Penguins are calling the shots at a new construction project in the capital - and workers have to follow a special management plan to protect the birds from harm.
Every morning before work begins along Wellington's Cobham Drive, workers check for kororā, little blue penguins, which could have taken refuge overnight.
They check under and around vehicles, and in the areas where rock is going to be moved from and to – using a torch when necessary, and a special camera to help them see into the crevices between rocks.
A penguin management plan was developed with, and approved by the Department of Conservation, as part of the planning and consent process, and actions on site include daily penguin checks and reporting.
DoC senior ranger biodiversity Brent Tandy said the project had been a good example of how things should be done.
"In terms of attitude, it's been really good right from the start, and this has flowed through to action with the team running with our guidance," he said.
"All of the construction team has been engaged, involved and aware, which is critical for the right outcome."
Penguins tend to avoid the construction zone, but if one is spotted, which has happened on a few occasions, work in the immediate vicinity temporarily stops, and the team seek advice from Tandy on the best course of action.
Wellington City Council project manager and engineer Veronica Byrne sees careful penguin management as a top priority for the project, which is transforming the previously eroding area into a more appealing place for people to walk, run, bike, scoot and spend time.
The project includes better-quality walking and bike paths, enhancing the sculpture trail, improving two beaches, building a 430m-long rock bank to help control erosion, and planting thousands of native plants.
"Our contractors, Downer, take penguin health and safety seriously, and bought the camera to help ensure there are no surprises," Byrne said.
"It helps that building engineered rock seawalls like the ones going in between the roundabouts at Calabar and Troy streets is a very careful process. Our digger operators can only work in this area at low tide, and need to concentrate on small areas at a time.
"The right-sized rocks have to be slowly and skilfully lowered into position to avoid dropping and breaking them, which means our operators are also able to keep an eye out for little blues."
Predator Free Wellington and Places for Penguins are helping, too. Predator Free Wellington checks and maintains predator traps in the area, and volunteers from Places for Penguins will be assisting with placement and monitoring of 20 permanent nesting boxes.
The boxes, built by the construction workers, will supplement the new rock bank which will provide nooks and crannies that penguins will find appealing.
Tandy said it would take time for the penguins to find them, but he has no doubt some will nest between the rocks before too long. The bank will provide safer and better habitat than the eroded sections of coast it is replacing.
He is also pleased to see hundreds of tonnes of old concrete and brick demolition materials being removed from the foreshore and shallows as part of the project.
"It's helping to clean up the environment, and removing things that can be potential hidden dangers for penguins like deep voids, and reinforcing wire."
The workers on site are familiar with spots where penguins have nested and rested in the past, after regular visits by New Zealand's only penguin detection dog Mena and her handler Alistair Judkins.
Mena is certified by DoC to work as a conservation dog, and her visits have been timed to coincide with penguin nesting and moulting seasons.
A New Zealand-born Hungarian Vizsla, a type of pointer, she is specially trained to find places where penguins may be present, or have been regularly frequenting.
The detection experts from Kaikōura Ocean Research Institute (KORI) have carried out three searches so far, checking vegetation and rocks along the foreshore and mapping spots where special care needs to be taken.
One example is a bushy mound in the construction compound, where signs of penguins have been detected each time. The area has been fenced off, left intact, and will be incorporated into the new landscaping.
A small gap has also been left in the silt fence along the foreshore in this location so penguins can get between the sea and the mound if they want to.