Erosion threatens penguin habitats

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 05:00 11/07/2013
erosion
DEIDRE MUSSEN/Fairfax NZ
UNDER THREAT: West Coast Blue Penguin Trust volunteer Bill Johnson with a dog proof fence that has been destroyed by erosion in Camerons, south of Greymouth.

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Severe coastal erosion along the West Coast is destroying little blue penguin habitat and threatening this year's breeding chances.

About this time of year, the world's smallest penguins start coming ashore to mate and lay eggs in burrows around New Zealand's coast.

This year, they will be greeted with steep cliffs and swept-away breeding spots on many West Coast beaches.

West Coast Blue Penguin Trust chairwoman and seabird expert Kerry-Jayne Wilson said erosion on many of the region's sandy beaches had created up to a 3-metre cliff-face, which could be impossible for penguins to climb.

The insurmountable barrier could force penguins to shift their colony, she said.

The Conservation Department's Hokitika-based marine scientist Don Neale agreed, saying erosion and rockworks to control it had increased on the West Coast in recent times.

Hokitika beach is the latest due to get a new rockwall to block erosion.

"The often scrubby areas penguins like to nest in are now being eroded and all that they are left with is the farmland behind.

"There are currently quite a few efforts to beat back the sea and some of these responses could also increase the challenges for penguins."

Neale said long-term climate change forecast stormier seas for the coast, which could make things even worse. Trust co-ordinator Inger Perkins was concerned for the safety of the precious seabirds.

"Penguins need to look harder for a way up to their burrows and will be out on the beach longer. This makes them more vulnerable to attack from stray dogs."

Paroa resident and trust volunteer Bill Johnson said erosion at many sites was causing havoc for the little blue penguins.

Up to 160m of prime penguin habitat had been swept away by the sea near the Taramakau River, south of Greymouth, the worst erosion he had seen there in 60 years.

Nesting boxes placed in 2005 to give the colony a better chance had been moved back from the encroaching sea four times. "There's not much further they can go."

If erosion continued, the penguins would have nowhere to nest in the site, once home to a large penguin colony.

Erosion had also destroyed a dog-proof fence erected to protect nesting penguins.

Dogs had damaged nesting boxes recently, adding to the penguins' woes.

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- The Press

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