Seabirds' squawks mapped for own good in Hauraki Gulf video

STUFF.CO.NZ

Auckland Council's research and evaluation unit provided Stuff with chirping from five Hauraki Gulf seabirds.

Across the Hauraki Gulf recording devices are listening to New Zealand's seabirds.

Sound recorders known as Song Meter 3s are taping seabirds' conversations to create a map of birdlife and population levels on Auckland's east coast.  

The Auckland Council research is designed to provide valuable information about seabirds like petrel, shearwaters, shags and penguins, which spend some of their life feeding at sea. 

Auckland Council seabird expert Todd Landers with a Black-winged petrel on Burgess Island.
SUPPLIED.

Auckland Council seabird expert Todd Landers with a Black-winged petrel on Burgess Island.

Auckland Council seabird expert Todd Landers said efforts had been ramped up to protect at risk or threatened species.

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The council's research and evaluation unit (RIMU) knows when seabirds tend to be vocal and they'll be recording for up to a month at a time throughout the year.

Todd Landers with a Song Meter 3 on Burgess Island.
SUPPLIED

Todd Landers with a Song Meter 3 on Burgess Island.

When deciding where to place the devices they look for egg holes, bird poo or scratches on trees. 

"With the devices we can cover a lot more areas that we would otherwise be unable to get to." 

RIMU has already successfully created an audio model for the northern diving petrel using recordings from Burgess Island.

Seabirds are a challenging group to manage because of their large oceanic distributions and remote breeding colonies.
CRAIG SIMCOX/FAIRFAX NZ

Seabirds are a challenging group to manage because of their large oceanic distributions and remote breeding colonies.

Now the council is working on developing models for other seabirds in the area. 

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"Seabirds are a challenging group to manage with their large oceanic distributions and remote breeding colonies, usually on offshore islands.

"They have been historically neglected in monitoring programmes, however this is changing," Landers said.

Northern New Zealand Seabird Trust's project manager Chris Gaskin said he has been using the acoustic recorders on Little Barrier Island since 2009.

He said the fact they are automated is vital because he works on remote and rugged islands and he can't be there all of the time.

"We still don't have a handle on what the populations are and all the different species.

"Once we have the information we'll be able to establish a much more accurate estimate than we have now."

Gaskin was especially interested in monitoring seabirds and the indirect impact fishing was having on the birds through the loss of their food source.

In October 2016 Statistics NZ and the Ministry for the Environment released a report which found that 90 per cent of New Zealand's seabirds were at risk of extinction. 

The report said the risk to seabirds was from a degraded environment alongside global warming, pollution and acidification.

New Zealand has 86 of the world's 365 seabirds breeds, and Auckland itself has 27 breeding seabirds.

"It's known as the seabird capital of the world," Landers said. 

So far RIMU has deployed recorders on Moturekareka Island (south of Kawau Island), Tarahiki Island and Burgess (Pokohinu) Island.

"Ultimately we want to have a comprehensive map of where seabirds are in Auckland and what their population densities are at these locations.

"We can then use this data to prioritise management in the region to help improve the conservation status of seabirds in Auckland and afar," Landers said. 

The surveys are part of the Regional Bird Monitoring and Species Prioritisation programmes run by the Auckland Council.

 - Stuff.co.nz

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