Northern New Zealand seabirds are in serious decline, with scientists estimating up to 90 per cent are at risk of extinction, a new report has revealed.
A major review by Northern New Zealand Seabird Trust, released today, looked at seabird populations in northern New Zealand - considered a biodiversity hotspot with more than 28 species breeding in the region and five native to the area. Currently, very little is known about the status of, and threats to, many of the birds, the trust said.
"We must first understand what threats these seabirds are up against before we can establish a baseline from which to work on researching and conserving them," explained lead author Edin Whitehead, a University of Auckland doctoral student.
Threats to seabird populations can be broadly categorised into six major areas: invasive species, fisheries, pollution, climate change, disease and direct human impacts such as disturbance and coastal development.
Some of the most vulnerable species include black petrels, which are threatened by fisheries' by-catch, and the fairy tern, the country's most endangered bird, which is down to around one dozen breeding pairs restricted to an area between Whangārei and Auckland. The tern population is directly threatened by human impacts.
While some threats to seabird populations are well-known, such as introduced mammalian predators and fisheries, others are only just emerging, such as climate change, pollution - especially plastic - and disease, the trust said.
The report should be eye-opening, said University of Auckland associate professor and report co-author James Russell.
"Although there has been some progress in eradicating invasive species from islands to restore seabird populations, this isn’t enough when they are facing multiple threats both on land and at sea," he said.