved out of most of their known habitat?
And if not, is the risk of moving the snails sufficiently high to halt Solid Energy's
mining plans on the Mount Augustus ridgeline? ..."
Chris Carter admitted the risk of extinction when he stated "... It is fair to say the
scientific information on Powelliphanta 'Augustus' is heavily contested. There
are a large number of unknowns, risks and scientific arguments around key aspects of the
species, and what will happen if they are moved ..."
"However, as ministers we have a legal responsibility to consider more than just the welfare
of the snails" Mr Carter said.
"We are also required to have regard to the Coal Mines Act, and this piece of legislation
demands that we consider the economic benefits that flow from the efficient development and
use of New Zealand's coal resources" the Minister said.
The Minister of Conservation is also required to have regard for the Wildlife Act
and the protection of endangered species. Much of the existing habitat for Powelliphanta
'Augustus' has already been destroyed, and surrounding mining activity has degraded what is
The Minister added "In making our decision, we have had to weigh the economic benefits of
accessing this coal resource with the potential risk of detriment to the snails."
In other government actions that give mining priority, the Minister of Conservation has
been very silent.
Crown Minerals has had a free hand at issuing two mineral prospecting licences to Seafield
Resources Limited, which is principally looking for gold on the seabed along more than 400km
of the west coast of the South Island, covering 10,178 sq.km and extending to the edge of the
12 nautical mile territorial sea and beyond.
Westland Tai Poutini National Park and part of Mount Aspiring National Park extend from
the alps to the coastline that is subject to the licence. The two parks are part of the
pride of New Zealand conservation interests, the Te Wahipounamu - South West New Zealand
World Heritage Site which also includes Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, and Fiordland National
Park. The coast is the habitat of two important species, the protected New Zealand fur seal,
and endangered Hector's dolphin.
When Powelliphanta 'Augustus' goes extinct, the government can be held directly