The OPERA – Otago Peninsula Eco Restoration Alliance – is a private eco reserve focused on conservation, reforestation, rehabilitation, and education. The operation was originally founded as Penguin Place in 1985 making it the oldest private ecotourism operation in New Zealand.

Developing a 100-year plan

Expanding beyond the original focus on just the yellow eyed penguin (hoiho), The OPERA is focused on the conservation of all native species living on the property. As part of our work, efforts are underway to develop a 100-year plan which will oversee the restoration of land, that was previously cleared for farming, back to a lush forest teaming with native New Zealand life.

When the operation was originally established, the Yellow Eyed Penguins were struggling with devastating loss of their natural habitat of coastal forest, which has been cleared in large areas for farming and forestry. Additionally, they were suffering from increased predation and disturbance since the arrival of humans and the introduced pests that we have brought with us. The reserve was established on dunes and coastal areas of the family’s working sheep farm where Yellow Eyed Penguins were already breeding. Habitat restoration and predator control work was immediately started to give the penguins a better chance of survival. Later, nest boxes were added to provide shelter, shade, and privacy that penguins require for successful breeding. These nesting boxes also minimize the risk of predation, with three solid walls and only one entry, providing an excellent option for penguins while the lengthy process of natural habitat restoration takes place.

Increasing need for intervention

Over the years, this work has become increasingly important on the mainland of New Zealand as penguin numbers continue to drop. There are currently less than 500 Yellow Eyed Penguins left on the mainland. The past 10 years have seen a mainland wide decrease in nest numbers of around 75% due to consecutive breeding seasons with increased starvation, disease prevalence, and predator attacks; as well as reduced survival and recruitment of younger penguins.

To help minimise the impact that these events have on the mainland population, The OPERA has an on-site rehabilitation facility for sick, starving or injured penguins. Each season this facility makes an enormous contribution to the population through rehabilitated penguins released back into the wild that would not have survived otherwise. On average we are caring for more than 250 penguins each year in our rehabilitation center, a number which we expect to grown doing the 2023/2024 season as we will also begin caring for the little penguins (kororā) which live within the reserve.

Expanding our impact

While penguins will always be at the core of our work at The OPERA, there is an opportunity for us to achieve so much more and benefit the whole of the Otago Peninsula. Under the leadership of Ike & Jerad Haldan, The OPERA is developing a 50-year plan which will oversee the restoration of previously cleared land back to a lush forest teaming with native New Zealand life.