John Darby, Wanaka, Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit For services to wildlife conservation and science

Cultivating the peace he feels in nature is the driving force behind John Darby’s 50-year-long dedication to science and wildlife conservation in New Zealand.

He was acknowledged for his services, being awarded the Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Mr Darby said he was humbled by the honour and never imagined it in his wildest dreams.

‘‘It’s very exciting — it’s giving back to New Zealand what New Zealand has given to me, which is pretty astonishing in what it has given me.’’

He referred to the evolution of his own life story, living between eight different orphanages before the age of 18.

The opportunity to work as a farmhand in New Zealand at 17 was the catalyst.

‘‘Nothing I have done or achieved has been done on my own.

‘‘It has been achieved with the support and help of a great number of people.’’

He became an Otago Museum zoologist in 1969 and was appointed assistant director in 1971.

He developed many science-based holiday programmes for children and senior students, many focused on conservation.

This included setting up Discovery World at the museum — New Zealand’s first interactive science centre.

Two decades were spent researching the conservation needs of the yellow›eyed penguins (hoiho) on the mainland and New Zealand’s sub-antarctic islands.

He negotiated the purchase by World Wide Fund for Nature of the largest breeding area of yellow›eyed penguins on the mainland, engineering the first fully protected area for the species in 1985.

His work extended to governance as a foundation trustee of the Otago Natural History Trust, the Yellow Penguin Trust, board member of the Otago Science Into Action project and he served on the Otago Conservation Board’s scientific advisory group.

For the past 10 years his focus has been on the conservation of the Australasian crested grebe in southern New Zealand.

The grebe project was undertaken around Lake Wanaka, Lake Hayes, Lake Wakatipu and Lake Hawea.

Mr Darby assisted in the preparation of a management plan for the species and regularly contributes updates on resident grebes in The Wanaka Sun.