Bird habitats mapped in bid to force rethink of oil

RACHEL THOMAS
Last updated 05:00 27/05/2014

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A new report by Forest & Bird has identified areas of land and sea around Waikato's West Coast, Firth of Thames and Coromandel that require special consideration to protect seabirds that depend on these places for their survival.

Forest & Bird says the report, which covers the whole country, has major implications for the government's ongoing large-scale sell-off of deep sea oil and gas drilling rights.

Forest & Bird seabird advocate Karen Baird said it was important to protect the unique seabird population surrounding New Zealand.

"New Zealand has more native seabirds than land birds, so they are a really important part of our fauna," she said. "Some of them are pretty cool too, from the albatross who has a wingspan of up to 3 metres, to the storm petrels who are about the size of a sparrow."

Marine Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Waikato encompass the West Coast, the Firth of Thames, the Coromandel, and Hauraki Gulf.

Gannet Island, off the coast of Kawhia, houses a seabird colony, as does Motukawao near Colville, and Mercury Islands and Ruamaahua Aldermen Islands off east Coromandel Peninsula.

"New Zealand also has more seabird species that breed only within its jurisdiction than any other country in the world. We have 36 species," Baird said.

The report, released yesterday, is part of a global effort to identify where bird species live to ensure threatened species are adequately protected.

The global IBAs project uses scientific criteria from Forest & Bird's partner, BirdLife International, to begin identifying where internationally recognised marine IBAs are.

Baird said 69 important bird areas for seabirds had been identified throughout the country, and this called for a major rethink of the mass sell-off of deep-water oil and gas drilling rights within our economic zone.

"As the industry oil-spill modelling shows, a deep-sea blowout could cover thousands of square kilometres of bird habitat in oil - which in turn could push some species to the brink of extinction," Baird said.

"All threats to all IBAs for seabirds will need to be minimised, including those from fishing and uncontrolled coastal development.

Phil McCabe, chairman of Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM), said mining in Raglan, for example, would set the ecology of an area into a "downward spiral".

"Seabed mining simply reduces the ability for life to exist in a large area around the mining site.

"Less fish in the sea equals less food for seabirds and eventually less seabirds," McCabe said.

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"The effect seabed mining would have on seabirds would be slow but certain and would take some time to detect so it is important that we have a good baseline understanding of the types and numbers of seabirds and where they spend time. This report will help with that."

rachel.thomas@fairfaxmedia.co.nz To view the report, go to forestandbird.org.nz/important-bird-areas#.U4LHPfmSyEA

- Waikato Times

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