OPINION: NZ’s seabirds in spotlight

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By Ines Stager

Forest & Bird has declared the first year of the new decade to be the year of the seabirds.

After all, New Zealand is the seabird capital of the world with more species than anywhere else in the world.

Locally, we may not get to see many of the seabirds that are under threat. However, they are an important part of our biodiversity. Just because we don’t see them on land does not mean we ignore what is happening within their environment out at sea, which is not really that far away from any of us.

Recent official observer data shows that in just one year an estimated 14,000 seabirds were captured or killed by commercial fishing methods, such as longline, trawling and set nets.

Severely affected are 35 species of albatross, petrel, shearwater, prion, penguin and shag.

“New Zealanders are really beginning to understand how special it is to be the seabird capital of the world a place where penguins cross busy streets in the capital city, Forest & Bird spokesman Geoff Keey said.

“But we’re also waking up to how at risk these birds are.”

Ninety percent of New Zealand’s seabirds are threatened or at risk of extinction, compared with 74% of terrestrial birds.

To save these bird species from extinction, ForestBird has been strongly advocating for a zero by-catch.

Other strategies needed to turn the tide and protect the habitat of threatened species such as hoiho include an end to set netting, cameras on commercial boats and binding actions and rules.

An abundance of seabirds is the aim, so that future generations also benefit from a healthy and thriving biodiversity at sea.

While many fishers have made an effort to improve, voluntary action has not come up with the desired outcomes, and numbers are still declining.

It is now up to us as individuals to make an effort to speak up for our seabirds. Submissions on a draft national plan of action for seabirds are open until January 27.

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  • Ines Stager is a landscape architect based in Geraldine, a board member of the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society and a committee member of the local branch.