Kerre McIvor
Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre Woodham: DoC moves at snail's pace

A probe in the cool room failed causing 800 rare snails to freeze to death. Photo / Babiche Martens
A probe in the cool room failed causing 800 rare snails to freeze to death. Photo / Babiche Martens

A glitch in the Department of Conservation's cool-store that results in the death of 800 frozen snails, and the Greens are blaming Solid Energy? I don't think so, Russel Norman.

Remember all the fuss conservationists made a few years ago when Solid Energy received permission to mine on the Stockton Plateau? The area to be mined was the natural habitat of the Powelliphanta augustus snail, a species of rare giant snail. They were deemed to be of such ecological importance that they had to be relocated to another area of the West Coast at a cost of $8000 a snail to Solid Energy.

Mining came to a grinding halt, excavators were shut down and miners sent home while the greenies hummed and hawed about how best to relocate Powell and his mates.

Unfortunately, over Labour Weekend this year, a probe failed in one of DoC's three cool rooms, causing it to freeze 800 of the rare molluscs to death. The department spokesman attempted to put a positive spin on the major embarrassment by pointing out how well the relocated snails were doing.

More than 60 per cent of the original population had settled into their new home and were breeding well. It was expected, said DoC, that the captive population would recover the loss within a few years. And they pointed out another 800 snails were alive and well in other cool rooms, just waiting to be let loose. All well and good, but hang on a minute.

The snails were discovered on the Stockton Plateau in February 2006. This is now 2011. Five years - in fact, closer to six - to relocate more than 6000 molluscs? Just because they're snails, it doesn't mean DoC has to move at a snail's pace, surely.

No wonder it costs $8000 a snail if they're being kept in a mollusc motel for years. It's a great shame that 800 of the critters have died, if they are indeed rare and precious, although their ability to reproduce seems to indicate they're not as much at risk as the greenies tried to portray them. But it's an even greater shame that after six years, DoC still hasn't managed to relocate the jolly things. Freezing to death was probably a happy release for a snail who'd been kept on ice for such a long time.

- Herald on Sunday

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