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Conservation Week: It’s time to talk about tuatara!

The four tuatara at SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium have settled back into their leafy exhibit following a refurbishment ahead of Conservation Week.

The exhibit has been upgraded in close consultation with the Department of Conservation to ensure it is as close as possible to the tuatara’s natural habitat and to provide additional educational information for guests to learn about this incredible species of reptile.

Tuatara are endemic to New Zealand and are the last surviving species of Rhynchocephalia, an order of lizard-like reptiles that traces back to more than 200 million years ago, when dinosaurs walked the earth.

The tuatara at SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s are around 7 years old and originate from Takapourewa Island (D’Urville Island), at the northern end of the South Island. Ngāti Koata were the original kaitiaki (guardians) of these tuatara. In a special handover ceremony in 2016, guardianship was transferred to Auckland iwi Ngati Whatua Orakei to maintain their spiritual and cultural wellbeing.

“The tuatara have been at SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s since 2016, acting as ambassadors for their species and helping us educate visitors on the way tuatara live in New Zealand, what threats they face in the wild and how we can help support these incredible native animals,” said Felix Berghoefer, Lead Aquarist at SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s.

“Tuatara were once widespread on the mainland of New Zealand. Sadly, introduced predators like rats, stoats, feral cats and possums have made it too dangerous for them now on the mainland, except in predator-free sanctuaries including some islands in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.”

Taking place from 15-23 August 2020, Conservation Week/Te Wiki Tiaki Ao Tūroa encourages everyone to see nature through new eyes. New Zealanders can engage online or by exploring their own backyard.

Kirsty Prior, Operations Manager for the Department of Conservation said; “Getting up close to some of our unique and most engendered species in the wild can be a challenge. We are grateful to our wonderful partners at Kelly’s who make it much easier, especially to see the tuatara, the dude of the dinosaur age.”

SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s is currently closed to the public due to Alert Level 3 restrictions, however, the dedicated team of aquarists and keepers will continue working onsite to care for and feed the animals.

During the closure period, people of all ages can still engage with the magnificent marine creatures at SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s via the Virtual Aquarium. For videos, activities and other free resources visit:

For further information about Conservation Week, visit:

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